Apparently, green tea smells of old cars. Anything red is a no. No also to green and crunchy, to onions, to fruit. But this chocolate gelato was a winner. “Really nice,” said Oscar, my nephew, who had come to stay along with his two brothers. Homemade is always a bit suspicious to children, I’ve noticed. Because you’ve had some input and this is scary to them. And this is grown-up stuff; it has a dark, strong caffeine hit, almost – but not quite – bitter. It is salty, why I don’t know, but it makes you head straight for the tap afterwards and glug water like a person found wandering for days in the desert. It is rich, velvety, it has a tinge of red, like dried blood; it glistens, it drips from the spoon and forms dark, chocolatey pools. I thought it would get lost in all the fast food, the junk, the Twinkies and Oreos, the ice cream sandwiches. But it did not go unnoticed. They nodded wisely in between mouthfuls, the spoon tinkling like a bell and growing more insistent as the bowl emptied. There was silence, focus.
“I had a banana three months ago. It was in a smoothie. That was so I didn’t have to taste it,” said Oscar, in defense of fruit. I never realized food could hold such trepidation. I ate snails as a child, picked them out of their shells, and dipped them in garlic butter. I ate earth – whole mouthfuls – and peeled chewing gum off the floor. I peeled it off the pavement, in fact, and popped it in my mouth. I ate ratatouille willingly, and sweetbreads. I ate chalk. I was fearless, verging on deranged. And I lived. The only thing I wouldn’t eat, perversely, was cheesecake, and that was because of the name.
Dark chocolate gelato doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, but I think it was a surprise. Perhaps it went with all the other new things: the road signs, the accents, the crazy heat, the big waves, the seals, cars, loud women, lady boys. And they ate other stuff too – homemade tacos with spicy beef and sour cream, Mexican cheese, Orangina, chillies. They were brave in the sea, and came back with bashed knees, and bloodied feet. Being in a strange, new land, on another continent, makes you more inclined to try new things perhaps; you are not quite yourself.
We ended up in a Thai restaurant, which was where the green tea debate began.
“It smells like a reptile enclosure,” said Ben.
It did in fact smell quite nasty. Dank, musty, old. Also, it was hot, and we were hot, overheated you could say, sweating and limp, with fans not quite disguising the wet walls, the presence of steam. Why drink hot green tea and not water? But I have developed a taste for it; I like the weirdness, the way it heats my throat as it goes down, makes me wince. Maybe it’s the daredevil in me, the devil child eating earth. It helps me remember when I was invincible.
I will try to shed some light on the difference between gelato and ice cream. In Southern Italy, gelato is traditionally made without eggs, using mainly milk, rather than cream. As I wrote about in the Fior di Latte recipe, the base of many Sicilian ices consists of a milk pudding thickened with cornstarch (I used a little cream, because I wanted some richness). The homogenized fats in milk are what creates a lighter texture, with that lovely melting quality. Ices made with more cream and less milk, or equal amounts, though luxuriously buttery, can coat the mouth in a way that gelato never does. It can also mask flavours. In Northern Italy, eggs are used, but the principle of milk over cream remains. If you go to a gelateria, you’ll find the gelato light, yet dense; this is due to the speed at which it is churned, keeping a lot of the air out.
Dark chocolate gelato
Adapted from Marcella Hazan, Marcella’s Kitchen
Makes 2 ½ cups (600ml)
4 large egg yolks
½ cup (100g) plus 2 tbs extra-fine sugar
2 ¼ cups (500ml) whole milk
3 ½ oz (100g) dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) broken into pieces
½ cup (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder
In a heatproof bowl, beat (using an electric whisk) the egg yolks with ½ cup (100g) of sugar until thick and creamy. Heat the milk gently in a saucepan until it looks as if it’s starting to rise to a boil. Remove from the heat and add only a little milk to the egg mixture, to temper the eggs, then gradually add the rest. Beat well.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Resist the temptation to stir. When no lumps remain, beat the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, followed by the cocoa powder. Place the bowl over the pan of barely simmering water again, and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of it. Remove from the heat. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, make a caramel by combining 2 tablespoons of sugar with 2 tablespoons of water. Boil the mixture until it turns a dark amber, but isn’t burnt. Swirl the pan as it darkens and watch it like a hawk.
Whisk the caramel into the chocolate until fully incorporated. It will sizzle. Leave to cool, then cover the surface of the bowl with plastic wrap/cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour, then churn in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. At this point you can serve it as it is – it will be soft and slightly sloppy. Alternatively, transfer to a freezer container, cover the surface with plastic wrap and freeze.