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Pistachio Gelato

Pistachio Gelato

 This pistachio gelato has its genesis in Rome, at Nonna Vincenza’s, a beautiful bakery and shop that features decadent Sicilian pastries and other sweet treats. 

My favorite are the mini cassata cakes filled with a ricotta mixture and covered in a pistachio and almond paste.
The shop sells cookies, liqueurs and almond and pistachio pastes too, and two years ago I bought a jar of their pistachio paste. Having only carry-on luggage, though, I was thwarted at check-in, because I had forgotten you can’t bring in liquids or gels over a certain weight. It got confiscated, despite my pleas. So last year when I went to Rome, I checked my luggage upon departure for the U.S., just so I could pack a jar of this dreamy paste, made from the best pistachios in the world — those of Bronte, Sicily.
 Having come back two weeks ago from another visit to the eternal city, and eaten a fair share of pastries at Nonna Vincenza’s, I decided to finally make gelato using the jar that’s been sitting in my cupboard for nearly a year. What a revelation! Now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t bring in any of this wonderful product from this most recent trip.
There are other sources of pistachio paste or cream that you can find on the internet, but I can’t vouch for any of them since I haven’t tried them. If you decide to buy some, please let me know the results.
Even if you leave out the pistachio paste, this recipe makes a delicious vanilla gelato – and would be a great base for other flavorings too.
I added the pistachio paste at the very end, but you could add anything, including almond paste, crushed strawberries or coconut cream.
 Don’t confuse this with that neon green pistachio ice cream you see at commercial ice cream shops. This is not even related in the least to that product. If you’ve never liked pistachio ice cream, it’s understandable if those are all you’ve tried. Give this a go, topped with a few chopped pistachios, and you’ll easily become a convert to the real thing. And if you’re in Rome (or Catania, Sicily and now Bologna), don’t miss a chance to go to Nonna Vincenza’s. Find out more about them here.

Pistachio Gelato
printable recipe here

2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 T. vodka
1 cup pistachio cream (I used Nonna Vincenza’s, but you can’t find it in the U.S., so substitute another brand that you might find here or here.)

Split the vanilla bean in half and add to the milk. Simmer just below the boiling point, then set it aside to infuse for about 15 minutes. Remove the bean. A little “skin” may have formed while it was cooling, so just lift it off and discard. Beat the egg yolks until creamy, then pour a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk into the eggs to slowly raise the temperature so that you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Keep adding the milk a little at a time, then stir in the sugar and place the mixture in a double boiler. Cook over a very low heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture heavily coats the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to cook it too long or to let it boil, or you’ll end up a with curdled mess.
Remove the mixture from the heat, place the mixture into the refrigerator to cool for a few hours (or overnight), stir in the cream, the vodka and process in an ice cream maker. While it’s churning, add the pistachio cream.Place it in the freezer to harden a bit more.

Butternut Squash And Greens

Butternut squash and greens

If you haven’t already noticed from all the butternut squash recipes I’ve posted lately, it’s one of my favorite vegetables – winter or summer. It makes a great soup, filling for lasagna, or even a delicious base for ice cream. It’s also wonderful just as a vegetable side dish, as pictured here. My friend Dede made this dish a while ago for a luncheon of our Italian chit-chat group, and I wanted to eat the whole plateful. But I played nice and left some for others. Then  I went home and made more just for me. I used kale in my version, since that’s what I had at home, but I much prefer it with swiss chard or spinach, as Dede made it.

You could even add some chick peas or cannellini beans to make this a vegetarian dish with complete proteins, or serve it as a side dish with a piece of grilled meat, as I did.

 

Butternut Squash and Greens
Note: Dede cooked her squash in a skillet, but I tossed the pieces with olive oil and roasted them in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
2 T. olive oil
1 3/4 lb. peeled and diced butternut squash, sprinkled with salt and pepper
a couple of large handfuls of greens, chopped – spinach, swiss chard or kale
1/4 cup onions, diced
1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries
grated parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top (I omitted it)
pine nuts
Heat 2 T oil in skillet and cook 1 ¾ lb peeled and ¾’ diced squash sprinkled with S & P
Partially cover with lid…heat on med to low and cook until squash begins  to brown…
Add onions and raisins (I used cranberries and raisins)…cook until tender and browned
Add spinach or other greens until wilted.
Remove and add Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or pine nuts to taste

 

