After the umpteenth time that my daughter came running to me for splinters in her hands, I finally told myself that never again will I put the fichi d'india (prickly pears) along with the other fruits in the fruit bowl. They're full of small spines that, when lodged in the skin, can become a painful nuisance to deal with. If I can't teach my child NOT to play with the fruits, then I will just have to teach myself to baby proof the kitchen. Prickly pears included!
I never gave cacti a second look. I find them unattractive as plants and they're very spiny so why bother. But not after I tried the prickly pears for the first time in Italy. I could have had it sooner but the seeds that fill up the whole fruit makes me balk at trying it. They have to be swallowed. Every single one of them. I was scared that I would choke on them but my fears were pacified with repeated reassurances.
These prickly pears opened up a whole new world to me. Yup, the world of the cacti. Did you know that some of them can produce really outstandingly beautiful flowers? Ha! Good for you because I didn't! When a friend moved house and showcased her balcony full of flowering cacti, I was amazed at how beautiful and strange-looking some flowers are. But what caught my interest is that she didn't need to put any automatic irrigation system in her plants whenever she's away on vacation.
My choice of plants are always the thirsty ones that seem to have run daily marathons. I have three automatic irrigation systems attached to all the plants that never seem to be enough plus our neighbor's help in reviving the dying ones when we are away. I did try to keep some cacti but they seemed to be silent weapons waiting for accidents to happen with kids around. I grew hoarse repeatedly reminding my son, who was a toddler then, to stay away from the cacti. I gave up. I gave them away including the prickly pear plant that I was hoping would bear some fruit. It's easier and safer to buy them already packed. And you can buy them spineless now too and what do you know, also seedless!
Just across the road from our house, there is a big vegetable & fruit garden with a lot of prickly pears shooting out from the plants. It's a nice reminder of the Sicilian terrain full of prickly pears. They were everywhere! On both sides of the roads, there are some big plantations that cultivate them. On my visits to Eataly, the gastronomic megastore in Rome, I kept on buying them. The Sicilian ones are the tastiest that you can find in the country.
Sorbetto di fichi d'india (prickly pear sorbet) is a flavor that you will most likely not encounter in the gelaterie (ice cream shops) around. I usually prefer the artisanal cold treats but sometimes, there are flavors that are impossible to find so that's when my reliable ice cream maker churns its own flavors.
For this post, I am sharing 3 flavors. Prickly pear, rose and violet. I based the prickly pear sorbet on Czaba della Zorza's sorbetto al frutto della passione (passion fruit sorbet) from the cookbook Summer Holidays. If you have been reading some of my past posts, I had been deliberating whether to put egg whites in the sorbet or not to make them fluffier. It is always a discussion among friends and family who puts it and who doesn't. I never did and since this recipe uses egg whites, I finally gave it a try.
I did the rose and violet sorbets in the simplest method of just combining the rose syrup and violet syrup with water and churned them in the ice cream maker. Two ingredients and two steps. The outcome was compact and flowery and really pleasant. That is, if you like floral flavored sorbets.
In contrast to the flower sorbets, the prickly pear was fluffier and looser. It's exactly how the ones who use egg whites in their sorbets describe their sorbets. It's also very hard to shape into balls unlike the ones without as you can see in the pictures. Taking pictures of anything frozen on hot summer days is my least favorite task, so I apologize that the prickly pear sorbet kept on deflating every few seconds that I was snapping pictures. There's stress written all over the pictures.
It's still hot here but not as bad as the past weeks and the air is almost breathable. I hope you're enjoying better weather on your side.
Prickly Pear Sorbet
Inspired by Csaba dalla Zorza's Sorbetto al Frutto della Passione from the book Summer Holidays
- 200 ml. water
- 8 prickly pears
- 100 g. fine white sugar
- 1 lime
- 1 egg white (optional), whisked by hand
- Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. When it starts to boil, let it cook for about 4 minutes more. Mix well, making sure that the sugar has completely melted. Turn off fire and let it cool.
- Separate the pulp of the prickly pears from the skin. Leave 4 slices for garnishing before serving. Put the rest of the fruit in a blender and blend until smooth, leaving the seeds as is.
- Pass the blended pulp through a sieve to separate the seeds from the pulp. You should be able to attain at least 200 g. of the sieved pulp.
- Mix the juice and grated rind (if adding) of the lime with the pulp.
- Mix the cooled syrup with the pulp well. Transfer to an ice cream maker.
- Add egg white.
- Start the ice cream maker and let it churn for about 20 minutes, depending on your ice cream maker.
Rose and Violet Sorbet
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup rose or violet syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon lime zest (optional)
- Mix water, syrup and lime zest in a bowl.
- Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn for about 20 minutes, depending on your ice cream maker.