Whenever he wanted an apéritif before a special dinner, my dad always ordered the same drink: Campari and soda with a twist. He loved the refreshing sparkle of fizzy water alongside herbal, bitter liqueur and tart lemon peel. (He also loved to clink glasses with others and to simply celebrate life.)
I’d made a sweet treat with a similar essence, but always wanted to turn Dad’s Campari cocktail into a treat just for him – and sorbet was his frequent favorite when it came to dessert. The resulting recipe came just in time for his would-be 70th birthday, and it feels aptly bittersweet to know with certainty that he would have loved it.
I experimented with incorporating soda water (and even with ways to retain its effervescence), but began instead to lean toward the season’s bounty of fruit. Delicate, floral white peaches would offer a smooth but pulpy texture and a delightfully mild blank canvas for the Campari to shine.
With its bitterness akin to grapefruit peel and its notes of aromatic herbs, the liqueur comes through with a clean, reviving mouthfeel in each cool, juicy spoonful. Lemon juice provides brightness in flavor and color, while the whisper of salt and sugar offer a perfect balance to the palate.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This one’s for you, Dad.
White Peach Campari Sorbet
[makes a little over a quart]
½ cup Campari
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ pounds ripe white peaches (about 4 large)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (preferably Meyer), strained
In a small saucepan, combine Campari, sugar, and salt. Place over medium-low heat and stir regularly until sugar and salt have completely dissolved and syrup is barely simmering – about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove syrup from heat and let cool, then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Meanwhile, chill the peaches and lemon juice. (If desired, all of the above can be done a day ahead.)
Rinse and dry the peaches. Cut into quarters or smaller; discard pits. Place peach pieces in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth with no fruit chunks; there will be small speckles of peach skin. Add ½ cup of the Campari syrup (use any extra as you wish), then the lemon juice, mixing until completely incorporated.
Transfer mixture to bowl of ice cream maker and churn until at least soft-serve consistency. Transfer into a loaf pan or other sturdy container from which you’ll be able to scoop. Cover tightly and freeze for at least six hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, remove sorbet from freezer, uncover, and let sit at room temperature for five minutes or until consistency is soft enough to scoop. Store tightly covered in freezer for up to a week or two.
Maybe next time: No peaches around when you’re reading this? Ripe, mild pears such as Bartlett would also work wonderfully. Feel free to peel the fruit if you want to, but there’s really no need: the speckles of skin give character to the texture, taste, and look of the sorbet — and the peach fuzz vanishes in the blending process. This sorbet is not too sweet and tends toward the sour side; if your fruit is especially un-sweet and/or you prefer a sweeter sorbet, feel free to increase the amount of sugar in the syrup up to ½ cup.