The Art of Italy’s Gelato
By Ylenia Sambati
Italy’s gelato, which translates from Italian as “ice cream,” just like pizza and spaghetti, is famous around the world. And, as with Italy’s other rich food traditions, there’s an art to making gelato, and it’s one that, as with all Italian food, evolves from a historic craftsmanship and the use of the best ingredients. One simply must try the gelato when visiting Italy — just as one must see great Italian works of art and the beautiful architecture that have made the country so famous. Enjoying gelato is an art, too, and just as popular among Italians, as it is among tourists, who view it as a personal reward — a relaxing moment of joy. One eats gelato, not just for the taste, but also to take a moment to relax with good company, family or friends.
When you’re longing for gelato the typical Italian expression is, “che voglia di gelato,” or “I want gelato.” Surely there will be somebody that responds, “Anch’io, andiamo!” or, “me too, let’s go!” Though often associated with the warm months of the year, gelato is a tempting, year-round delight, even in winter. On Sunday afternoons, and late into the night, Italian gelaterias are crowded because eating gelato is as traditional as watching Sunday afternoon football. In fact, there are a few that things Italians are especially fond of: family, pasta, the Sunday football game and gelato, of course.
Gelato was born in Italy during the Renaissance, introduced in the middle of 1500 by Ruggeri, a poultry seller and chef who prepared some gelato desserts on the occasion of the wedding of Catherine de Medici. In 1600, Giovanni Bosio opened the first gelateria in New York. The cone was introduced by an immigrant, Italo Marchioni, who submitted a patent in 1903 for a mold to make an edible cups with handles.
Love for gelato has spread all over the world, conquering more and more palates. Italians have proven over time to be masters in the art of creating this rich confection, which also has many nutritional qualities. Milk provides calcium. Sugar gives carbohydrates. The eggs contribute protein and the fruits that are used minerals and vitamins. True Italian gelato, as with all good Italian food, is made with simple, pure ingredients. There are no preservatives and artificial additives and gelato is processed according to the traditional Italian techniques. Because of the protein and calcium it provides, gelato can also be eaten as a substitute for a meal.
There are two basic types of gelatos: creamy and fruity. The fruit gelatos do not contain dairy. Gelato must be made fresh and is usually prepared daily in small quantities and served directly to the public. Though creamy, Italian gelato has a lower percentage of fat than standard ice cream because gelato recipes call for more egg yolk and milk, and not as much cream. There are many different flavors, from traditional ones like fruits, creams, chocolate, and yogurt to more specialized flavors, such as Nutella, hot pepper, almond, pistachio, bacio and cassata.
The best kept secret for a good gelato is a fresh, liquid base material prepared with superlative products (materie prime), preferably with vertical machines that make the gelato as they used to do it in the past (come si faceva una volta). The highest-quality gelato is homemade with fresh ingredients, such as strawberries, walnuts and chocolate chunks. It’s first mixed by hand and then stirred and blended by machine.
When you go to the gelateria they always ask, “coppetta or cono?” meaning “cup or cone?” Nowadays, the gelato cups in Italy are, of course, biodegradable because we love our country! Strolling through Italian cities, you’ll notice the tempting gelateria windows — making it almost impossible to resist.
In Puglia, it’s a tradition t eat a typical Sunday spring dessert called Spumone, known as “hard piece,” (pezzo duro). Spumone is offered as a gift when you’re invited for a lunch with family and friends. Spumone is the king of gelatos in this part of Italy. It’s usually prepared for big occasions, such as wedding receptions and festivals. In ancient times, especially in little villages, the bars reserved outdoor spaces for clients who sat, read their newspaper, and enjoyed their Spumone. Spumone is a “tronchetto,” a log of ice cream (usually containing hazelnut and chocolate), stuffed with sponge cake and Strega liqueur, chocolate pieces, marsala sabayon and finely chopped crunchy almonds.
Andiamo a prendere un gelato? Are you ready now for a delicious Italian gelato?
Ylenia Sambati is a travel consultant in Italy’s southeastern region. Visit her website at www.yltourcongressi.com.