Gelato is delicious, no matter how you... scoop it [versus "slice it", ha!].
There are myths regarding gelato's origins which include it being invented by the Chinese millennia ago (with Marco Polo bringing the treat back to Italy in 1288 - unconfirmed). As proud Italians though, we tend to believe the other possibility for the origins of Gelato: that which describes it as being first made and enjoyed in ancient Egypt (during the second dynasty 4000+ years ago) and, consequently, ancient Rome.
Research shows that the snow on mountain tops was transported to the valleys below, flavored with nut oils and fruit syrups, stored in cold damp places below ground, and served as a special sweet treat. There is archaeological evidence of this being done in ancient Egypt and Pompeii (again... we are talking 4000 years ago!).
"The Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the birth of modern gelato
Admittedly, things get a bit blurry during the Middle Ages, as many of the Ancients’ traditions and habits were dismissed. According to many, however, the habit of mixing fruit juices and ice was once again brought into Italy by the Moors, who made their “scherbet” (from it come the Italian sorbetto) popular in Sicily. This is why Sicily is sometimes considered the birthplace of Italian gelato.
Others, however, point out how the true, life-changing events in the history of gelato took place later and further north, in the beautiful Medicean Florence of the 16th century: it is said Caterina de Medici was so besotted with the fruits, sugar and ice dessert created by chicken farmer Ruggeri, to bring him along with her to France in occasion of her nuptials with the Duke of Orleans, so that he could prepare it for all the guests. Others mention the figure of another Florentine, Bernardo Buontalenti, creator of an iced cream dessert offered to Charles V king of Spain in 1559: this iced cream made with milk, honey, egg yolk, a dash of sweet wine, bergamot, lemon and orange is by many considered the first, true gelato made in Italy."
Francesco Procopio, born into a Sicilian fisherman, then becoming a renowned chef, is credited for begin the inventor of the gelato machine (in 1676), allowing the new food to become popularized and mass produced. I say, GRAZIE Francesco!
Today's gelato holds a special place in all Italians' hearts. It is the quintessential treat that is traditionally eaten as a mid-afternoon snack, after the "siesta" day-break, and while walking the "passeggiata" (a traditional leisurely stroll through the streets of cities and towns). Italian law mandates that gelato makers follow official rules when making and setting the product as real "gelato artigianale" hand-made gelato: it must have a minimum of 3.5% milk fat (USA ice cream has around 10%, so Italian-made gelato is lower in fat!), it must be made using only fresh and natural ingredients (nothing unpronounceable).
Let's go to Rome together so we can take a day to taste test as many gelaterie (gelato parlors) as we can! OK, perhaps we should moderate. Regardless, we will most certainly partake in the passeggiata while we enjoy a delicious scoop or two of stunning gelato!
As a bonus, this here is teh recipe for one of two of my personal ULTIMATE FAVORITE gelato flavors in existence. This flavor is not always available, so when I find it, I tend to overindulge.
GELATO DI RISO!
Hand made gelato using arborio rice.
Believe me, it's just sweet enough, and has plenty of texture.
Recipe and method:
100 grams of arborio rice (or any while rice - I tend to like the amount of starch in arborio)
1 liter of whole milk (whole milk is key - to get the right texture, don't use low fat milk)
200 grams of sugar
the peel from one lemon (don't zest it so you can remove it easily in one swoop, later on)
1 vanilla pod (this is best - over vanilla flavored syrup, which doesn't taste the same at all)
1 pinch of salt
- Slowly bring to a loooow boil the milk + salt + lemon peel + vanilla pod (uncovered)
- Cook it all (don't over-boil) until the rice is cooked through (typically around 15 minutes)
- Once the rice is cooked, remove the pot from the heat and discard lemon and vanilla
- Scoop out part of the cooked rice (without the liquid) and put it aside for later use
- Pour the remaining cooked milk and rice into a separate bowl
- Pour the sugar and mix with immersion blender until it's homogeneous
- Immerse the mixing bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice (to cool it to room temperature)
- Once the mix is room temperature, pour it into your ice cream machine and let it do its thing until gelato is formed (typically around 1 hour)
- Scoop the gelato out of the machine, mix in by hand the rice you had put aside earlier
- Scoop the gelato in an appropriate container and store in freezer for one hour before serving
- Make sure it is creamy and not hard! Gelato is meant to be enjoyed soft