TORRE ALFNA, Italy — I had a cup of gelati this morning before breakfast. We were walking through the town, where the combination bar-pizzeria-gelateria is open before most folks get up and after the rest go to bed, and the call coming from inside was too strong to resist.
So, several euros later, I was armed with a mixture of torrone, a type of honeyed nougat with nuts, and a pistacho, which has become the flavor to try everywhere we go. Why? Because each version that is handmade, and most of them are, will feature roasted pistachios, which gives a browner color and a flavor so rich that you’d never mistake it for what we have back home.
There are so many differences between the gelati here and the gelati back home that it’s almost a misnomer to use the same name for both. The texture in Italy is much creamier and denser, more like ice cream, and it lacks that slickness the American version has. There are seems to be a lot less sugar, which makes it more palatable as it lets the true nature of each flavor shine through.
In the pistachio, for example, you’ll taste differences everywhere you go, often because each gelato maker roasts the nuts for different lengths of time, and that is readily apparent. All have some touch of green to them, but I haven’t seen any that resemble the artificial green that the pudding mixes have told us “pistachio” is supposed to look like.
The flavors are what really makes the difference. They reflect the Italian taste and the country’s culinary traditions. You’ll find numerous frozen variations, such as zuppa inglese, gianduja (chocolate with hazelnut), stracciatella (chocolate and vanilla), amarena (sweet cream with marinated cherries) and chocolate mixed with a candied orange peel.
They also reflect what is in the marketplace. On Thursday, we took a cooking class with Lorenzo Polegri, who runs classes at this Zeppelin restaurant in Orvieto. We started the day by going to the farmers market where a great many fruits were in season, including cherries that glistened in the sun, apricots dripping with juices, the first strawberries of the season and even some loquats that seemed to dwarf the versions we grow in Texas.
In the end, Lorenzo picked out some of the last blood oranges to arrive from Sicily this season and decided that would be our foundation. Once back in the kitchen, my friend Steve and I volunteered for the dessert squad, which meant we had to cut the peeling and pith from all of the oranges, some of which were so dark that they were a blackish purple.
We then threw them in a food processor and pulverized them down into juice, which was strained so that all of the fiber was removed. Then we stirred in the sugar, the milk and the heavy cream in a ratio of 4 parts juice to 2 parts sugar and one part each of the milk and cream. (This variation of gelato was not custard-based and had no eggs in it.) A little rum went into the gelato maker before the orange juice mixture did, and we let the machine work its magic.
During one of the test tastes that we took during the process, it was decided that the acid level was a little low, probably because the oranges were so sweet. So, we added a splash of lemon extract and another of orange extract, which increased the brightness considerably.
It took more than an hour for the gelato to solidify, most likely because of the alcohol involved. But when we had the end result after our meal, it certainly left a smile on our faces.
Well, it’s a little after lunch now, and it’s our last full day here. I think it’s time for a return trip to the gelateria.