WSJ, the slick lifestyle magazine of the Wall Street Journal, had an attractive spread this past weekend, titled "Cold Comfort," about artisanal gelato, which is, as it were, the hot new thing.
Gelato, the elegant Italian version of ice cream, originated in Sicily, where fruit ripens perfectly in the hot Mediterranean climate and ice from snow-capped Etna is readily available year-round. (There's no ice in the actual gelato, however; that would be a granita or a sorbet.)
A Sicilian fisherman named Procopio invented a mechanical device in the 16th century to puree and freeze a mixture of fruit, milk, and sugar. The machine was brought to France (along with other Italian foods and culinary practices) by Catherine de Medici.
Nowadays, electric freezers have eliminated the need to climb the flanks of a volcano, but the technology of gelato-making is still specialized. Since it incorporates less air than conventional American ice cream, gelato is denser; it is also more delicate, because it is typically served "less frozen" than a tub of Ben & Jerry's, about the same temperature as "soft serve" ice cream but far more flavorful.
The fragile and refined nature of gelato requires its manufacture in small batches, ideally with fresh fruit purÃ©es. But, as the WSJ article explains, many chefs are opting for increasingly weird ingredients (i.e., parmesan cheese, beets).
Here in Seattle, the coming summer season (assuming it actually arrives) requires nothing more than a three-phase, 220-volt power plug for a professional-caliber Carpigiani gelato maker (technically called a batch freezer), and a dipping station to hold the gelato at a relatively warm 10 degrees. The leading sources, in no particular order:
Gelatiamo. A real Italian mamma, Maria Coasin, runs this downtown cafÃ© at 3rd and Union (as well as a 16-flavor gelato case at the new Metropolitan Market in Kirkland).
Chocolate Box. A relative newcomer, this shop across from the Market at 108 Pine St. offers a selection of house-made gelato to accompany or supplement chocolates. 206.443.3900, www.sschocolatebox.com.
Bottega Italiana is a mini-chain whose first store was on First Avenue between Pike and Pine (1425 1st Avenue, Seattle, 206-343-2000). Additional locations in Greenlake (409 N E 70th St., 206.524.4416) and in California. Up to 40 flavors. www.bottegaitaliana.com.
Fainting Goat in Wallingford offers goat milk gelato from a Turkish couple (Yalcin and Sevim Ataman ). 206-327-9459, www.faintinggoatseattle.com.
Procopio In the Pike Street Hillclimb, 1501 Western Ave., 206-622-4280, www.procopiogelati.com.
Poco Carretto. Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita started this mobile gelateria cart a couple of seasons ago and does a brisk business at neighborhood farmers markets. Six rotating flavors. www.pococarretto.com.