Earlier this month, I bought a package of 20 vanilla beans. It was an impulse buy if there ever was one. I had an armload of dried pasta, olives, cheeses, and fresh bread from my favorite Italian grocery, and I was standing in line behind a few other cheerful shoppers who were obviously in the same freewheeling state of mind. They were scooping up two and three cannoli at a time, inquiring about whether there might be any more sfogliatelle in the back bakery, and greedily eyeing everyone else’s purchases for something they may have missed amidst the deli counter crush and cramped aisles.
My arms were full, but I saw this package of vanilla beans at a very good price. I grabbed them, with nary a thought of “now what in the world am I going to do with all these?” I noticed the woman in front of me immediately reached under the counter to grab a package, then looked back to give me a smile. Then another woman walked up to me and asked, excitedly, “Where did you get that?” I pointed and she snatched up her 20 vanilla beans.
At fancy gourmet stores, vanilla beans are typically sold 1-2 per package. They always seem so lonely and stringy, like a green bean gone bad. But twenty vanilla beans. Now that’s really something. It makes you realize why half the world’s soaps are scented with vanilla. These were sealed in heavy plastic bags with a sturdy ziploc at the top, and still they perfumed the entire checkout area.
How lucky for me that vanilla ice cream rolled around this month for Tuesdays with Dorie — it seemed the perfect showcase for 1/20th of my stash. This recipe makes a generous batch of vanilla ice cream, though sadly I can’t be more specific on that point. After making a big bowl of custard, I stored it in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours. In the late afternoon, my 4-year-old daughter needed to reach her apple juice, inconveniently positioned behind the giant bowl of custard, and, well, you can guess the rest. Let’s just say my golden retriever was the happiest I’d seen him all week — and he is most definitely a fan of this dessert.
I churned what was left of the custard and served it with my brother’s still-warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Lovely. We had about a thimble full of ice cream left over the next morning, so I used two little amaretti cookies for the photo shoot.
Only 19 vanilla beans left. I don’t have any plans for them yet, but I can tell you that my pantry smells divine.