I was three the first time I had an intermezzo, that small scoop of sorbet served between courses as a palate cleanser in old-school, fancy French restaurants. My parents had taken me to a local French place to celebrate my becoming a big sister. And between the onion soup with its blanket of bubbling cheese and the duck a l’orange, a little walnut-sized scoop of lemon sorbet arrived, in a frosted chilled coupe, with a wee little silver spoon and a tiny leaf of mint. I was completely charmed, and I left that meal, after a healthy serving of chocolate mousse, a life-long foodie and Francophile.
Intermezzos for me were always the mark of a certain kind of frilly dining that persisted through the most memorable meals of the seventies and eighties until the new styles of cuisines and what made fine dining changed. It seemed that intermezzos were lost to the world.
But I am bringing them back.
Firstly, companies like Talenti and others are producing seriously luxurious sorbets that can be sourced at your local grocery store, and affordable electric ice-cream churners are making homemade sorbets an achievable endeavor for any home cook. So, adding an intermezzo course to your parties is easier than ever.
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Secondly, there was a very good reason for those cold, tart offerings between courses. They legitimately both settle the stomach and awaken the palate, preparing you to fully enjoy your entrée. But lastly, and maybe even most importantly, the intermezzo is a welcome slow-down reminder for hosts and guests alike, something of a speed bump in the middle of your supper. In our rush-rush world, adding a bonus course to any meal can be a great way to take a collective breath and culinary pause and enjoy an extra ten minutes of table time.
Sure, you can serve them at your special occasion parties, New Year’s Eve, big birthdays, and anniversaries. But I love them most on a random and otherwise casual get together for no real reason than just to be with friends. I love figuring out the best flavor to interrupt the meal with; mango or passionfruit with intense spicy foods, grapefruit or tangerine with rich braises or stews, tart raspberry or blackcurrant with Middle Eastern feasts. If I get ambitious and want to make my own, I turn to recipes from people like David Lebovitz or Dana Cree for inspiration. If you don’t have an ice cream maker but want to make something from scratch, find a recipe for a granita that you like, and the effect will be the same.
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Timing your intermezzo is easier if you prepare ahead. I find small glasses, and pre-scoop the sorbet into them and then place them on a tray in the freezer so that serving is fast and simple. Sorbets, unlike ice creams, usually freeze much harder, and might require 30 minutes at room temp to be properly scoopable, and I personally am notorious about forgetting to take them out early enough, so the prep ahead is key for me.
There is a lot about super formal dining that is fine to be relegated to the past. I don’t think finger bowls need to return, and I frankly don’t care what fork you use with what dish. But I’m hoping to lead the intermezzo renaissance. Even if you think it is silly to cleanse your palate or refresh yourself between courses, think about them as a little mini bonus dessert you get to eat mid-meal, and your inner child will be delighted.
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