“I spent the next couple of hours either walking around with a gelato in my hand or on my knees in church asking to be forgiven for the sin of gluttony.”
― Mark Leslie, Beyond The Pasta: Recipes, Language and Life with an Italian Family
You will be judged, believe me. Watched as you scan the gelato counter. What you put in your cup or cone tells who you are, like the choice of cup or cone itself. This is no time to revisit the chocolate, or the fondant, like so many winters past. It is Springtime! Time to delight in whimsy, in rose petal, in Brazilian fruits, pineapple, ginger, mint, lemon with sage, flavours that burst with spice and sass and liven up the warming days. I was just waylaid by a creamy number in Piazza della Passera named the Monna Lisa (their spelling), heavy with spice, sweet with raisins, and an unexpected crunch of nuts. I wonder what that says about me?
Your gelato is your status symbol, and no one knew this better than Catherine de’ Medici. It was she who introduced gelato, served to the courts in France as a means of impressing the nobility with this novel Florentine delicacy. But who created the recipe? There are conflicting accounts, but what is certain is that it came from Florence and was made for the Medici. The most common story I can find is the tale of a 16th century poultry butcher named Ruggeri, who entered a competition by the Medici for the “most unusual dish”. He presented something icy and sugared with a tempting perfume, and young Catherine took a great liking to the dessert. She took him with her to Paris and served his creation at her grand wedding, after which he begged to return home to his chickens. Alternative credits go to a man named Buontalenti, also from the 16th century, who served an indulgent gelato with honey, bergamot, lemon, and orange for Cosimo de’ Medici at the opening of the Fortezza di Belvedere. You can find this flavour even now, named after the man who made it!
For those anxious about their waistlines, the danger of too many sweets on the health, I can only refer to to a conference in Rimini at which Italian dieticians noted:“ Yes, there are calories, but not all types of gelato: just know how to choose. Because gelato, apart from its nutritional power (for those who need it), is valuable for those suffering from gastrointestinal disturbances, mitigates gastric acidity, accelerates stomach emptying, facilitates digestion. We underestimate the psycho-physical benefit that it gives to our body. Ice cream connects us to the world of childhood, to the taste of first pleasures and first affections, when it was a prize for who was good and did not anger their mother.”
Who am I to argue with science?!
For now, I feel a slight gastric disturbance myself and must away to the “Sorbetteria”. For too many cold days now I have been standing, bereft in the square, waiting for it to re-open. But oh!, the moment has come to refill the freezer, to push aside the winter meats and polpo, and replace them with the crisp white tub that could only contain that one sweet pleasure that rules them all – gelato.
“You know, people come to Italy for all sorts of reasons, but when they stay, it’s for the same two things.”
“Love and gelato.”
― Jenna Evans Welch, Love & Gelato
*Featured image credits © Gianluca Biscalchin
Written by Marisa Garreffa