I’ve spent most of this past week with old friends K & L. I met them in Providence, RI more years ago than any of us care to remember, but since then we’ve been barely missing each other in our various moves around and across the Atlantic. We lived just a few blocks apart in New York – except I moved there after they left – and both spent time in the Midwest – but only overlapped for a year. Although I speak to K on the phone more or less daily, we only get to cook together every couple of years, which is beyond wrong. K is one of the best cooks I know, with Italian cooking skills from his family that I’m massively jealous of (seriously, the man makes the best gnocchi ever) and an amazing feel for ingredients. The first time we cooked together was a wonderfully disastrous attempt to make the volcano chocolate cakes that were fashionable in the 1990s. Something went horribly wrong and we ended up with what was basically a vat of liquid chocolate ganache. But, you know, delicious liquid chocolate ganache that we totally ate anyway. Most everything I’ve cooked or eaten with him since then has been perfect, so I’ve been looking forward to the culinary possibilities of his visit.

Friday was L’s birthday so we wanted something suitably festive for dinner. K suggested doing a version of Paul Bertolli’s strawberry sorbet recipe that we’d made once before in Michigan. The recipe is brilliantly easy: no ice-cream maker required and no ingredients beyond fruit and a bit of sugar and water. I’m not a great maker of desserts so simplicity always appeals. Plus, it’s the middle of English strawberry season and I’ve been thinking about the combination of strawberries and black pepper since I read Miss Cay’s jam recipe and brought back the most amazing Madagascan black pepper from Paris. It was all coming together…

We futzed around with Bertolli’s recipe a bit: since neither of us likes our sorbet terribly sweet, we cut down the sugar and added in a bunch of black pepper instead. We also cut down on the water, since it already seemed liquidy enought. The basic technique is so simple that you could probably play with it a fair amount. Since we were celebrating L’s birthday in England, and during Wimbledon to boot, we thought it only correct to serve the sorbet with Jersey cream and shortbread biscuits. (Er, this might undermine the ‘not too sweet’ part but hey, it was a special occasion.)

Black pepper strawberry sorbet

  • 1 kg strawberries
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tbsp water

First wash and hull the fruit, and lay them out in a single layer of a baking tray and freeze for 2 hours.

When they’re completely frozen solid, put them in a food processor with the sugar and pepper and pulse until the fruit is broken up. You’ll want to stir them a good bit. Taste for sweetness/pepperiness, remembering that it will taste significantly less of these flavours once frozen.

Now add water – carefully, you might not want the whole amount or even very much at all – and run the processor till you have a smooth texture.

Pour sorbet into tupperware and freeze for another two hours. No stirring necessary! It will miraculously turn into brightly flavoured sorbet that will leave you wondering why you don’t make this every damn week in the summer.

Serves 4-6.

Adapted from Paul Bertolli’s Cooking By Hand.

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