This pistachio gelato has its genesis in Rome, at Nonna Vincenza's, a beautiful bakery and shop that features decadent Sicilian pastries and other sweet treats.
My favorite are the mini cassata cakes filled with a ricotta mixture and covered in a pistachio and almond paste.
The shop sells cookies, liqueurs and almond and pistachio pastes too, and two years ago I bought a jar of their pistachio paste. Having only carry-on luggage, though, I was thwarted at check-in, because I had forgotten you can't bring in liquids or gels over a certain weight. It got confiscated, despite my pleas. So last year when I went to Rome, I checked my luggage upon departure for the U.S., just so I could pack a jar of this dreamy paste, made from the best pistachios in the world -- those of Bronte, Sicily.
Having come back two weeks ago from another visit to the eternal city, and eaten a fair share of pastries at Nonna Vincenza's, I decided to finally make gelato using the jar that's been sitting in my cupboard for nearly a year. What a revelation! Now I'm kicking myself that I didn't bring in any of this wonderful product from this most recent trip.
There are other sources of pistachio paste or cream that you can find on the internet, but I can't vouch for any of them since I haven't tried them. If you decide to buy some, please let me know the results.
Even if you leave out the pistachio paste, this recipe makes a delicious vanilla gelato - and would be a great base for other flavorings too.
I added the pistachio paste at the very end, but you could add anything, including almond paste, crushed strawberries or coconut cream.
Don't confuse this with that neon green pistachio ice cream you see at commercial ice cream shops. This is not even related in the least to that product. If you've never liked pistachio ice cream, it's understandable if those are all you've tried. Give this a go, topped with a few chopped pistachios, and you'll easily become a convert to the real thing. And if you're in Rome (or Catania, Sicily and now Bologna), don't miss a chance to go to Nonna Vincenza's. Find out more about them here.
printable recipe here
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 T. vodka
1 cup pistachio cream (I used Nonna Vincenza's, but you can't find it in the U.S., so substitute another brand that you might find here or here.)
Split the vanilla bean in half and add to the milk. Simmer just below the boiling point, then set it aside to infuse for about 15 minutes. Remove the bean. A little "skin" may have formed while it was cooling, so just lift it off and discard. Beat the egg yolks until creamy, then pour a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk into the eggs to slowly raise the temperature so that you don't end up with scrambled eggs. Keep adding the milk a little at a time, then stir in the sugar and place the mixture in a double boiler. Cook over a very low heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture heavily coats the back of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to cook it too long or to let it boil, or you'll end up a with curdled mess.
Remove the mixture from the heat, place the mixture into the refrigerator to cool for a few hours (or overnight), stir in the cream, the vodka and process in an ice cream maker. While it's churning, add the pistachio cream.Place it in the freezer to harden a bit more.