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Ice-cream was not so hot when I was growing up. It was usually limited to the summertime treat of a 9p orange Sparkle in the park after school, or the occasional slice of a Sainsbury’s economy sticky yellow vanilla brick for pudding. This would melt and refreeze over the course of being served from its damp cardboard box, and turn into a curious foamy gum. But I still loved it.
Now I am the happy owner of La Grotta Ices. The name comes from the Italian for ‘cave’ or ‘grotto’, and it’s named in homage to the first cool, dark ice-cream shop that I discovered working in Cannes, and which set me on my journey. At first the ice-creams were made at home, with two freezers in a bedroom, then under a damp brick railway arch in Bermondsey. Since 2009, they have been created in my workshop or ‘ice-cream shed’, a converted Victorian greengrocers in a beautiful historical south London square.
The La Grotta Ices range changes weekly. My intent is to create inventive, not-too-sweet ice-creams that capture the bright flavour of exquisite, ripe fruit but with a supernaturally light, smooth and sublime texture. The focus is on using minimally processed, fresh, whole ingredients within the confines of the seasons and simple methods. Ices are sold from the back of a small white Piaggio Ape – the same vehicle used to sell fruit and vegetables in Neapolitan markets. La Grotta runs from April to December. I sell scoops at markets and art fairs, and tubs in shops around London. For the first three months of the year – when it’s too cold to sell ice-cream (it doesn’t melt in the mouth properly at temperatures below 14°C) – I work abroad in places like Naples and Sicily.
Here Are Three Recipes To Try At Home…
A few years ago, late at night in bed and high on Italian eBay, I bought several thousand pounds worth of 1960s Italian ice-cream machinery from a used catering equipment salesman in northern Italy. I hired a van and undertook an insane 24-hour drive to Turin and back to bring the 2-tonne machines back to the UK. Once home, they sat, unfixable, in storage for approximately six years, quietly leaking thick black oil and defunct coolant over my garage floor until I sold them for scrap metal.
The point of this story is to say that on the way home, we stopped at a market in Lyon where I took advantage of every bit of negative space in the van and bought a stall’s entire stock of very ripe apricots to bring back with me. It made enough ice-cream for that whole summer, and it was extraordinarily good – the delicious but slightly poisonous marzipan flavour of the ‘noyau’ or kernels acting as a bitter reminder against late-night eBay purchases.
Passion Fruit Sour
Passion fruits have a surprise inside. Their crinkly, dun skins disguise highly scented, enticing pulp. They are dependable, too – easily available and reliably yielding a rich, tropical flavour. This sorbet is very easy to make and delivers a high-impact sweet ’n’ tart flavour. It’s a real crowd-pleaser.
Cucumber & Sour Cream
Novelty ice-creams are fun to try but unless you want to lick the bowl clean, they don’t get added to my list of favourites. Nobody needs to have uneaten ice-cream languishing in the freezer getting fish finger-y and frosty. Freezer space is important – you need some room for peas and ice cubes too.
I promise, though, that this recipe is no fad. It’s the most refreshing and pacifying of all ice-cream flavours – what could be cooler? It has become a summer tradition, looked forward to – and not just by me. Salting the cucumber first draws out excess water, concentrates the flavour and improves the texture of the ice-cream. The salt should be barely discernible in the end result though. It’s incredible on its own on a really hot day.