Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars
We don’t spend hours in the kitchen every evening.
Sometimes, I just pop a bowl of cold fried rice into the microwave for a quicker than quick dinner. On Tuesdays my mother and I steam broccoli, chop watermelon into chunks, sit down to watch Chopped and call it a night. I’ve even leaned against the fridge and eaten cold chicken salad straight out of the tupperware. Our kitchen is always stocked with enough leftovers to make us low-maintenance weeknight diners.
Weekends, though… That’s an entirely different matter. Sometimes the whole day revolves our food. My mother often wakes up before me to brush her bread with an egg glaze, and we juggle the oven so I can bake biscuits. She’s the queen of scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed juice, and I can press any berry into a special maple syrup.
My parents and I frequently head to the farmer’s market right after breakfast to shop for dinner, usually without a meal plan in mind. We pick whatever’s fresh and seasonal and bright, whatever inspires hunger even though we just ate. My family has been known to spend an afternoon rolling out pasta directly on our dinner table, marinating fish, picking through sun-warmed herbs. Then, we feast.
Don’t be fooled, though. There are plenty of awful mistakes, pain in the rear ingredients, and even the occasional temper. Our kitchen is what my dad likes to call a “two-butt work area.” The three of us barely fit inside it, and with the two dogs brushing against our ankles, it’s a very tight squeeze.
Usually, it’s chaotic frustration. As the sky darkens, my dad works from both the stove and the cutting board, on opposite ends of the kitchen. My mother can’t help but clean dishes in real time, sometimes whisking bowls off into the sink before we’re through with them. And me? I’m just trying to get to the oven, which is between the two of them. Add Tilly, who begs at your feet until you step on her, and Otis, who grunts whenever you drop a scrap – it’s an experience.
Yet once we carry plates to the table, settling down in our usual chairs, it’s calm. It’s relaxed. It’s all about passing plates and trying a bit of everything. It’s the subdued “Mmm!” at first bite. Cooking together is hectic, but it’s always worth it. There is something intangible about a meal created with your family… an hour of satisfaction, and a lifetime of memories.
Usually when I’m in the kitchen, I’m alone. Sometimes I’m even the only one in the entire house, especially now in the summer. I love baking in the serene calm of morning, with light streaming from the window above the sink and the French doors. It’s quiet, except for blue jays rustling in the backyard pines and the faint rhythm of my breath. It’s silent enough for me to sense the song of the kitchen in my ears and in my soul.
When I’m baking by myself, the kitchen is perfect for one person – spacious, even. I can’t help but feel that there’s no better way to spend life than alone with my thoughts and my Kitchen Aid. That is, until the weekend rolls around again. Then I’m weaving between my parents, half laughing and half exasperated, five minutes away from “dinner’s ready.” And at that moment, there’s no other place I’d rather be.
They’re opposite situations, and I like that. I like the contrast, and the fact that such distinct experiences can occur in the same room. The differences make each experience memorable and sweet, even if they don’t seem to complement each other at first glance.
I love juxtaposed differences, in life and in food. Sweet with salty, hot with cool, creamy with crunchy… Enter these watermelon bars, the perfect example of just that.
The bottom layer is the simplest watermelon sorbet, a snap to whirl together. It freezes somewhat hard and icy, but it’s utterly refreshing. The sorbet is spread with a basil-lime semifreddo, which is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. The semifreddo makes up for all the richness the sorbet lacks, whisked with sweetened condensed milk and lightened with whipped cream. It’s so thick and creamy, it should be illegal. The zing of lime and smooth, floral aroma of basil pair gorgeously with melon.
It could be a clash of flavors and textures, but I think they make a beautifully balanced combination. Together, they pack the epitome of summer in every melting bite.
I’d had these chilled bars in the back of my mind since I first saw them in Gourmet magazine two years ago. I finally froze a batch because I had a hunk of watermelon in the fridge and a bag of limes perfuming the counter. I threw in basil, my favorite herb, since it reminds me of everything summer.
My dad didn’t like the bars as much as I did, but only because he felt the two frozen desserts could be paired differently. He suggested multiple, thinner layers of sorbet and semifreddo, for a multi-layered bar or perhaps for a swirled scoop of ice cream. Both great potential variations on this dessert.
The flavors in the bars are very bold, especially the citrus. Don’t be afraid! If you know you’re not a fan, leave out the lime zest in the semifreddo. I liked everything as is.
Frozen Watermelon Basil-Lime Bars
Concept and Semifreddo layer adapted from Gourmet
Watermelon Sorbet layer a 17 and Baking original
Makes a 9”x9” pan
1 1/2 pounds (24 oz) seedless watermelon, rinds removed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (or tequila, rum, etc) (optional)
Juice of a small lemon
One (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
Zest of a small lime
Juice of two small limes
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
Line the bottom and sides of a 9”x9” pan with plastic wrap so that there is some overhang on all four sides. (I used aluminum foil, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It flaked later on when I cut the bars.) Place the lined pan in the freezer while making the watermelon sorbet.
To make the sorbet, blend the watermelon in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add the sugar, Grand Marnier, and lemon juice and blend until very smooth. Chill the mixture in the freezer for 30 minutes or until very cold, then churn in an ice cream maker. Spread the churned sorbet in the prepared pan and freeze at least 2 hours, or until the sorbet has hardened.
To make the semifreddo, heat the sweetened condensed milk with the basil in a small saucepan over medium heat until it steams. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. When cool, whisk in the zest and lime juice until smooth. In another bowl, whisk the whipping cream until it just reaches stiff peaks. Fold it into the sweetened condensed milk gently with a rubber spatula.
Smooth over the watermelon sorbet in the 9”x9” pan and freeze until solid, preferably overnight. I also recommend putting plates in the freezer at this point so when you’re ready to serve the bars, you can use chilled plates and the bars won’t melt as quickly.
When ready to serve, use the overhanging plastic wrap to lift out the bars. Cut into squares and serve on chilled plates.
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