I spent this last week doing not a whole heck of a lot. I made two trips to the beach with dear friends, a new baby beauty, and a baby in utero. (Not my utero.) I watched another inspiring friend complete her first triathlon. I read books and drank coffee on my couch. I saw the new X-Men (x-tremely boring) by myself and drank my annual cherry coke (delicious). I went to the farmers’ market for the first time this summer (!) and bought a ton of heirloom tomatoes. And I loaded up on more currants. Lots more currants.
I know I just made you a black currant cake. But the red ones were so sparkly in the sun. And honestly when the farmer caught me smelling them aggressively I was too embarrassed not to buy them. I initially imagined a swirly, red and white currant ice cream. Sweet, sour, and creamy. Doesn’t that sound good? But my freezer is about the size of two shoeboxes and right now it’s jammed full of frozen sour cherries, rhubarb, wild blueberries, and apricots. (I have a problem letting go of seasonal fruits.) I tried to fit the base of my ice cream maker in there but that was like trying to wedge a watermelon into a teacup. But I have some good news. Semifreddo. That's the news. Semifreddo sort of looks like ice cream. It tastes like ice cream on your tongue. It melts like ice cream. But you don’t need an ice cream maker to make it. And you just need enough space in your freezer to slip in a little loaf pan.
Semifreddo means “half frozen” or “half cold” in Italian. That name has always struck me as a little odd. After the prescribed time in the freezer, isn’t the thing completely cold? It looks totally frozen to me. I recently committed this meditation on frozenness to paper as a headnote for one of the recipes in my book. But Gus, who is a great albeit harsh editor, was horrified when he read it. He insisted that I scrap that idea and start over. And then he spent a week taunting me in the most unappealing, floundering-stand-up-comic affect he could muster. “Hey. what’s the deal with semifreddo? Half freddo? But isn't it completely freddo?” Yeah. I get it. It’s a bad joke. It’s not even a joke. It’s just a boring thought.
Clearly I have nothing funny to say about semifreddo. But why should something so good need to be funny, too? Semifreddi of all kinds are easy to put together and don’t have many ingredients. This one is almost painfully pretty to look at. Pink. Ombre-ish. Try it with currants. Or any other summer fruit you can get your nose… I mean hands on.
Red Currant Semifreddo
2 cups stemmed red currants, plus more for garnish if you like
1/3 plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided
4 large egg whites
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1. Line an 8 1/2 –inch-by 4-1/2-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap with a 2-inch over hand on the two long sides. Add another piece of plastic in the other direction.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the currants and 1/3 cup of the sugar and heat over medium until the berries have broken down and the mixture is syrupy, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature.
3. Whisk together the egg whites and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 to 3 minutes. Rub a little bit of the mixture between your thumb and forefinger to make sure it has dissolved. Remove from the heat and beat, with an electric mixer on high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 3 minutes.
4. With clean beaters, beat the cream and the vanilla until soft peaks form. Add all but a few tablespoons of the cooled currant mixture to the beaten egg whites and fold to combine. Add the whipped cream and fold to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Drizzle with the remaining currant mixture and swirl it with a butter knife. Smooth the top and wrap the plastic over the top to seal it. Freeze until completely firm, at least 8 hours.
5. To serve, flip the semifreddo out onto a serving plate. Discard the plastic. Top with fresh currants and cut into slices.