Fior di Coco Gelato, on Cardamom Crepes with Pistachios and Orange Blossom "Honey" from Cook, Eat, Thrive
Walk into a gelateria, and you'll find rows of frozen metal containers, mounded high with gelati and sorbeti, and topped with fruit or bits that indicate their flavors. It makes those cardboard tubs in regular ice cream shops seem awfully pedestrian by comparison, and it's easy to see why so many of us are growing to appreciate gelato. I suspect several million Italians would agree!
Gelato is infinitely better than ice cream, I think. It's creamy texture feels more decadent in the mouth, and less air in the mixture means a denser, more substantial dessert. Despite the density and intense flavor, gelati generally contain less fat and sugar than their American counterparts. For this reason, they don't store well and are best eaten within a few days of making. The conventional stuff is made with milk and eggs, but this version gets a rich texture and mouthfeel from coconut milk and the addition of agar.
Fior di Latte is literally "flower of milk," and serves as the base for all other gelato flavors. My Fior di Coco is a simple coconut cream to which you can add pureed figs, espresso, chocolate shavings, or one of the variations below. These are flavors you'd find at a gelateria, along with favorites like bacio (chocolate hazelnut), amarena (sour cherry) and cannella (cinnamon).
Fior di Coco Gelato
Fold two parts gelato together with one part Whipped Coconut Cream, and you'll have Semifreddo, a delicious semi-frozen mousse. When I worked as a pastry cook, my Peach Melba Semifreddo--peach semifreddo marbled with raspberry puree and topped with lemon curd--was always quick to sell out!
2 14-ounce cans coconut milk (full fat)
1 tablespoon agar flakes
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup evaporated cane juice or agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or seeds scraped from 1" of vanilla bean
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional, for a creamier gelato)
Simmer the agar flakes in the 1/2 cup water over low heat until nearly dissolved. Set aside.
In a blender, combine coconut milk, sweetener, vanilla, and sea salt. Pass the reserved agar mixture through a sieve into the blender, and blend again (if you have a high-speed blender, you can skip the straining). With the blender running, add coconut oil, if using. Refrigerate until completely cold, about 1 hour.
Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.
Gelato di Menta, with bittersweet chocolate shavings and fresh spearmint
Mint doesn't sound quintessentially Italian, but it's actually used in many regions of Italy, from Tuscany's panzanella, to Calabria's eggplant salads, to Emilia-Romanga's melons, where it's drizzled with aged balsamico. Here, it adds a fresh, cooling bite that's particularly welcome in summer's heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange zest for a more complex flavor.
Omit coconut oil. To the basic gelato recipe, after the initial blending, add 1 cup loosely packed mint leaves, and continue blending until only small pieces remain and the mixture is a very pale green. You want to pulverize it, but not blend completely smooth. Strain through a fine strainer, discarding solids (I strain it directly into the ice cream maker). For gelato with no green bits, strain through a chinois or several layers of cheesecloth. Chill as directed, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.
Gelato di Burro di Arachidi, with peanuts and chocolate chips
Burro di Arachidi Gelato
Peanut butter is very American, and difficult to find in Italy, but follows the traditional use of nut pastes and purees in gelato. Burro di arachidi is literally "butter of peanuts," but you can use any nut butter for this gelato. Hazelnut, cashew, or pistachio would be especially delicious.
Omit coconut oil. To the basic gelato recipe, after the initial blending, add 1/4 cup smooth natural peanut butter. Continue blending until completely smooth. Chill as directed, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.
There's an amazing array of flavors to explore when making gelato! I can't wait to whisk together a batch of liquirizia (licorice) or zuppa inglese, flavored with bits of Almond Shortbread and a drizzle of sherry...
What kind do you want to try?