Gelato al Basilico – Basil Gelato

by Lisa on July 18, 2010

In celebration of National Ice Cream Month, I have been making a concerted effort to make more frozen treats this summer!  Recently, my husband and I went to this adventurous little dessert cafe in the Queen Village area of Philadelphia – not only do they sell fantastic adventurous chocolates (such as the Balsamic Vinegar and Jalapeno truffles) but also have an incredible dessert selection which I highly recommend.  I saw Basil Gelato on the menu and the thought intrigued me – I, like many, had only enjoyed this fabulous herb in savory dishes like Caprese Salad and Pesto.  The idea of a basil ice cream was too unique to pass up – so I gave it a try.  The flavor was absolutely one of the most unique and amazing tastes I’ve ever enjoyed - spicy, sweet, and fresh all at the same time.  I returned home determined to try and replicate this flavor myself – I compiled a Basil Gelato recipe from a recipe I located in an old ice cream cookbook I found (Iced, by Jane Lawson) and this recipe I found online.  Simple enough for most anyone to follow, and requires only 10-12 basil leaves, which even the smallest container herb garden can supply!  It does require having a thermometer – but frankly I think a cooking thermometer is an indispensable kitchen tool.  There are multiple kinds – we have a fairly simple digital probe thermometer – its original purpose is for meat, but temperature is temperature - so we’ve also used it to  safely pasteurize frozen custards, make candy and fry things - so now’s a good time to pick one up!

Now, I liked the online recipe best, however it contains an astounding 12 egg yolks (or 2500+ mg of cholesterol) in just one batch.  For my day job, I am a pediatrician - and there is NO way I could in good conscience use a recipe like this!  I was able to cut the recipe down to just 5 egg yolks per batch, which seemed much more reasonable to me.  The texture was still velvety smooth like any good gelato, but had less than half the cholesterol than the original recipe. 

Now don’t get me wrong – I am as much a fan of ice cream as the next gal, but this is definitely a very rich recipe and I highly suggest enjoying it in small batches.  It would be fantastic with a nice dark hot fudge sauce on the side.  Get in touch with your Italian side and give this dessert a try!

Gelato al Basilico


  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves, cut into 1/4 inch strips (chiffonade style)
  • 4 cups half-and-half
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 large egg yolks

Begin by placing the egg yolks, 1 cups of the half-and-half, and half of the sugar into a large bowl, beating to combine thoroughly.  In a heavy saucepan, add the remaining 3 cups of half-and-half, the remaining sugar, and the thinly sliced basil.  Heat over low-medium heat until the mixture reaches a boil, then remove from heat.  Let this mixture sit and cool for 5 minutes to fully extract all the flavor from your basil.  Pour the heated basil mixture into the bowl containing the egg yolks and half-and-half, stirring constantly to make sure your eggs do not scramble on you!  Pour the bowl contents back into the saucepan through a strainer, removing the basil from the final product.  Over low-medium heat, bring the mixture to a temperature of 178 degrees stirring constantly and leave it there for 5 minutes in order to pasteurize your gelato.  Cool the finished liquid completely in a refrigerator – for at least 3-4 hours.  Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.  For firmer consistency, put gelato back in the freezer for several hours before serving.  Enjoy!

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