Monday, August 27, 2007

The Eternal Quest for Great Gelato, Part 1

No quest for the closest thing to Italian gelato would be complete without starting where I typically go for gelato, Dolce Spazio (pronounced dōl-che spŏtz-ee-ō) in Los Gatos. Long considered the hotspot for Bay Area gelato, Dolce Spazio has won numerous awards for their version of the classic Italian treat. A quaint little shop on the main strip of downtown, Dolce Spazio caters to the elite of Los Gatos. Saturday mornings blur into a rush of joggers, bikers, families with strollers, and visitors who line up for their treat of choice—coffee, Italian soda, tea, giant cookies, muffins, smoothies, and for those brave early-morning souls, gelato and sorbetto.

With a variety of flavors that run from the seemingly health conscious—strawberries & cream, pistachio—to the deliciously scandalous—oreogasmic—to the mouthwatering divine—chocolate liqueur, snickelicious, cappuccino chip—to the traditional classic—vanilla bean, menta chip—Dolce offers temptation to everyone. Sizes take their cue from the Italian numerical system of scoops, including uno (for one scoop), due (for two), and tre (for three). You may be tempted to choose the tre, but tre is not for the faint of heart, or for the tiny bellied. Dolce’s gelato is rich and dense—heavy even, causing even an uno to be overwhelming if consumed after any semblance of a meal. The gelato is creamy (although, depending on the flavor you order—those with chocolate chips or cookie crumbles—it can sometimes be slightly granular). Every serving of gelato comes with a perfect pie-slice-shaped wafer cookie that crumbles under the weight of the gelato. Enjoy your gelato out behind the shop in their hide-away courtyard at one of the dainty café tables.

Verdict: Dolce Spazio’s gelato tastes fantastic (seriously, it’s one of my favorite place to splurge on dessert), but it’s more the love-child from the marriage of ice cream and gelato than authentic Italian gelato.

Dolce Spazio

221 North Santa Cruz Ave.

Los Gatos


Monday, August 20, 2007

Gelato vs. Ice Cream

In a recent issue of Bon Appetit, I was shocked at the claim of one writer that after much researching and taste testing on her part, she discovered there is no difference between ice cream and gelato. No difference?! I don’t think so! There is a major difference between ice cream and gelato (pronounced gel-a-toe).

Americans tend to be copycats. We like to take other cultures’ fashions, traditions, and cuisines and make them our own. The same is true with gelato. Many manufacturers will make their version of Italian gelato and slap a label on the box claiming its authenticity. However, there is no way that it can be true gelato, because while they may be using the same process, they are not using the exact same ingredients—such as the milk from Italian cows. California cheese companies are constantly bragging about their cows, but in order to make authentic Italian gelato, Italian cows eating Italian hillside grass and drinking Italian river water, I am convinced, must be used.

What exactly is the difference between gelato and ice cream? I’m glad you asked!

Gelato typically has 35 percent less air than ice cream, creating a denser and creamier texture. By adding air to their product, American ice cream producers get nearly double their quantity, but at the cost of quality. Gelato is made with whole cow’s milk, containing only 4 to 8 percent butterfat (significantly lower than American ice creams’ 18 to 26 percent). Since gelato ingredients are not homogenized together and it uses less butterfat, it melts quicker than ice cream. Also different than American ice cream, gelato uses a forced air freezer, holding the temperature a constant 0-6°F (a good 10-15°F warmer than American ice cream), which keeps it at a semi-frozen consistency as opposed to being too frozen.

Other fun facts:

Gelato made with water instead of dairy products is called sorbetto (pronounced sore-bet-toe). Sorbetto is usually found in fruit flavors, as they mix best with water. Gelato is believed to have originated in northern Italy, while the fruit-flavored sorbetto claims its origins in southern Italy.

Aside from the above evidence spouting the production differences between American ice cream and Italian gelato, and in spite of the fact that only true gelato comes from Italy, it is possible to tell the difference between ice cream and gelato made in America. For example, if you were to visit Baskin Robbins and order a scoop of their chocolate ice cream, then visit Powell’s in Los Gatos and order a scoop of their dark chocolate gelato, you would immediately be able to see, taste, and smell the difference. And that’s just between American ice cream and American gelato! Come with me as I look for the best American Gelato in the Bay Area!

