Right on the edge of the medina in Tripoli you will find Balha Glace, an ice-cream parlour famous for ashta and pistachio ice cream. Traditional ashta is clotted cream and is used as the base of many Lebanese desserts. Here it gives the ice cream a really wonderful texture.
The old boys who run the dessert parlour fill a Mr Whippy-style cone with ashta ice cream and then dunk the top into a tray of smashed pistachios that stick all over it. The consistency of clotted cream makes this a really good no-churn ice cream, so an ice-cream maker isn’t essential. It stays velvety and doesn’t crystallise.
To get the right colour for my ashta ice cream, the crazy-green Iranian pistachios are best, and then you can use normal kernels for the coating. If you can’t find the Iranian variety, just blitz up any non-salted kernels you can find.
100g slivered Iranian pistachios
150g caster sugar
250ml whole milk
2 eggs, whisked
250ml double cream
227 clotted cream
50g pistachio kernels, bashed into a fine rubble
1. Put the Iranian pistachios into a food-processor with 110g of the sugar. Blend for a few minutes until really fine. Tip into a saucepan and add the milk. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, over a low heat.
2. Whisk the eggs with the remaining sugar in a large mixing bowl until fluffy and pale. Gradually whisk in the milk mixture. Return to the pan and reheat over a low heat, whisking continuously, for 10–12 minutes or until the custard is really thick. Pour into a dish and leave to cool completely. Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
3. Pour the double cream into a large mixing bowl and whisk into soft peaks. Fold in the clotted cream and then the chilled custard. Make sure it is mixed together thoroughly and evenly.
4. Churn in an ice-cream maker, then transfer to the freezer. If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, pour the mixture into a freezerproof container. Freeze for 2 hours, remove and then whisk together with a fork. Return to the freezer and repeat after 2 hours. Then leave to freeze for 4–6 hours until set.
5. Remove the ice cream from the freezer about 10 minutes before you want to eat. Tip the pistachio kernels into a shallow dish. Dip an ice-cream scoop into hot water and scoop out balls of the ice cream. Tip into the pistachios and roll them around so that they are completely covered in the green nuts. Transfer to serving bowls and serve immediately.
Saffron in the Souks by John Gregory-Smith is published by Kyle Books, £25