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March 2017
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CAN I OFFER YOU AN ICE CREAM?

Poi, radunati in casa ai soliti diletti,
si bevon le acque fresche, si bevono i sorbetti.
Then, gathered at home in the usual delights, they drink fresh water, they eat sorbets.
Carlo Goldoni

What is so loved and popular about ice cream? Is it the sweetness or the taste of cold, or the mixture of ice and sweetness? The Goldoni quote, taken from a letter sent to a friend, who witnesses the popularity and spreading, even in homes, of sorbets, ice creams and iced drinks around the middle of the 18th century, is one of the oldest testimonies about refrigerating drinks and food.

Since ancient times, and wherever the gastronomic culture and weather permits, preserving snow in the summer was an activity that mankind dedicated himself to diligently, spurred on mainly by the need to preserve foods for as long as possible. For many centuries, snowfields and glaciers were the solutions to a commodity and technological problem (preserving cold and, through this, perishable foods), but it was also physiological and about taste: consuming refrigerated, or even frozen foods, has always been about preserving taste. Preserving snow, which was often pressed and transported in sacks for tens or hundreds of kilometres, was then placed in holes or caves in which the snow, stowed and pressed, turned into ice and could be used even many years after. It was only in the 16th century that a scientific way to preserve ice was discovered in Italy; by adding sea salt or saltpetre to snow, this mixture could withstand negative temperatures and reach freezing point.

Iced drinks and rudimentary sorbets, made by mixing fruit juice and syrup with ice or crushed snow (known today as slush puppies/snow cones, have been around for many years but it was in the 16th century, after the aforementioned discovery, that the consumption of sorbets and real ice cream became constant, both in cuisines and in the menus of lunches, banquets and parties. The sixteenth century method remained the only system for keeping things ‘artificially’ cold until 1860 when Perkins, an American, patented the first machine that produced cold by taking advantage of the Faraday theory on the changing state of gaseous fluids. Since then, progress in the production of cold, and consequently in the production of ice, has never stopped.

From ice factories to mass production of industrial and domestic fridges and the arrival of ice machines for industrial and home use, the production and consumption of sweet food has been developing continually. Ice cream, which was once an exclusive product, is now a popular treat that is known all over the world and is no longer elite. The popularity of ice cream is not ‘balanced’ in the western world at all however.

In Italy, for example, the annual consumption per person is around a quarter of that of an American, which is quite paradoxical if you think about the fact that Italy is the birthplace of ice cream and is a huge exporter of ice cream technology and ice cream makers to the whole world. The modern ice cream preparation method was actually invented by an Italian cook and baker Procopio dei Coltelli who, at the beginning of the 17th century, opened a café in Paris which is still there today. Since then, the preparation of handmade ice cream has not undergone many changes: the cream base is continually mixed in a cylinder with cooled sides and the part that freezes itself to the sides is removed with a spatula and mixed in with the main mixture, which in turn cools down and absorbs air. This ensures that ice cream forms by means of a continual freezing process and ‘rising’ of a mixture until obtaining a soft and creamy mixture that we all know and love.

The following table illustrates the unequal distribution of ice cream consumption in industrialised countries:

Ice cream has been listed in the food section to highlight its nutritious features. According to the category it belongs to, ice cream can contain milk, eggs, sugar, fruit and air and, by keeping its dietetic and organoleptic characteristics in mind, is should be combined with other parts of your diet. Like all other foods, it can cause weight gain if eaten excessively, whilst moderate and sensible consumption contributes to a healthy, balanced and – why not? – pleasurable diet. Ice creams made with water and sorbets containing alcohol are fat free and contain from 80-120 Kcal per 100g, whilst ice cream made with eggs and milk contain noble proteins and contain 160-220 Kcal per 100g. Even if you are on a diet, do not force yourself to miss out on the pleasure of eating a cone or cup of ice cream, just make sure you calculate the nutrient and calorie intake. Furthermore, the digestive properties of ice cream and sorbets are well known; if eaten at the end of meals (and as long as they are not guzzled down too quickly!), cold foods promote blood flow to the stomach, helping digestive processes.

