If Italy had a theme song, it would be the classic “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin. You probably would recognize the iconic line “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” Well, when visiting (or in my case, living in) Italy, you’ll learn fairly quickly that to Italians, carbs are amore or something they LOVE to eat. I’ve come to learn that the Italian diet revolves around three main items: pasta, pizza, and paninis-or as I like to call them, the three P’s of Italy. I never thought I’d get tired of eating pasta, but I’m here to tell you that by week three in Sorrento I wished I could Amazon Prime me some Chick-fil-A.
Although the carb overload can get tiring after a few consecutive weeks, Italy’s gelato never gets old. With dozens of gelaterias to choose from, there’s always a new flavor to try. At Bougainvillea, there are over eighty flavors to choose from, each made fresh every day. To discover more about Italy’s popular dessert and tourist favorite, I took a class at Bougainvillea to learn the art of perfecting gelato.
To start the class, we focused on making a Sorrento classic…lemon sorbet. The first part of good sorbet requires finding the perfect lemon. According to the class instructor, when buying fruit, there are two steps everyone should do. First, you should toss the fruit in the air a few times to determine the weight. If it feels heavy, then you’ll proceed to step two because the heaviness indicates it is full of juices. However, if it feels light, you’ll want to stay away. You then take your fingernail and slightly scrape the peel. Our instructor informed us that the peel is the most important aspect of the lemon for Italians. Most Italian recipes involving lemons usually get the flavor from the skin/peel, not the actual juices. After giving the peel a slight scrape, smell it to see if it’s fresh or getting old. When it smells bitter and sour, it’s fresh and the type of lemon you’ll want to use when preparing your sorbet and other dishes. Likewise, if it smells sweet, it’s getting old, and you shouldn’t use it in your kitchen, no matter how tempting the smell is.
When you have found the perfect lemons to make the sorbet, you begin to scrape the peel. To scrape, take a grater and scrape a spot on the peel three times. Once you’ve scraped that spot exactly three times, find a new place, and repeat the process. After scraping the entire lemon and the white, bitter part is exposed, you’re done. For our sorbet, we used both the zest and the juice.
Now for the fun part, mixing the ingredients to create Italy’s beloved dessert. Surprisingly, both Italian sorbet and gelato are only three ingredients! Sorbet is a mixture of water, sugar, and the fresh fruit of your choice. Gelato is milk, sugar, and your selected ingredient to add flavor. For instance, if you wanted to prepare hazelnut gelato you’d use hazelnuts as your third ingredient. In Italy, you can find gelato on almost every street corner. With all those options, it can be difficult to find the best spot. I’ve never experienced bad gelato, it’s all so delicious, but the quality is different at each place. Our class instructor told us an easy way to sort between all the options is to go inside and ask the staff, “Sorry, but does your sorbet have milk?” If the response is yes, then go somewhere else! Quality sorbet never has milk; it should be water because only gelato contains milk. The reason some places make sorbet with milk is that they don’t use fresh/good fruit, or they use artificial flavoring. As a result, to mask the lack of quality ingredients, some places will use milk as a solution. Needless to say, if you’re in Italy, stay away from places making sorbet with milk. And, if you ever find yourself in Sorrento, make sure to try some lemon sorbet, it’s totally worth it!