Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just Gelato

I don’t know which came first; gelato or the passeggiata? Perhaps one was invented to accompany the other because taking a stroll on a summer’s evening in Italy now seems unthinkable without a quick visit to the gelateria (ice-cream parlour). I live in a small town. There’s one gelateria and somewhere in the region of a dozen bars and café’s that sell ice-cream. I seldom make it past the first corner before the children force a pit stop for a cone. We’re not the only ones of course. According to a recent survey, a whopping 95% of the Italian population likes ice-cream. Who the other 5% are, I don’t know – I’ve never met an Italian who doesn’t like ice-cream.

Of course, I’m talking about artisan ice-cream here – not something that comes whizzing out of a machine or something you buy from the frozen section of the supermarket or something that adheres to a stick and pops out of a packet! Artisan ice-cream was invented in Italy some time in the 17th century, exactly when food historians are unsure. The English term, ‘ice-cream’, first appeared in a 1672 document from the court of Charles II, and the first printed recipes appeared in Naples and in France in the latter part of the 17th century.

There was a time in Italy when gelato meant milk, cream, eggs, sugar and very little else. Flavourings were natural - fruit, chocolate, the occasional nut – and colourants were non-existent! It would be wonderful to be able to say that nothing’s changed. But the signs ‘Produzione Propria’ or ‘Produzione Artiginale’ are a clear indicator that times have changed. Sickly sweet, industrially-produced ice-creams, masquerading as the real deal, are now sadly a fact of life and it takes to be something of an ice-cream-sleuth to be able to differentiate between the good and the not so great. But luckily the demand for the genuine article in Italy is such that there remain a few good men who insist on doing things the right way. Artisan producers still make gelato without the assistance of artificial flavourings, preservatives or colours. It’s just a question of finding them!

In the summer, one out of three Italians eats ice-cream between four and five times a week, 55% preferring it in the afternoon and 47% after dinner – the hours of the customary passiagata. In short, we eat ice-cream when it’s hot! My children, on the other hand, are not so fussy – they’ll say ‘yes’ to ice-cream whatever the weather might be doing. My younger son Giuliano follows the herd – he always opts for chocolate, Italy’s most popular flavour. My older son Massimo is much more adventurous – he’s experimented with them all and isn’t entirely satisfied unless he has a combination of at least three flavours protruding from the top of the cone. Personally, I’m a fan of the classics – panna (cream), pistachio and occasionally strawberry – but seldom all at once. A final little titbit for you; Italians like to eat their ice-cream cone slowly, taking on average 7 minutes… truth be told, mine never seems to last quite that long! 

Strawberry, pistachio and cream ice cream
Gelato alla fragola, pistacchio e panna

I have to say that very few Italians admit to making their own ice-cream. It’s too readily available, I guess? However, there’s something to be said for knowing exactly what’s in your ice-cream and the best way to know that is to do it yourself. Making ice-cream is a relatively straightforward process and if you’ve never tried it, give it a go - you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how wonderful it can taste!

Serves 8
Preparation time: 10 minutes + chilling
Cooking time: 5-7 minutes

1 lt double cream
150g caster sugar
6 egg yolks
50g unsalted pistachio nuts
250g strawberries

Divide the cream, caster sugar and egg yolks into 3 equal quantities.  To make the plain ice cream, place the cream over a medium heat and bring to a gentle boil.  Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Place the egg yolks in a bowl, whisk together and then slowly pour over the cream, whisking all of the time.  Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and follow machine instructions.

To make the pistachio ice cream, place the shelled nuts into a food processor and process until very fine.  Add the nuts to the cream and then bring to the boil.  Then follow the process described for making the plain ice cream. 

To make the strawberry ice cream, blend the strawberries to make a puree and then add this to the cream and sugar mixture before pouring over the egg yolks.  Again, finish the recipe by following the process described for making plain ice cream.

Before serving, scatter a few chopped pistachios and wild strawberries over the top.

TIP: For a lighter version you can substitute 250ml of cream for whole milk. Mix the milk and cream together before separating to use in the recipes.


  1. What a yummy post this is Mario. I absolutely adore gelato, but we don't have it as often as the average Italian, which makes it more special. There were a few times last year when we skipped dinner and just had gelato instead :) Our town is small too, and there isn't a shortage of places to get gelato. My favourite flavour is nocciola.

    1. I'm sure my children wouldn't say 'no' to the idea of skipping dinner and just having ice-cream. I think I'd better keep this one to myself Cathy!

    2. I'm sure my children wouldn't say 'no' to the idea of skipping dinner and just having ice-cream. I think I'd better keep this one to myself Cathy!

    3. Probably a wise idea Mario!

  2. Stracchiatella - my absolute favorite flavor. When we were in Italy we ate it twice a day -there is just no excuse for that but what can you say!

  3. Oh, Mario!! What a post!! Well, I'm not Italian (German mostly), and I have to admit to not being a big fan of ice cream. The rest of the family, however, thinks I'm a bit off my rocker.
    We are leaving in about 8 weeks for Venice, Italy, and one of the first thing both kids talked about (they are 13 and 16) was Gelato! Real Gelato, no the "stuff" we find in the stores here. My son, unfortunately, is very lactose intolerant, he's planning on taking a day to enjoy a decent amount of gelato. First we have to find one that's worth it!
    I love the shot of your little one digging into that bowl!

    1. Lucky you Kim. I'm sure you'll be able to find the odd gelateria or two in Venice!

  4. Oh wow! This is a lovely ice cream recipe :) I'm very jealous of your gelato-availability. We're stuck with just Haagen Daas and Dairy Queen in Cayman.