Ciao, mia amici, ciao! I am home from my Mediterranean cruise on the Costa Serena (much more to come about that) followed by four days in the Eternal City of Rome. With so much to see and do, I felt it was fitting to start with one of the most critical components of our trip: the consumption of gelato, or Italian ice cream.
When I first tried gelato in Italy some years ago, it opened up a whole new world of frozen delight to me. I’m actually not much of an ice cream eater. When it comes to desserts, give me practically any combination of flour, sugar and butter and I am in. Anyway, back then the only locations that served gelato that I knew about were Italy and the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
I have since found that gelato is available in all manner of European countries as well as in places like Cleveland Hopkins Airport and the freezer section at Giant Eagle. I haven’t tried any at the airport yet, but I can attest to the fact that while the Giant Eagle brand is tasty, it’s not really that much like what you find in the Old Country. I’m just saying.
So my friend Fran and I made a point of testing the gelato from Palermo to Valencia and back to Rome. We had good gelato and we had amazing gelato. Never a bad gelato. Here’s a picture of a pretty gelato served at a café famous for its espresso near the Pantheon in Rome. The flavor was supposed to be pine nut (which is a delicious and unusual flavor when it’s made right), but tasted more like vanilla ice cream with pine nuts folded into it. Still worth every calorie, I might add.
On our first night in Rome there was a thunderstorm with a tremendous downpour after dinner, but Fran and her daughter (the beautiful Mallory from Las Vegas who came to join us for a couple days) and I dashed to the Trevi Fountain so Mal could make her three wishes on her critical first day in Rome. We ran a gauntlet of street merchants trying to sell us umbrellas approximately every 50 yards between the Spanish Steps and the fountain. The fact that we were beating them off with our OWN umbrellas did not deter them in the least from attempting to sell us back-up umbrellas.
Sadly, I did not write down the name of the bar/café by Trevi that had our first amazing Roman gelato, but if you stand directly in front of the Trevi Fountain and look straight ahead, the establishment will be on the street to the left side of the fountain. There is a somewhat grumpy old lady manning the cash register, but we learned that she actually makes the gelato they sell in that bar. The pistachio was maybe the best I’ve ever tasted. Don’t expect to be allowed to sit down with your gelato, but it was worth every minute standing, bedraggled and dripping. Grazie mille to the signora for her heavenly concoctions.
We were staying in a hotel near the top of the Spanish Steps, so we ended up sampling numerous gelati in the area by default, if nothing else. One of the best was Pompi, a shop with artisanal gelati and a refrigerator case full of gorgeous and unique desserts, like tiramisu in different flavors. I had a scoop of their Calabrese licorice gelato and about swooned, licorice lover that I am. My friends thoroughly enjoyed their choices as well (whatever those were – sorry!). Look for Pompi on the cross street of Via della Croce off the main drag of Via del Babuino in front of the Spanish Steps.
On our last day, after walking across town to visit the famous Campo di Fiori market, the Piazza Navona and various wrong turns and happy surprises heading back toward the hotel, we stopped at a little gelateria near the Spanish Steps called Gelo Stellato. The people running it say their homemade gelato uses all natural products and fresh fruits. I had been eyeing a gelato flavor for days called Amarena (I think) that looks like vanilla ice cream with cherries, so I finally decided to try it here. It turned out to be an incredibly rich and silky vanilla cream dotted with broken chunks of good quality chocolate-covered cherries. OMG. Do you remember Islays’ old White House vanilla ice cream with little bits of maraschino cherries? It was my favorite ice cream when I was a kid. Well, this Italian version may well be my new favorite, now that I’m a very BIG and OLD kid.
My usual go-to gelato flavor is lemon, and there’s nothing more refreshing on a hot day. I’m actually just throwing that in here so I can take this opportunity to give you a very different little travel tip. The only thing that may be even more refreshing than lemon gelato is soaking your feet in the bidet in the hotel bathroom after a long, hot day of sightseeing. You can perch on the toilet seat with a good book while your dusty, swollen tootsies cool down in the bidet basin next to you. I think Diane Lane may have done that in “Under the Tuscan Sun.” If she did, I think I did it first, anyway.
But back to the subject at hand . . . .
There was one gelato flavor I asked for in every bar, café and gelateria I visited, to no avail. That incomparably yummy flavor of gelato is: pink grapefruit. I do think I convinced the ladies at Pompi to consider it for one of their new flavors after extolling its virtues. I tried it in a gelateria in a little hill town in Umbria – I think it might have been Todi – a few years ago. Talk about refreshing! If anyone has a recipe for grapefruit ice cream, please send it my way. And if you ever run across such a recipe and have access to an ice cream maker, give it a shot. You will not be disappointed – promise!
So when in Rome . . . please visit Pompi and report back to me on whether or not they took my advice. Arrivederci for now.