Researching my Tampa Bay Times article on the best gelato in Florence, Italy, was a good excuse for guilt-free gorging. Now I’m thousands of miles away, consoling myself with my own lemon ricotta gelato.
The idea of making gelato at home occurred to me during an interview with Silvana Vivoli of the renowned gelateria Vivoli. Americans love exotic flavors, but she told me her Florence customers’ top choices are crema, chocolate and strawberry.
Crema? It’s an egg-based custard gelato. The best gelaterias take pride in the honest goodness of their crema–and without masking flavors, lesser gelaterias can’t hide. Sometimes crema is flavored with vanilla or lemon zest, but not necessarily. Crema was the first flavor Silvana’s grandfather made when Vivoli opened during the ’30s. (Fior di latte is the other pale gelato you’ll see in Italy–the difference is it’s made just with milk and cream, no eggs.)
Could I make crema successfully at home? Silvana shrugged: Sure. Use the best eggs, milk and cream you can get, she advised. And, before freezing the custard, refrigerate it overnight so the flavors mature.
Making the crema base was a simple matter of “tempering” the beaten eggs by gradually adding the hot liquid and then cooking the mixture until it thickened. While the mixture chilled overnight in the fridge, excess liquid drained off the ricotta, set over a strainer.
The next day I tasted the gelato and–brava, me! Maybe not the best I’ve ever tasted but certainly the best I’ve made, with a deliciously creamy texture that doesn’t turn icy when frozen.
I love the simple goodness of crema and the fact that it goes with anything. If you want to embellish beyond what’s here, soak small-diced dried Mission figs in limoncello before adding to the custard mixture. Or drizzle the gelato with sweetened berry puree or a rich chocolate sauce.
- 4 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 large pinch sea salt
- 2 tablespoons limoncello liqueur optional
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta
With a whisk or electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until it reaches a pale yellow, creamy consistency.
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and cream over medium heat until steaming. Gradually add about ½ cup of the hot liquid to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Blend into the milk mixture, stirring, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the vanilla, lemon zest, sea salt and limoncello (if using). Cool.
Transfer the custard to a nonreactive container, cover and chill for several hours or overnight. Scrape the ricotta into a small strainer positioned over a bowl. Chill for the same length of time.
Thoroughly mix the drained ricotta into the custard. Freeze until firm in an electric ice cream maker. Shortly before serving, move to the refrigerator or kitchen counter until soft enough to scoop easily.