Strawberry, Basil, Black Pepper

This recipe is based on a dish I had in Estonia of all places and even stranger was the whole city was covered in snow at the time so it couldn’t have been less suitable for the weather if it tried. The main reason I ordered it was because I’d never seen black pepper or basil in a dessert and was very curious to see if it worked. I shouldn’t have been so surprised though because I’ve since learnt from The Flavour Thesaurus that tomatoes and strawberries are so similar chemically as to be virtually interchangeable.

Previously I’d made the basil ice cream with mascarpone using this recipe, which had the bizarre inclusion of egg yolks even though they weren’t heated to make a custard as you would normally expect. I decided to try a different method, without the eggs,  by just freezing the mascarpone mixture in ice cube trays and then processing in a blender until smooth, similar to the method from Serious Eats but without as much hassle.

Obviously this requires a food processor or blender that can break up ice with ease (I have a Thermomix) but it gives a result quite akin to gelato and is a great option if, like me, you don’t have an ice cream maker. I didn’t bother with the step to refreeze the pureed ice cream but it did start to melt very quickly after processing so I think I will try that next time.

Finally, it might seem unusual to go to the trouble of reducing the coulis only to add some strawberry juice in at the end and thin the sauce out again; the main reason is to reintroduce the volatile compounds that get lost when cooking and give an extra bit of freshness to the dish (it’s actually a tip I read about from Heston Blumenthal). I’ve cooked this with and without the juice and it really makes a difference in my judgement. Also, the addition of fennel, which helps bring out the flavour of the strawberries, is another nugget from The Flavour Thesaurus and is especially useful if the fruit not the best to begin with.

Strawberry, basil, black pepper

Strawberry, basil, black pepper

Serves: 4

For the basil ice cream
25g basil leaves
250g mascarpone
50g icing sugar
1g vitamin C

For the strawberry coulis
250g strawberries, roughly chopped
40g sugar
2.5g fennel, ground
2.5ml balsamic vinegar
30ml strawberry juice
2.5g black pepper, ground


  1. For the basil ice cream, fill a large bowl with ice and water.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil.
  3. Blanch the basil for 30 seconds and then plunge into the ice bowl.
  4. Heat the mascarpone in a saucepan until it melts and pour into a blender.
  5. Add the basil, sugar and vitamin C to the blender.
  6. Blend until completely smooth.
  7. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve and pour into ice-cube trays.
  8. Place in the freezer until fully frozen, around 4 hours.
  9. For the strawberry coulis, add the strawberries, sugar and fennel to a sauce pan  with a splash of water.
  10. Bring to the boil and cook for around 5 minutes or until the strawberries have started to break down.
  11. Pour the contents of the pan into a blender and puree until very smooth.
  12. Pour the puree back into a clean pan and reduce by half.
  13. Strain through a sieve and cool in the fridge.
  14. When cool, add the strawberry juice and balsamic vinegar and stir vigorously.
  15. Add more sugar if needed and reserve in the fridge.
  16. Place the frozen cubes of mascarpone in a blender and process until fully broken up.
  17. Add a few splashes of water and pulse until smooth. Repeat if necessary but minimise the amount of liquid to ensure the ice cream is not too loose.
  18. To plate, pour some of the strawberry coulis into a bowl and place a quenelle of ice cream in the middle; garnish with some basil leaves and a sprinkle of black pepper.

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