By John Rudy
In Sicily and Rome, you never see the words “ice cream.” I don’t know why gelato has not totally caught on in the United States as most Americans who visit Italy fall in love with it. We did an important study while on our trip to Sicily and Roma, and we rated the gelatos at about 8 difference places. The best got a 9.5 on the “Mir Scale.” The worst got a 7 (except for one at a hotel).
Good ice cream, as we all know, has a very high fat content. The best ice cream is about 2:1 heavy cream to milk, plus egg yolks, and sugar, which is heated until the sugar dissolves. It is then cooled and beaten (while kept cold) which introduces air (sometimes a lot) into the mix.
Gelato starts out with a similar custard base but has a higher proportion of whole milk and a lower proportion of both cream and eggs (or it may have no eggs at all). Over-ripe fruit should be used for the best flavor. The mixture is churned at a much slower rate, incorporating less air and leaving the gelato denser and smoother than ice cream. Vanilla gelato contains about 90 calories and 3 grams of fat, compared to the 125 calories and 7 grams of fat in the average vanilla ice cream.
Gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so its texture stays silkier and softer; it remains dense, though, due to the lack of air. Because it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream, the main flavor ingredients really shine through. PBS traveler Rick Steves says that gelato should not be stored for a long time–preferably, in fact, for only a day or two. So eating a lot is emphasized!
Here is a recipe for chocolate gelato, my favorite.
2¼ cups whole milk
⅓ cup heavy cream
¾ cup sugar, divided
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 extra-large egg yolks
2 tbsp coffee flavor liqueur (recommended: Kahlua)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
8 chocolates, roughly chopped, optional but really good
- Heat the milk, cream, and ½ cup sugar in a 2-quart saucepan until the sugar dissolves and the milk starts to simmer. Add the cocoa powder and chocolate; whisk until smooth. Pour into a heat-proof measuring cup.
- Place the egg yolks and the remaining ¼ cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and very thick. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the hot chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the egg and chocolate mixture back into the 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. A candy thermometer will register about 180° F. Don’t allow the mixture to boil!
- Pour the mixture through a sieve (to remove any inadvertent lumps) into a bowl and stir in the coffee liqueur, vanilla, and salt. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard and chill completely.
- Pour the custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Don’t over-beat. Stir in the roughly chopped chocolate, if using, and freeze in covered containers. Allow the gelato to thaw slightly before serving so it is not hard.
Tech guru, inveterate traveler, and home chef John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age. (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)