We Interrupt This Blog For A Semifreddo Break

We Interrupt This Blog For A Semifreddo break

While temperatures soar to more than 100 degrees here in New Jersey and many parts of the U.S., I’m giving the oven a respite and thinking about cold foods – and of course gelato is one everybody’s favorites. You may not be able to whip up gelato in your kitchen, but you can make its close cousin – semifreddo.  But first a small tour of my gelato debauchery in Italy.
My favorite shop in Rome – Giorgiagel – is no longer in business. But I found a new place that has won my heart, even if it’s a little farther from the neighborhoods where I normally roam. More about that later. This cone is from Corona – at Largo Argentina – and it’s a winner – a rich, dark chocolate, a dulce de leche that’s loaded with caramel, and a creamy ricotta gelato – all topped with whipped cream.
Here’s a cup of dark chocolate and coconut (my standard order) from Fior de Luna, a consistently reliable place on Viale Trastevere.
This year I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about I Caruso, located a tad northwest of the Piazza Repubblica, on Via Collina 13, in a neighborhood that’s a little off the beaten tourist path. You’ll see businessmen as well as young mothers lined up outside the store, including this man holding a cone of dark chocolate and stracciatella (chocolate chip) ice cream.
The gelato is made right before your eyes.
I ordered the dark chocolate and pistachio. By the way, anytime you see pistachio or mint chocolate chip gelato or ice cream that’s bright green, steer clear of that store. Pistachio may have a slight green tinge if it’s made without artificial colorings, but it should never be the color of grass. The ice cream cone I ate at I Caruso was transcendent. I was enraptured with the creamy richness of my cone that tasted like smooth, frozen chocolate pudding. It was so good, I forgot to snap a picture until it was almost too late.
Here’s a real cutie caught in the act in the Tuscan town of Castellina in Chianti. This shop – Le Volte – was located in a vaulted medieval passageway and a little off the main drag, but definitely worth searching out. I think this little fellow agrees.
I ordered the stracciatella and a flavor that was a combo of pistachio, almond and hazelnut gelato.

 

If you don’t have a trip to Italy planned in the next week, or even if you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can beat the heat and feel a little Italian with this semifreddo recipe – “semifreddo” by the way, translates to “half cold.” Let’s hope it helps keep you a little cooler too.
Start by cooking the egg yolks with some sugar over a double boiler. Make sure you continue to whisk or you might end up with scrambled eggs. It’s ready when it makes ribbons like this.
Crush some amaretti cookies in the food processor and break up some chocolate into small bits.
Blend the egg yolk mixture, the chocolate and the amaretti cookies together with whipped cream, then fold in the whipped egg whites.
Line a loaf pan with parchment paper or plastic wrap and put some of the crushed amaretti cookies on the bottom.
Pour in the semifreddo mixture, cover and freeze.
When you unmold it, it will look like this, with the cookies all flattened on top. I think it looks prettier if it has some texture on top, so I save some of the cookies to sprinkle on top before serving.
Doesn’t that look better?
You can make it for company ahead of time and keep it in your freezer.
…..or not.
Amaretti and Chocolate Chip Semifreddo
 
This recipe is also delicious using torrone candy instead of the amaretti cookies. The torrone has to be the rock-hard kind, since it needs to get crushed in the food processor to small bits. The soft torrone that’s sold in small packages and seen everywhere at Christmas won’t work for this. I was all set to make this semifreddo with hard torrone I had bought a few months ago when I realized that the package had softened with the summer’s heat and humidity. Thus, amaretti and chocolate chip semifreddo was born.
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed amaretti cookies
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 T. sugar
  • 1 T. rum, Amaretto, marsala or other liqueur
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup good dark chocolate or chocolate bits, chopped roughly
  1. Place the cookies in a food processor and pulse until they are large crumbs.
  2. Separate the eggs, but you will only need four of the egg whites. Save the other two egg whitess for another use.
  3. In a double boiler, place the egg yolks and the sugar. Whisk over warm water until you get a velvety, thick mass. (Don’t move away from this or you could end up with scrambled eggs. Some recipes call for using raw eggs, but I like to err on the side of caution and cook my egg yolks.) Let it cool slightly, then add the rum, whisking all the while. Place it to the side or in the refrigerator, but if you let it chill too long, it will become hard to work with.
  4. Beat the cream until stiff. Add the egg yolk mixture, 1 1/4 cups of the amaretti cookies, and the chocolate bits to the whipped cream, folding everything together.
  5. Whip the four egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg yolk, whipped cream and amaretti mixture into the egg whites.
  6. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Sprinkle half of the remaining 1/4 cup of amaretti crumbs on the bottom, then pour the mixture on top.
  7. Place a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil on top and freeze overnight.
  8. When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge, let the pan soak for a few seconds in hot water, and flip onto a platter. Pull off the parchment or plastic wrap and sprinkle the remaining amaretti crumbs on top. Slice and serve with chocolate sauce, if desired.
Raspberry Christmas Bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

For years we celebrated Christmas dinner with my friend Jan and her family. Jan would always prepare this bombe for dessert, while I made a chocolate yule log.
When I was thinking about what to serve my large family clan for dessert after our traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner, this bombe naturally came to mind. It’s refreshing, it’s light, it’s colorful and it can be made ahead of time. Plus there’s no baking involved. It’s as easy as scooping sorbet into a bowl.
You don’t have to wait for Christmas to make this though. I’ve served it at dinner parties and it’s always a hit. Plus it can serve a big crowd with no last minute fuss.
I normally make it with only one type of sorbet, as Jan does, but this time I chose to use a larger bowl than in the past and the one quart of sorbet called for in the original recipe doesn’t fill the entire bowl. So I bought another type of sorbet and filled the rest of the cavity with that. I think I’ll make it this way each time, since the contrasting colors of the sorbet makes it look even more festive. You don’t have to fuss with the whipped cream piping on the top either. You can simply turn it out from the bowl and pour the raspberry sauce on top. One other variation I make from the original recipe is to use candied walnuts rather than plain ones.

