My stay in Italy is now officially over. I just arrived in Paris this morning after a fifteen hour overnight bus ride where the huge ape of a man sitting next to me took up half of my seat and the bus driver blared – BLARED – Celine Dion power ballads at 4 in the morning. I sat stewing in my miniature bus seat with no recline feature, back aching, lethargy and rage overcoming me. I’d almost forgotten why I didn’t like Celine, but it’s all coming back to me now. Anyway, this post isn’t about Paris just yet. This is a post I know a few of my friends have been looking forward to for a while and I couldn’t complete a trip to Italy without touching on GELATO.
Italians are fiercely serious about their gelato, and if you ever try to get in the way of an Italian and their gelato they will cut you deep. On any given day at any given hour, you can find the sidewalks bursting with people, most of whom are carrying gelatos in every shade represented on the color wheel.
The Bolognese are especially partial to their gelato, so much that they proudly boast the very first Gelato University. For every instructional session, many aspiring gelato entrepreneurs come to Bologna — or one of its many satellite locations which opened due to its immense popularity — to enroll in a one week minimum intensive course that runs about 850€ to learn the gelato trade, and it’s typically filled to the brim with enrollees. There are certain standards and rules to abide by, many of which non-Italian gelaterias neglect adherence either because they don’t know any better or because it’s easier to make an impostor and pass it off as the real deal if your clientele is none the wiser.
Some people are confused about the difference between gelato and ice cream, and to some there is no discernable difference. For those people who don’t notice a distinct difference, I can only assume they haven’t had real gelato, so let me break it down. In regards to consistency, gelato more closely resembles smooth soft serve ice cream than standard scoopable ice cream and is generally spread into a cone with a flat paddle than with a spoon. When making gelato, gelatarias make sure to not whip as much air into the batter as is done with ice cream, so the end product is very dense.
Though it’s denser than standard ice cream, gelato doesn’t sit as heavy or shroud your mouth with an unctuous film, and there’s a reason for that. Gelato is made with significantly less butterfat than ice cream at roughly around 4-8% its total volume, whereas ice cream contains upwards of 15% or more butterfat. Conversely, gelato is made with a bit higher sugar content than ice cream and served at a slightly higher temperature, both of which help keeps it from freezing completely so the consistency is smoother. The idea behind lower fat content and higher temperature is to ensure that the flavors of gelato are maximized and that your palate isn’t muddled by a coating of fat or desensitized by the shock of ultra-freezing temperatures.
I’ve been eating gelato on average twice daily since arriving in Italy, so I consider myself somewhat of
a fatty an expert. In case you ever visit Bologna — which I encourage since it’s easily my favorite European city so far — my top three favorite authentic gelaterias in Bologna in descending order:
3. Gelateria Giani – Via Monte Grappa, 11, Bologna
- Pros: Lots of unique flavors, centrally located next to Bologna’s hot spots.
- Cons: Busy, so staff isn’t usually very friendly.
2. Cremeria Funivia – Piazza Cavour 1/D, Bologna
- Pros: The BEST chocolate gelato I’ve had anywhere in Italy, very friendly staff.
- Cons: Lines can go out the door, but it’s worth the wait.
1. Sorbetteria Castiglione – Via Castiglione 44, Bologna
- Pros: Everything. This place has the smoothest gelato and there isn’t one bad flavor on the menu. Trust me, I’ve had it all.
- Cons: Not one to mention.
Honorable Mention: Il Gelatauro – Via San Vitale 98/B, Bologna
- Pros: All organic ingredients with gluten-free cone options and really delicious gelato. Many regard this as the best gelateria in Bologna.
- Cons: Not the smoothest, richest gelato, but they have many unique flavors, all of which are excellent.
You may remember from a recent post that I tried my first fresh fig just a week ago, fell in love, and developed the most inappropriate feelings I’ve ever had for a fruit. So now it’s making its debut on my blog in gelato form, and the slightly acerbic balsamic offsets the nectarous figs and rich sweetness of the gelato. You can’t make this gelato without the balsamic sauce, but if you do…well, I don’t want to hear about it.
Goodbye Italy, I loved you.
FIG GELATO with BALSAMIC DRIZZLE
[print_this]Recipe: Fig Gelato with Balsamic Drizzle
For the Fig Gelato
- 3 cups whole milk
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ vanilla bean (optional)
- 2 egg yolks OR 3 tbsp corn starch
- 1 fig, pureed
For the Balsamic Drizzle
- 1 tsp butter
- 1 tsp flour
- ¾ cup balsamic vinegar
For the Fig Gelato
- Combine milk, sugar, half vanilla bean (if using) and corn starch (if using in place of egg yolks) in a thick bottomed, medium sauce pan and whisk over medium heat stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved, roughly 6-8 minutes. If using the corn starch, your mixture should be slightly thickened. Remove vanilla bean and set aside to cool slightly.
- If using cornstarch, skip to #3. Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl and slowly drizzle milk mixture into the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Continue to add milk mixture until half of it has been added to the eggs. Return the egg/milk mixture to the pan and heat over medium heat while whisking constantly until the mixture thickens. It is important to constantly whisk the mixture so it doesn’t develop lumps.
- Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl to remove any lumps.
- Stir in fig puree, allow mixture to come to room temperature, and then place in freezer.
- Remove from freezer every 20 minutes over a 2 hour period and use a fork to slowly move back and fork to break up any large ice crystals. Be careful not to whip the mixture so you don’t incorporate air bubbles, just move the fork throughout the mixture to make it smooth.
- Place in freezer for additional hour and a half and serve with balsamic drizzle (recipe included).
For the Balsamic Drizzle
- (If you have a well-aged balsamic, it should be thick enough to drizzle already so use as-is. You can use balsamic jelly in place of this drizzle as well.)
- Add butter and flour to a small saucepan and heat over medium low heat, whisking to combine for a roux.
- Add balsamic vinegar to the pan and whisk constantly until thickened, then remove from heat.
- Pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps. Add to gelato while warm, or cool to room temperature.
Similar Recipes by Other Food Bloggers:
- Honey-Orange Roasted Figs with Ricotta by My Man’s Belly
- Black Mission Fig Preserves with Rosemary and Port by RX4 Foodies
- French Toast with Fig Sauce by Pham Fatale