Caramelized Onion And Balsamic Ice Cream

Red wine, onions, balsamic vinegar — they're strange, savory foils that veil the orange heart of this ice cream and render it mysterious. Perhaps the oddest thing about this recipe is that it comes out looking almost exactly like coffee ice cream. Pranksters, take note. The recipe is adapted from A Passion for Vegetables by Paul Gayler (Lyons Press, 2003).

Caramelized Onion And Balsamic Ice Cream i i
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Caramelized Onion And Balsamic Ice Cream
T. Susan Chang for NPR

Makes about 1 quart

1/2 cup thinly sliced onions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup red wine

Juice and grated zest of 1 orange

4 large egg yolks

1 large egg

2 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Put the onions in a pan of boiling water, simmer for 5 minutes, then drain. Repeat, then dry well on a kitchen towel. Melt the butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar gently in a heavy pan, add the onions and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelized to a deep brown color (take care — the color will turn quickly at the end and may burn if you don't watch it). Add the red wine, orange juice and zest and boil until reduced by half.

Whisk the egg yolks, whole egg and the remaining sugar together until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add the milk and cream to the onions and bring to a boil, then pour over the egg mixture little by little, stirring. Return to a clean pan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Be careful not to let it boil. (Just before it boils, you may see some of the following signs: tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan; a dull, quiet, suppressed boiling sound beneath the surface, like a teakettle before it whistles; a faint heaving and expansion of the surface. If you detect any of these signs, pull the pan off the flame right away.)

Strain the mixture into a clean bowl and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Cool the ice cream quickly by standing the bowl in a larger bowl of iced water and stirring until cold (even better, pour the ice cream into a sturdy freezer bag and cool the bag in the iced water). Churn in an ice-cream maker until the mixture resembles semi-whipped cream, then freeze until firm.

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