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.
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
- Place the cookies in a food processor and pulse until they are large crumbs.
- Separate the eggs, but you will only need four of the egg whites. Save the other two egg whitess for another use.
- 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.
- 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.
- Whip the four egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg yolk, whipped cream and amaretti mixture into the egg whites.
- 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.
- Place a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil on top and freeze overnight.
- 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.