Southern Italy is known for ice cream. Last year I visited Calabria, the toe of Italy, where the gelato was sublime. I felt it my culinary duty to eat at least three ice creams a day. My favourite flavour is yoghurt, but I also like perfumed citrus such as Bergamot.
In Sicily they eat granita, which is like a sorbet but with larger ice granules. A sophisticated slushie. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat granita for breakfast. You see business men in immaculate suits eating brioche stuffed with granita. In the searing heat of summer, it’s just the ticket – light and refreshing.
What is the difference between gelato and ice cream? Gelato is made with more milk and fewer egg yolks, or even no egg at all. Ice cream is basically a frozen custard. Gelato is served at a warmer temperature than ice cream.
I have a familial history in ice cream. Clerkenwell and Islington were the nexus of Italian immigration from 1870 to around 1930, and there is still an annual Italian festival in Clerkenwell. Some of my Italian family went to America but most stayed in the UK. My great-great-grandfather, newly immigrated from Italy at the end of the 19th century, sold ice cream on the streets of Islington while working at at the Carlo Gatti Kings Cross ice store. Gatti was famous for making an affordable dessert for the working classes. When his wife, my nonna, died, she left the family some ‘penny lick’ glasses, thick ‘shot’ glasses which cost a penny a lick.
This column gives you ice cream recipes for which you don’t need an ice cream maker. Possibly my favourite ice cream is the soft serve ’99’, so-called because the King of Italy used to have 99 elite guards, so everything elite became known as a 99. The recipe below is a facsimile of what you get from an ice cream van, serve in a cornet or a cup or on a waffle.
I’ve also provided a childhood favourite, lemon sorbet stuffed into a whole frozen lemon. This was a popular dessert choice in old-fashioned Italian trattorias, and stands the test of time.
- 1 l pomegranate juice
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- Slug pomegranate molasses (optional)
- handful pomegranate seeds to garnish
- Simmer the juice and sugar together until the sugar is melted. Add if you wish, a slug of pomegranate molasses. Leave to cool.
- Pour into a shallow wide container and put in the freezer for an hour.
- After an hour, use a fork to break up the crystals. Replace in the freezer.
- Repeat this 2 or 3 times more. At the end, use the fork to create large icy crystals.
- Serve, decorating with some pomegranate seeds
Soft serve ice cream
- 600 ml double cream
- 1 400g tin condensed milk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- Whisk the double cream until thick then add the condensed milk and vanilla. Whisk all the ingredients together until thick.
- Take a piping bag and put a large star piping nozzle (around 18mm) in the bottom point of the bag. (Don't cut yet). Fill the bag with the mixture and put it in the freezer.
- Remove from the freezer after 4 hours. Cut off the end of the bag so you can pipe.
- Pipe into a cornet or cup.
Lemon sorbet, served trattoria style
- 4 large lemons or oranges
- 150 g caster sugar
- 1 zest of unwaxed lemon or orange
- 1 egg white, whisked until stiff
- Cut off the end of the lemon or orange, to make a 'hat' and trim the bottom so that it will stand up on a flat surface. Scoop out the flesh with a sharp knife or serrated grapefruit spoon and strain so that you have juice. Put the fruit shells in the freezer.
- Using a small saucepan containing 150ml of water, add the sugar and the zest. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Add the strained lemon/orange juice. Let it cool then freeze in a plastic container.
- Once frozen, remove from the container and blend it with the egg white. Freeze again until firm.
- Scoop the sorbet into the empty shells, packing it in well and letting it bulge out the top. Add the 'hat' then freeze again until you serve.