Cookbook Review: Gelato!
Italian Ice Creams, Sorbetti & Granite
For those of you who have been lucky enough to travel to Italy, you know how tempting it is to have a daily cone or cup of gelato. An evening stroll, or passagiatta, accompanied by a small cone of gelato seems part of the way of life in a country so practiced at the art of living well.
Although I'm not a big fan of small cooking appliances, my city kitchen always has an ice cream maker. For as long as I've had a freezer big enough and cold enough to prepare the quart-sized drum that's an essential part of any ice cream maker, I've kept one on hand. My ice creams and sorbets are pretty good but I've always loved the more intense and diverse flavors -- and lower butterfat -- of Italian frozen desserts and wished I knew how to replicate them in my kitchen. And now I can.
Gelato! is a new cookbook by Pamela Sheldon Johns (Ten Speed Press, $14.95, paperback, with black and white and color photographs). The author is an American food historian, writer and cooking instructor who now lives on an organic farm in Montepulciano and who appreciates the American appetite and cravings for Italian food and culture.
The front of the book is a charming history of ice creams, tracing how they made their way from China, India and Persia and then from Italian to French court kitchens by Caterina de Medici. There's the story of gelato in Italy today, how it's made, where to find the best, and why these frozen treats remain part of modern Italian culture. There's also enough detail about how gelati, sorbetto (frozen fruit and no dairy), and granite (flavored ice crystals) are made by Italian artisanal producers.
The back of the book is particularly useful. It has a Flavor Glossary with Italian translations, giving quick explanations of stracciatella (it's what we know as chocolate chip), gianduia (chocolate-hazelnut), and limone (lemon), but it also showcases the range of ice cream flavors popular in Italy but virtually unknown here, including riso, or rice, buontalenti or eggy, and gelsomino or jasmine.
60 recipes are organized into the book's three principal chapters:
- Gelati -- including mascarpone, hazelnut, stracciatella, grape with saba, chestnut, peach and others.
- Sorbetti & Granite -- including orange sorbetto, blackberry-sangiovese sorbetto, sorbetto bellini, lemon granita and coffee granita.
- Deserts & Complements -- brioche (a way to have gelati for breakfast), tiramisu, semifreddos, fruit sauces, chocolate meringue kisses and pizzelle cones, and more.
I've been working with some of the recipes and find them extremely simple and once you try your hand at the standard methods and techniques, you'll find it's easy to take on diverse flavors. I began with the most ordinary -- Vanilla Gelato -- and discovered how a uncomplicated combination of milk, cream, sugar and a vanilla bean could be turned into a sweet, milky and beautifully flavored ice cream. Make it with organic milk and cream and you'll be particularly glad to be having a frozen dessert with no fillers or gums, and all natural ingredients. I love fruit sorbetti but never could achieve the soft texture of those made in Italy; mine always turned into popsicle-hard ices. This book finally revealed how a single egg white is the secret ingredient.
If you're heading to Italy on vacation and want to try some of the best gelato made there, the book also has a list of Gelaterie, or ice cream stands, in Sicily, Piedmont and Tuscany.
Or if you're staying closer to home and get invited to a friend's summer house and need a hostess gift, this charming and cooling small cookbook would be a perfect solution. Combine it with a Krups ice cream maker and your host just might ask you to stay for the rest of the summer.