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Posted on Tue. Aug. 05, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Chill out with frozen concoctions this summer

Try gelato, or sorbet, or Italian ice -- or stick to good old ice cream.

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The smell of chlorine makes me hungry for certain foods. I can remember taking my boys to the pool; the snack shop going strong with cheeseburgers and fries. I love those smells with chlorine. I remember buying them ice cream bars and seeing them drip down their plump tummies while they ate them. All food tastes better by water, be it lake, ocean, pond or pool, don't you think? I bet you love summertime outdoor food too. The No. 1 dessert for Americans, voted over and over again by people who take such polls, is ice cream. Americans just love it; in fact, most nations love it and have developed a way to serve frozen concoctions.

As far back as Nero, that bad-tempered emperor who let Rome burn, people have loved frozen desserts. Supposedly he had snow brought down from the Appine Mountains of Northern Italy, which he mixed with honey and wine for a sweet dessert. Marco Polo chronicled bringing a recipe back from his China explorations to Italy for a frozen dessert made with rice. People spent a lot of money and used a lot of slaves to bring that ice down the mountains to make chilled things. Chilled ice desserts were only for the very wealthy or royalty back then. In the late 1800s, ice cream's biggest fan was probably Agnes Marshall, who wrote several cookbooks on the delight and how to make it for home cooks. She is the woman to whom the ice cream cone is attributed, with her invention of the “cornet with cream,” a rolled delight made from crushed almonds and baked in the oven. Then the 1920 World's Fair in New York sold ice cream in little penny cones as well as introduced the delicious apple pie a la mode -- one of the best combinations of food ever.

I had a customer ask me what the difference is between gelato and ice cream. After some delicious research, here are some facts and opinions about frozen desserts.

*Ice cream: To meet U.S. standards, ice cream must contain 10 percent fat. Ice cream is made from cream, eggs, sugar and various flavorings. Air is churned in to prevent ice crystals from forming, thus giving it its creamy texture. The more expensive the ice cream, the less air churned in. Cheap ice cream may have as much as 50 percent air churned in to make it stretch out and appear fluffy, when really it is poorly made. You know the difference immediately when you taste Haagen Dazs vs. store brand. This is the main reason why.

*Gelato: The wonderful Italian ice cream is made with milk or cream, eggs, sugars, and flavorings. Gelato uses less egg yolks than ice cream and often more milk vs. cream. Another famous Italian dish that began with a rich custard base using only the yolk of the eggs is Zabaione. Gelato generally has less air churned in than ice cream, so it is denser. In Italy, gelato must have only 3.5 percent fat. Now you don't have to feel guilty eating gelato if you go to Italy. Mange! Prego.

*Sorbet: I love the coolness and lightness of sorbet in the summer or after a heavy meal. My way of menu planning is heavy meal/ light dessert, light meal/decadent dessert -- unless the customer wants otherwise, of course. Sorbet is made with sugar, water, flavorings and often alcohol, (which lowers the temperature of freezing so must be dealt with differently when preparing). There is no dairy and no air whipped in. Remember, you can still make it in your ice cream maker as the arm just stirs it. The French claim it, but I think it is really stolen from the Italians.

*Granita: This semi-frozen dessert originated in Sicily. It is made with the same ingredients as sorbet, but coarser because there is only occasional stirring. When I make it, I put it in a large pan and stir it about once an hour to keep the ingredients from separating. If you make it in a machine, it will really be like sorbet. If you want a true granita, don't use a machine and make it on a day you are going to hang around the house to reach in the freezer and give it a stir. Like maybe on the day you are having me over for dinner.

*Italian ice: Contrary to the misinformed, this is not shaved ice like our snow cones. The flavorings, usually fruit juices or concentrates ARE the ice, not poured over ice. Italian Ice is frozen, stirred occasionally, then taken out and sharded with a fork. It is light and flavorful and great for a hot, hot day.

There you have it. Which one do you prefer? I'll take them all!


Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Her column appears every other Tuesday in The News-Sentinel. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to clarson@news-sentinel .com or call 461-8284. We'll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.


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