Cardamom is perhaps the most intensely aromatic spice there is. The little silvery-green, papery pods that shelter the fragrant black seeds might not look so exotic, but break one open and your nostrils will be permeated by the most intoxicating scent. That first whiff of fresh cardamom seed is likely to make an unforgettable imprint on your mind.
A native of India, the cardamom plant is part of the ginger family. There are two genera: green cardamom (or “true cardamom”) and black cardamom. The most commonly available variety is green cardamom; that’s the one I used for today’s recipe.
As with all spices, it’s preferable to cook with whole cardamom pods, rather than the pre-ground kind, for the simple reason that the instant the seeds are exposed to air, they start to lose their precious fragrance.
To infuse the gelato, simply crush the cardamom pods and seeds with a mortar and pestle — a task that takes only a few minutes, and yet will make this gelato the most aromatic you’ve ever tasted. (Your kitchen will be infused with the heavenly scent too!)
In Indian cooking, cardamom is used to flavor desserts and drinks as well as savory dishes and, in some regions of India, the famous garam masala. (For an enticing garam masala recipe with cardamom, check out my September 2010 feature for Vegetarian Times.)
To me, cardamom is the most wonderful complement to fall fruits such as plums or pears. I often serve my cardamom gelato with roasted plums — but to be honest, it is also utterly delicious on its own. Served with a sprinkle of crushed, salted pistachios, each spoonful is likely to linger on your palate and in your imagination for some time to come.
makes 2 pints
active time: 20 min
- 1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
- 3 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup organic sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche
- Step 1: Place the cardamom pods in a mortar. With the pestle, pound on the pods until they crack open and the seeds are released. Remove the pods and coarsely grind the seeds by moving the pestle in a circular motion. Set aside.
- Step 2: Place 3 cups of milk in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the milk reaches boiling point, add the cardamom seeds, reduce heat and fast-simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover pan and let stand for 15 minutes to infuse the milk. Strain milk in a fine sieve, discard the seeds and pour milk back in the pan.
- Step 3: Place the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, sugar and cornstarch in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Re-heat infused milk over medium-high heat. As soon as the milk comes to a boil, quickly whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil again and then reduce heat to achieve a fast simmer. Continue whisking constantly for 5 to 6 minutes until the mixture has slightly thickened (it should be the consistency of heavy cream). Transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours in the refrigerator or 45 minutes in the freezer.
- Step 4: When the gelato is well chilled, whisk in the crème fraîche until well blended. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream or gelato maker and freeze according to the instructions of your machine. Transfer the gelato to a container and freeze for 2 to 3 hours before serving. (The gelato should have firmed up, but should still be a bit soft.)
- Cook’s note: The gelato will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks, but is best eaten the day it’s made. Remove from freezer and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes until softened before serving.