These days it happens more often than not: you find yourself hosting a dinner party where at least one guest has a dietary restriction. I've gotten used to this. I once fed a group of ten actors for a week: one vegan, two vegetarians, one allergic to nuts, one lactose intolerant and one with a wheat allergy, so I know I can usually roll with pretty much any cooking challenge.
But sometimes I goof, and when the goof is simply forgetting about an allergy and realizing I can make up something else on the spot, I get excited. This is how unexpected ideas come to be and how some of my best recipes are born.
Recently, I found myself tending a table for four, including a newly gluten-free friend. At the end of the meal, I set out four perfect little lemony desserts containing flour. Oops.
Obviously, I needed a gluten-free dessert, and quickly. I was cooking out of a pretty empty kitchen: all we had were the ingredients I bought for the dinner which was a whole fish roasted with lemon and fennel. I surveyed the mess that remained and thought with a little ice cream, I could make something unusual. So I sent someone to the corner deli to fetch some vanilla ice cream. I found an old jam jar and layered the ice cream inside the jar with zest from the lemons, a few drizzles of olive oil, and a couple pinches of flakey sea salt.
Mister Gluten-Free loved it. To be honest, I liked it even more than the lemon cakes. The components were a perfect compliment to the meal without being too literal (thankfully I didn't put fish in the dessert!)
Of course, the possibilities for this little formula are endless: Cinnamon, nutmeg, orange or grapefruit zest, a dash of almond or vanilla extract, minced herbs, other kinds of oils like sesame and walnut. This is just a beginning.
The lesson here is to open your mind and use what you have. Even if all you have is the mess left after dinner, you'll still have your friends and their dietary restrictions in all their glory.
1 pint vanilla ice cream
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
zest from 1 organic lemon
1/4 teaspoon coarse, flakey sea salt
Place one scoop of ice cream in the bottom of a jar, or ice cream dish. Tamp down the ice cream gently with a cocktail muddler or the back of a spoon. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon olive oil on top. Add a few pinches lemon zest and a tiny pinch of salt. Repeat these layers two more times. Serve immediately, or freeze until ready to serve.
(images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)