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.
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.
No other city in the world tugs at me the way Rome does. Yes, New York is electric, Paris is romantic, and London is hopping. But Rome….well, Rome for me is in another whole category. It may not have the wide boulevards of Buenos Aires, the orderliness of Singapore or the canals of Amsterdam, but none of that matters.
Yes, it’s got graffiti-splattered walls, high rents and a Byzantine bureaucracy if you’re trying to get any official work done.
graffiti in Rome
But walk anywhere in the central part of Rome and you’re assaulted by sights, sounds and flavors that I wouldn’t trade for anywhere else in the world.
Walk by an open air market on a Spring morning and find three different kinds of artichokes, flavorful strawberries the size of a baby’s nail, or a cappuccino to swoon over.
While you’re on your jaunt, you might easily step outside your 18th apartment building and walk by some ancient Roman columns from the first century B.C., into a piazza decorated with a 16th century baroque fountain, before stopping to say a prayer in a 15th century Renaissance church. You’re practically tripping over layers of history throughout the city. They all have a unique beauty that could easily jade local residents, but that never fails to make me wish I were once again living in Rome.
statue inside entryway to apartment building on Via Arenula
Although I’m not a resident now, I consider myself extremely lucky to travel to Rome occasionally, including last week. In the past, I’ve posted some of my favorite things to do and eat in the Eternal City that you can click on here.
Ponte Sisto and St. Peter’s
You won’t find places like the Vatican, the Colosseum or the Forum on the post — they’re too obviously at the top of most visitors’ list, as well they should be, for me to write about. Don’t miss them. But aside from my “Twenty Reasons To Fall In Love With Rome,” I’m giving you now a few other suggestions of places to eat that are a little lower on the radar to first time visitors.
Aside from the tangible, physical, evidence of Rome’s beauty, it’s also the Roman people who draw me in as well. Like the vegetable seller who always remembers your name, and throws in a couple of stalks of celery and a few sprigs of parsley for free. Or the goldsmith who demonstrates how he hammers the 21-carat gold chain he’s making, then shows you pictures of his adorable grandchildren. Or the chef who allows you into his kitchen, then showers you with sample after sample of extra dishes you didn’t even order.
tagliolini with truffles at Le Mani in Pasta
So here are just a few more of my favorite places to stop for a bite to eat or drink in Rome. Buon Appetito.
Oozing with atmosphere, it’s great place to grab a panino or a board of salumi and cheese. Located in Trastevere on via della Scala, it’s been in Florence for a while, but is fairly new to Rome. The porchetta sandwich I ate at La Prosciutteria beat any I’d ever eaten in the past, hands down, including in Ariccia, a town outside Rome known for its porchetta. I considered it my duty to return to La Prosciutteria the night before departing Rome to buy one for the plane ride home. It was late at night and they had run out of my favorite round foccaccia bread. “Oh Dio,” I said. “Isn’t there even one more foccaccia hidden somewhere?” I asked. The salesgirl pointed to an already prepared prosciutto crudo sandwich and said “That’s the last one.” After I mustered up the nerve to ask her if she could take out the prosciutto and replace it with porchetta, she winked at me and complied. Let it be noted that the tray of “food” offered by United Airlines was left untouched as I inhaled my porchetta sandwich instead. Via della Panetteria, 34A.
at La Prosciutteria
I have Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo.com to thank for learning about this place. Her friend Antonio suggested it to her years ago and she finally met him there last week, and invited me to come along too, since she was in Rome at the same time I was. Panella has been in business for nearly 100 years and it’s not only a fabulous resource for breads, pastries and specialty foods, but a great place for “happy hour” with its prolific buffet dishes, ranging from chickpea farinata to fried zucchini flowers. It’s in the Esquiline neighborhood, not too far from the church of San Giovanni in Laterano. Via Merulana, 54.
