The naming of a dish after a person was the kind of sycophancy much favoured by Escoffier and other great chefs of the old school. Anna Pavlova and Dame Nellie Melba are among those who have had this dubious honour. Always a fan of the grand, romantic, slightly creepy gesture, when I happened to fall for a girl with a fruity name it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Obviously, I already had plenty of clementine-based recipes, but this had to be something different. She wasn't going to be much impressed with a clementine tart or some spiced clementines. Late one night, while reading my cookbooks, I was struck by an inspiration. For some time I had been meaning to try my hand at a sherbet. This is somewhere between a sorbet and an ice cream, made with milk and sugar syrup, and seemed like just the sort of interesting experiment that might work out. The fresh, sweet fruit would marry well with the slightly richer base. But there was great bonus to me in the name. Clementine's surname sounds remarkably like sherbet. So clementine sherbet it would be.
I marshalled my pots and pans, gathered my whisks and bowls, and put the sorbetiere on prechill. This was to be a sweet worthy of the girl. Eventually my calculations were complete and the mix was ready. The kitchen was filled with the heady floral scent of the fresh fruit. As the concoction churned in the machine, I knew I was on to a winner, and on my first taste I knew it had exceeded my wildest expectations. It was divine. Perfectly balanced, the small amount of milk offsetting the acidity of the juices. This was a very special ice that deserved more than a place on the ice cream and sorbet list.
The following day, pride of place on the lunch menu was reserved for this dish.
passionfruit brûlée tart with clementine sherbet
As she read the menu and saw the tribute, her puppy dog eyes widened and a smile spread across her lips. As I fed her a teaspoonful of the glistening ice, she beamed, and I knew my job was done.
Yes, this is a true story. See July 1, 1999.
Makes about 1.5 litres
The syrup can be made by whisking together equal parts by weight of caster sugar and water until fully dissolved.
Gently heat the zest in the syrup and leave to infuse for about 20 minutes. Mix in the juice and milk, adding sugar to taste. Remember: things taste a lot less sweet when frozen. This is necessary as the sweetness of clementines can vary.
Strain the mixture, but retain a small amount of zest in the mix for colour. Churn in a sorbetiere (ice cream maker), or pour into a container and freeze. if you are not using a machine, it will not be as creamy and smooth, but it will be possible. Make sure to regularly break up the ice crystals with a fork as it freezes. If using the machine, remove to a tub when churned, and freeze for a few hours more.
As you eat it, notice how unrequited love can create tasty food.