It’s a versatile recipe you can alter any number of ways – using pecans, almonds, or pistachio nuts – or using ice cream instead of sorbet. Be creative and come up with something of your own. I’d love to hear how you customize it.

Raspberry Christmas Bombe

1 pint of heavy cream, whipped
fold in 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup maraschino cherries, sliced
1 1/2 cups candied walnuts (optional)

Make the candied walnuts ahead of time by taking 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tsp. water. Melt the sugar in a nonstick pan, add the water and bring to boil. Add the walnuts, stirring and cooking together for about 5 minutes at high heat, until the mixture starts to turn light tan and the sugar starts to coat the walnuts. Remove from heat and spread on waxed paper until cool.

Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla. Add the candied walnuts and sliced cherries.

Line a two-quart bowl with plastic wrap. Line the bowl with the whipped cream mixture, leaving the center hollow. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

Remove from freezer and leaving a hollow semi-hemispherical space in the center, layer one quart of softened sorbet over the whipped cream mixture. I used a pomegranate sorbet, which is the pale pink color in the photo. Place in freezer again for several hours or overnight. Remove from freezer and fill the center hole with one pint of a different flavor of softened sorbet. I used raspberry sorbet here, but it would beautiful and delicious to try something like a bright orange mango sorbet too. Cover with saran wrap and place back in freezer. After several hours in the freezer, serve by turning upside down onto a plate and removing the plastic wrap. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Or you can take it one step further to make it more decorative, as I did in the photo:

About an hour or two before guests arrive, whip up one pint of heavy cream with 3 T. confectioner’s sugar. Whip until you get firm peaks, but not so firm that the cream turns to butter. Place whipped cream in a piping bag, or a plastic bag fitted with a large piping tip at one corner that has been snipped. Remove the bombe from the freezer and turn over onto a serving plate. Pipe rosettes of whipped cream over entire bombe. Place it back in the freezer as is, with no plastic covering on top. Otherwise, you will smash the pretty rosette design. Don’t leave it like this for more than a couple or three hours in the freezer though, or you may get ice crystals forming on the bombe. Decorate with candied violets or small non-pareils. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Raspberry Sauce:

Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, 2 T. water and 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for about five minutes, then force through a strainer. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice and refrigerate.

I Scream, We All Scream, For Gelato!

I Scream, We All Scream, For Gelato!

This is my favorite combo – coffee, dark chocolate and coconut – from my favorite gelateria in Rome – Giorgiagel. It’s a tiny outpost in Trastevere on via. S. Francesco a Ripa that you never read about. But after trying all the major, well-known gelaterie, this one could not be matched, at least for my benchmark flavor, dark chocolate – or “cioccolato fondente,” as they say in Italy. It’s wickedly good. Aside from the intensity of the flavor, you get the most for your euro here – this cup or “coppetta” cost only 1 euro – or the equivalent of about $1.40 during my trip. And they add a crunchy cookie.

Giolitti, one of Rome’s beloved institutions, is my second favorite gelato spot in Rome. The coconut flavor here is the best I’ve tasted anywhere, with flecks of fresh coconut adding texture and more taste to an already yummy flavor. The coffee is really intense too, but the dark chocolate doesn’t hold a candle to Giorgiagel. The flavors on display in the case are myriad, with a rainbow of fruit sorbets including mango, plum and wild berries. This heaping cone cost 1.50 euro. Located at via Uffice del Vicario, 40, not far from the Pantheon.

The chocolate from Fonte della Salute, via Cardinal Marmaggi in Trastevere, looks darker than most, but it tasted like some thickener had been added in – more like a chocolate pudding. But it certainly looked like there were plenty of pleased customers there. The stracciatella (chocolate chip) nestled next to it, was delicious. cost 1.50 euro

Dark chocolate and caramel at San Crispino – another landmark gelateria in Rome with several locations – one near the Trevi Fountain and one near the Pantheon. Right off the bat, I don’t like the fact that their ice cream is served from covered stainless steel containers, so you can’t see what you’re ordering. Moreover, the price of this meager serving is double – 2 euros – what I paid for a heaping cup at Giorgiagel, and the dark chocolate is much less intense.

To round out my tasting, (I had to give flavors other than chocolate a shot after all) I include photos of two other combos – a luscious amarena (sour cherry) and frutti di bosco (wild berries) — and a cup of torroncino (nougat candy) and pistachio. Both from Giorgiagel, and 1 euro each.