Monday, August 13, 2007


Second only to basil, zucchini is my favorite green vegetable (although, recently I learned that it’s really considered to be more of a fruit than a vegetable—but I still think of it as a veggie, so that’s what I’m going to call it for the sake of this post). Zucchini, like the tomato, is one of the most frequently grown home-garden vegetables, but this is a fairly recent development in home-gardening.

Thought to have originated near Milan, Italy in the late 1800s, the zucchini was a product of experimental mutation between squash-melon-like varieties. Since that time, it’s been dubbed the quintessential Italian summer vegetable (some could argue that the tomato might come out on top of that throwdown, should it happen). The zucchini didn't make it's Unites States' debut until the 1920s, when it is believed Italian immigrants brought the seeds with them.

Americans were already familiar with squash (don’t we hear stories about the Pilgrims and Indians eating turkey and squash on that first Thanksgiving?), so zucchini wouldn’t have been vastly foreign to them. Zucchini is a sort of squash, not too unlike cucumbers, although zucchini are typically cooked rather than eaten raw. One hint when buying or picking your own zucchini: it’s better to get the small ones, since the larger ones tend to be less flavorful (and can have a slightly bitter undertone). Often considered to be more of a complimentary addition, zucchini are delicious with just about any item in the Italian diet—tomatoes, prosciutto, pasta, Parmesan cheese, even cooked with just a little butter or olive oil.

For the longest time, the only way I would eat zucchini is if my mother had slightly cooked them (so they were barely tender, but still held onto a little bit of their crunch) in butter or oil and then grated a good helping of Parmesan cheese on top. The combination of the saltiness of the cheese paired with the hint of sweetness from the zucchini is divine! I am happy that my taste buds have since matured and are now able to appreciate some finer zucchini offerings, such as Saltimbocca Zucchini (pronounced salt-eem-boe-ka zoo-kee-nee), which essentially means “jump in your mouth zucchini” (please refer below for the recipe).

Another zucchini delicacy is not the zucchini itself but rather its flower. My Nonna loves eating the flowers. I remember watching her pick the flowers from the zucchini plants in their garden when the flowers were perfectly yellow, with a hint of green ribs along the underside edges (brown or wilting flowers simply won’t do). I thought it strange that she would eat the flower, but I’ve since come to realize that she had the right idea! The flowers are extremely delicate, which is why they must be picked and eaten almost immediately. You might be able to find the flower in the supermarket, but be warned, it is very expensive due to the difficulty in storing and transporting the flower. The best way to eat the flower is to fry it. Once fried, you can stuff it with anything you like (ricotta and Parmesan cheese are always good), however, it will taste just as good without stuffing as it will with.

Saltimbocca Zucchini (a slight deviation from the Michael Chiarello version)

Serving size: 4-6
Time: 15 minutes preparation; 8 minutes cooking

2 lbs. zucchini (try to get each 1 ½ inches in diameter)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices prosciutto
20 leaves of fresh sage

1/3 lb. fontina cheese, thinly sliced
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup pure olive oil
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Cut each zucchini lengthwise into thin slices (about 1/4-inch thick). You will need 16 slices total. Lay them out in pairs and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Arrange prosciutto slices on half the zucchini slices, ensuring no prosciutto hangs over the edges of the zucchini. Place 2 sage leaves on top of the prosciutto. Set the fontina slices on top, again making sure no cheese hangs over the side. Then, lay the remaining zucchini slices on top of each stack. Using paper towels, press down firmly on each stack to extract moisture and firm the zucchini.

Pour the lightly beaten eggs into a deep dish. Season the flour with salt and pepper on another plate. Pick up each zucchini stack by both ends and hold it securely, dipping it first in the egg and then dredging it in the flour until evenly coated.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Cook the zucchini, turning once, until golden brown (about 2 minutes on each side). Once cooked, place on a plate and keep warm until ready to serve. Add more oil to skillet if needed.

Add the remaining sage leaves to the hot pan and cook briefly until crisp. Arrange several crisped leaves on top of each saltimbocca. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Serve and enjoy!