Today’s market provides a wide range of possibilities: industrial and handmade ice cream, or even machines that allow you to make ice cream at home yourself. Industrial ice cream is probably the one that presents the best hygiene guarantee during the production process, however, its taste is spoilt by a certain homogeneity and long periods of preservation make it less soft and creamy. The best ice cream is definitely that made in traditional ice cream parlours, and in particular, Italian ice cream shops, which can be found all over Italy as well as abroad, and which are generally open all year round.

If some of you want to try your hand at making ice cream or sorbets, here are some basic recipes which, with a bit of imagination, can be altered according to your tastes. Amongst the infinite possibilities, we have chosen some recipes that were suggested by the famous chef Angelo Paracucchi, which are classics, very soft and creamy.

THE BASE FOR FRUIT ICE CREAMS
  • 1 litre of cold water
  • 450g of sugar
  • 400g of fruit purée
  • 1 whipped and firm egg white
  • Lemon juice
  • Lemon zest (only the yellow part)
Place all the ingredients, except the egg white, in a bowl and mix until the sugar melts. Pour into a chinois (a very fine strainer) and then pour into the ice cream maker and cream it. After creaming, add the firm, whisked egg white.

Of course, the amount of sugar can be changed according to the sweetness of the fruit. Try strawberries, melon, cherries, pineapple, peach, etcetera...

BASE FOR CREAMY ICE CREAMS
  • 1 litre of milk
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 300g of sugar
  • Half a lemon zest (just the yellow part)
Put the sugar and egg yolks in a big pan and work them until they become a light and spongy cream. Add the milk, which will previously have been boiled with the lemon zest. Place the pan on the heat and mix continually, but do not let it boil. The cream is ready when it reaches a consistency that glides of the spoon. Pour into the chinois and then into the ice cream mixer and then cream and make it rise. In order to get the best mixture of the flavours, prepare the cream one day before creaming it.

You can add all sorts of things to these basic recipes:

  • by boiling the milk with a few coarsely ground coffee granules, you can make coffee ice cream;
  • with 100g of bitter cacao and 50g of sugar, you can make an exquisite chocolate ice cream;
  • if you love pistachio nuts or hazelnut, crush 100g of them with milk in a mortar and then add this to the milk and eggs with a vanilla pod before creaming.

The list is endless...

Slush puppies and snow cones
Granite’ and ‘gramolate’ (slush puppies)
are ice cream’s ‘poor relatives’ and they are more drinks than ice creams. Granita is made of a sugary syrup mixed with fruit juice or tea, whilst gramolata is mainly made with fruit pulp. Both of these should have a grainy and slightly rough texture that is the result of ice crystals which are fine but perceptible on the tongue and which melt easily.

To make a kilogram of sugary syrup, pour 600g of sugar and 400g of water into a pan. Using a spoon, mix in lemon juice and bring to the boil. Leave to boil for 5 minutes (and remove any impurities from the surface) and then leave it to cool. For a gramolata, add fruit purée to this syrup, or for a granita, add fruit juice, syrup or tea. This mixture should then be placed in a steel container and placed in the freezer and vigorously mixed every now and then with a spatula, an action which is necessary in order to remove ice crystals from the sides of the container and allow others to form.

In order to make refreshing gramolata, you need to wash the fruit thoroughly (preferably with water and bicarbonate of soda), peel it if necessary, pit it and then blend it in a blender.

STRAWBERRY, APRICOT, PEACH or CHERRY GRAMOLATA

  • 270g of sugary syrup
  • 550g of water
  • 60g of fruit pulp
  • Juice of one orange

BLACKBERRY, RASPBERRY OR FIG GRAMOLATA

  • 240g of sugary syrup
  • 600g of water
  • 60g of fruit pulp
  • Juice of one lemon

COFFEE GRANITA

  • 200g of sugary syrup
    800g of espresso coffee

LEMON GRANITA

  • 300g of sugary syrup
  • 500g of water
  • 200g of lemon juice

Lastly, we come to the classic lemon sorbet, ideal for the final course of a meal and to help with the digestion of a rich and fatty dinner.

LEMON SORBET
  • 600g of sugary syrup
  • 180g of lemon juice (fresh and well filtered)
  • 220g of water
  • A few pieces of washed lemon zest (just the yellow part)
Pour the lemon juice, cold syrup, water and lemon zest into a steel container and mix thoroughly and leave in the fridge for an hour. Sieve and then stir the mixture again and then place it in an ice cream maker for creaming.


ICE CREAM

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