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The River Café's Strawberry Sorbet

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This week, we're launching a new column from food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore that assumes the following to be true: there are good recipes, and great ones -- and then there are genius recipes.  

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too.

Strawberry sorbet

- Kristen

That dastardly pith. We're taught to zest our lemons carefully, to shear off just the thin yellow top coat, so full of citrusy perfume and promise of martinis. As if, should we let our guard down, some of the bitter, spongy white underbelly -- the pith! -- might sneak in and ruin everything. (And sometimes it does.) So we dutifully leave it behind after we've had our way with juice and rind, like the fifth quarter of the fruit department.

But Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, founders of the famed River Café in London, knew better.

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray  lemon pith

Heroes of simple, lusty Italian flavors (remember, they spawned The Naked Chef), Rogers and Gray realized that, taken in the right proportions, some pith would add depth but not bitterness to a sweet sorbet. So, in their London River Café Cook Book,they instruct us to pulverize a whole chopped lemon, pith and all, and temper it with ample strawberries and sugar.

The process is enough to convince anyone, young or old, that the kitchen is an exciting place to be. Just 3 ingredients make a series of quick, colorful transformations. In less time than you might spend watching babies doing funny things on YouTube today, you get to see not only what strawberries look like as they surrender and slacken into a hot pink soup, but also what happens when chopped lemon and sugar become one -- going from sandy to molten slush in just a few pulses.

And because this effortlessly dissolves the sugar, you get to bypass making a simple syrup, a step often considered mandatory in sorbet recipes. In other words, this is a truly no-cook sorbet. Score one for pith!

strawberry sorbet  strawberry sorbet

And did I mention that all of this happens in one food processor bowl? Not only does that mean fewer vessels to wash, but you also don't have to worry about scraping out the sticky lemon sugar that clings to the sides. (Is that stressful to anyone but me? Every bit left behind is like a small personal failure.) Here, the rush of strawberry juices washes away any lingering clumps (and guilt).

Now if you're eyeing your lemon, thinking it looks especially bloated and pithy -- or you're fretting that your strawberries aren't as sweet and dainty as they looked at the greenmarket, you have the chance to rein them in, by adjusting the final hit of lemon juice to taste before sending the brew into your ice cream maker (Don't have one yet? They're worth it.).

The London River Cafe Cookbook  strawberry sorbet

It's sweet and cold, with little pucker, and since you don't strain it, you get gleeful pops of seed and shreds of rind (of course, you could always pass it through a strainer if textured sorbet isn't your thing, but for the true, rustic Rogers and Gray experience, don't).

How do I suggest working this into your summer? Serve it as an invigorating dessert after something grilled and meaty. Or ease a fuschia-colored scoop into a glass of seltzer or ginger ale and go sit in the sunshine.

It also works as a reliable mood enhancer when you walk in the door hot and grumpy, and in plying children or anyone else you'd like to obey you.

The River Café's Strawberry Sorbet

From London River Café Cook Book by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray

Makes 1½ quarts.

  • 2-3 lemons, 1 seeded and roughly chopped and the others juiced
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 pounds strawberries, hulled

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe you'd like to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].


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