One of the most efficient appliances I own is a small, inexpensive ice cream maker that requires no ice or salt and makes delicious frozen concoctions. As much as I love it, I only use it a few times a year, always in the summer. With just a small metal cylinder that lives in my freezer year-round, I can turn out the same quality of ice cream that we used to spend hours of labor to make.

That was back when the old hand-churn ice cream maker required strong muscles to crank for what seemed like hours before sweetened cream was solid enough to eat. Meanwhile the tub of ice struggled to stay frozen long enough to complete its task, and saints preserve us if the ice cream salt sloshed into the cream.

My favorite was my mother’s vanilla. It had that homemade taste of custard that no store-bought brand has ever achieved, at least to me.

My daughter has a machine like mine, and we like to get them churning together with two different flavors. Besides air-conditioning and swimming pools, my friendly ice cream maker is what helps me survive August in New Orleans.

My all-time favorite is lemon ice, and I use an old recipe over and over because I could never improve upon it. I love fresh lemon and consider it the most thirst-quenching flavor on Earth. Then comes my mother’s vanilla, which is based on an English custard recipe. I have experimented with peach, because Louisiana and Alabama have some of the best, and for a gelato have turned to the expert, Giada De Laurentiis, to see if it’s as good as she makes it sound. It is. By summer’s end I will probably experiment with all of the fresh fruits at the market. Whatever fruit you pick for your coolinary quest, make sure it’s ripe and sweet.

Giada’s Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar, plus ¼ cup
4 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread such as Nutella
½ cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed, for garnish (optional)  

In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream and ½-cup sugar over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whip the egg yolks with the remaining sugar using an electric mixer until the eggs are thick and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Pour ½-cup of the warm milk-cream mixture into the egg mixture and stir. Add this back into the saucepan. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Place a strainer over a medium bowl and pour the warm custard mixture through the strainer. Stir in the vanilla and hazelnut spread until it dissolves. Chill mixture completely before pouring into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions to freeze. To serve, scoop gelato into serving bowls and top with hazelnuts.

Serves 6 to 8

Peach Ice Cream

6 medium very ripe peaches, peeled, seeded and sliced, about 3 cups
1 cup sugar, divided
Pinch salt
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

On a plate or cutting board, mash peaches with a fork. Place in a bowl with ½ cup of the sugar and salt.

Heat milk and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Place egg yolks in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Stir in remaining sugar. Spoon a fourth cup of the heated milk into the egg yolks and stir well. Then gradually pour egg yolk mixture, stirring, into the milk mixture. Cook over a medium-low heat until thickened. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. Draw your finger across the spoon and the line should stay clear. Stir in vanilla and remove from heat. Cool for about half an hour, and place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the custard and chill in refrigerator.

Meanwhile, purée the peach mixture in a food processor until smooth with few very small pieces remaining. Chill in the refrigerator until cold and combine with the cold custard.
Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. If your freezer is very small, you may have to freeze in two batches as you should leave about 1-inch of space from the top. If a firmer ice cream is desired, set in freezer until firm.

Serves 6 to 8

Lemon Ice

4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 cup lemon juice

Mix water and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Cool. Add lemon zest and juice. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.

Serves 8

Country Vanilla Ice Cream

3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean or 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt  

Beginning several hours before serving time, heat milk and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form around the sides. If using a vanilla bean, add this before heating by splitting the bean lengthwise and scraping the seeds into the milk-cream, then adding the bean. If using extract, add later.

   Beat eggs with a whisk until foamy. Gradually add sugar and salt. Add a little of the warm milk-cream to the eggs and mix, then slowly whisk egg mixture into milk mixture. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring, until the mixture has thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Run your finger down the spoon. This should form a clear line when custard is ready. Remove from heat and discard vanilla bean. If using vanilla extract, add now. Cool for half an hour. Cover custard with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.

   When very cold, pour into an ice cream maker and freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. If custard is still very soft after freezing, place freezer container in a freezer for an hour or two until it becomes more solid. Or transfer to a plastic container and freeze.

Serves 8 to 10