When I was a young boy growing up in Rome, my mother would take my brother Jamie and me to the Borghese Gardens to walk, play, ride the merry go round and inevitably grab a gelato on the way. In Italy, grabbing a gelato is almost as commonplace as an espresso or, in some places, a slice of pizza. Now espresso and pizza are amazing Italian culinary inventions, but have been replicated all over the world from Beijing to New York. And everywhere seems to have their own "favorite joint". Well, after a trip to Capo Giro in Philadelphia, I have a new gelato spot.
Gelato is Italian for "ice cream", but the method is different. There is not as much air incorporated in the churning process, so the effect is a denser, and as my fiance described it, "custardy" texture. "Charlie, do they put eggs in it? Isn't that what makes it a custard?" It is true. One of the main ingredients to a custard is egg, but this is not so in gelato. The finest artisanal gelatos attempt to perfectly recreate the flavor element in an iced form.
My favorite thing about gelaterias is the chance for the customer to join in on the creative experience: making your own combination. Whether you have the palate of Escoffier, or that of Cassie my terrier-mix, gelaterias make you the chef. Last night, mine was Nocciola Piemontese e Cioccolato (Italian hazlenut and chocolate). This combination sparked memories of Italian Christmases eating those little Ferrero Rocher arancini. Meredith mixed cinnamon and Thai coconut milk...a reminder of summer nights in Bangkok?!? Maybe we should go there to test that theory. Whatever your thoughts crave, use your palate and your instincts. Visit a gelateria and become a chef. Spark a memory like a childhood madeleine!