buffet at Panella
This recent addition to Trastevere’s dining scene is an informal place for seafood with a hip vibe, but it’s not just 20-somethings who eat here. You’ll feel comfortable no matter what your age and there’s indoor and outdoor seating. You can pick out the fish you want from the counter for a simple preparation, choose a cone of fried calamari or shrimp, or one of the several more elaborately prepared dishes. Gaze at those painted arches inside too, and stop to wonder how many centuries they’ve been there. Vicolo della luce, 4/5
Inside “The Fish Market”
Another casual and tiny Trastevere restaurant that seats only about 25 people. It’s tucked away on a small vicolo on the east side of Viale Trastevere – away from the noisier, more trafficked part of the neighborhood. If it’s artichoke season (and it is still is for a very short while), make sure to order them, either fried alla Giudia, or seasoned and in oil, alla Romana. Both were exceptional, as was their pasta alla gricia, made with guanciale. Via dei Vascellari, 29
artichokes alla Giudia and alla Romana at Da Enzo
I almost hesitate to mention this place because it’s my favorite restaurant in Rome and they’re always lined up to get in – with good reason. The food is exquisite and the waiters are terrific, even while working at breakneck speed. They’re known for their pastas, and rightly so, but the other dishes are fabulous too. I always order the mussels and clams sauté as a starter, the best anywhere. This time I also ordered the steak served with a green peppercorn sauce, a perfectly cooked piece of tender beef, resting in an unctious puddle of winey goodness. If broccoli romano is on the menu, it’s the perfect accompaniment, and is perfectly prepared, with a hint of peperoncino. If you can, reserve the table near the window facing the kitchen. It’s practically theater! Chef Ivano will keep you mesmerized with his deft skills, when you’re not sighing over the unbeatable food delivered to your table. Watch the short video below and you’ll see what I mean. Via Dei Genovese, 37
I can’t resist a good cannolo when I find one and once I stumbled onto Nonna Vincenza a few years ago, I thought I had found the mother lode. There are a couple of locations in town, including one near the campo dei fiori. It’s elegantly appointed, with beautiful armoires displaying pastries, cookies, and almond and pistachio pastes in jars for sale. As much as I love cannoli, I can’t resist digging into Nonna Vincenza’s mini cassata, covered in a layer of marzapan. You can have your purchases boxed to take home if you like, but they’ve also got a few tables and serve coffee if you want to sit and linger. Two locations in Rome – at Arco del Monte 98 (near campo dei fiori) and Piazza di Montecitorio, 116.
Yes, the name Le Levain is French. Yes, they serve French croissants and that’s why I love the place. The owner, Giuseppe Solfrizzi, is originally from Puglia and studied with celebrated chef Alain Ducasse. Italians eat cornetti with their breakfast, and while I like them, to me they don’t hold a candle to the crunchy, buttery croissants that the French are famous for. Everything here is excellent, from the croissants with walnuts to the small domed pastry dipped in white icing, to the multi-grain bread.
Stop in for a few croissants, then take them down the street and around the corner to Café Giselda, where you can order an espresso and sit down, assuaging any guilt you may have had about betraying your Italianness with a French croissant.
My friend Kathryn, who’s living in Rome and is the writing teacher for our writing retreat in September, “Italy, In Other Words,” (still some spaces left, so join us in dreamy Varenna on Lake Como!) introduced me to both places on this trip, and I was grateful every morning when I dug into that croissant that’s unparalleled in Rome, accompanied by my wake-up cappuccino from Caffé Giselda.
pastries at Le Levain
Cafe Giselda itself, at the corner of Viale Trastevere and San Francesco a Ripa, will also impress you with its own pastries, cakes, and salumi. Unlike most caffés, you don’t get charged extra for sitting at a table rather than standing at the bar. And the cappuccino goes down easy.
Le Levain – Via Luigi Santini, Giselda, 22 Viale Trastevere, 52
Have enough ideas for your next trip to Rome? I hope I’ve enticed you to visit this beautiful corner of the world. I could go on and on about my love for the Eternal City, but as the saying goes, when it comes to discovering Rome’s treasures, “Non basta una vita” – meaning “One life is not enough.”