QUITE POSSIBLY THE MOST AMERICAN OF ALL ITALIAN DESSERTS
I think a certain part of me must want to weigh 300lbs by the end of summer.
I think this because I have been like a bearded Hoover vacuum, consuming anything that resembles a frozen novelty with a ferocity of a wolf. A wolf that really, really likes ice cream. This somewhat undesirable behavior culminated last week when it was about 108 outside and I inhaled an ice cream sandwich made with bacon and butter flavored ice cream, simply because it was free. Immediate hindsight being 20/20, it was a bad choice.
A much, much better choice turned out to be the homemade spumoni I made this weekend.
As a kid, I loved eating at Italian restaurants. Growing up in Idaho, our choice for legit Italian food was limited. Limited to the point that outside of my family’s house there wasn’t much of it. But hitting the local pizza, pasta and big fake mustache joint was always a treat. Clearly not because of the food. Not the suspicious too-red red sauce that tasted nothing like my grandfather’s. Not the fact that it sat on top of a pile of indecently naked and flaccid macaroni, slowly drowning it. Not the cheesy red and white gingham tablecloths, basket Chianti or the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan youth that served us our “ravioli italiano” or “chicken italiano” or “burrito italiano” or whatever it was. No, it was a treat because of the small metal dish of spumoni that always came at the end of the meal. I loved that stuff. I still do. It’s a food memory strong enough to make me actually reflect fondly upon the rest of the meal in all it’s Disney-taliano glory. That’s how good spumoni is.
For the uninitiated, spumoni is sort of a better version of Tutti Frutti (as an aside, you really have to say “Tutti Frutti” with the wheezing affect of an irritated 90 year old Sicilian man to fully appreciate the name’s brilliance), being a molded combination of chocolate, cherry and pistachio ice creams with bits of candied fruit and nuts sprinkled throughout. It also seems to be something only available to red sauce joints. Only once in my life have I seen the stuff in a grocery store. This may be because of where I have spent most of my life—Texas and Idaho aren’t exactly renowned for their Italian roots. But in any case, as ubiquitous as it is on cheap menus, it’s oddly hard to find elsewhere. And if I do say so, it seems a little unfair to have to sit through some frozen raviolis and breadsticks just to get to the good stuff.
And so, homemade spumoni.
It all started when I found some Amarena cherries at a local specialty store. I love Amarena cherries. They’re one of those ingredients that makes nearly anything better. Carrying a flavor that is at once sweet, sharp and tart they make you forget every cheep Maraschino you’ve ever tasted. I used to pile them on hazelnut gelato when I worked at a pizza and gelato place, and it was good. So good in fact that having a jar of them in my pantry got my wheels turning. If you could make cherry ice cream with that same intense flavor, that could be something to write home about. Then you could also make some really good pistachio ice cream and then some really chocolate ice cream. And then mix them together. And then have spumoni. Hot damn.
So that’s what I did. I went for quality. I went for intensity. I went whole hog all over it. And the result was perfect. All the right flavors right there, just punched up. This spumoni tastes like a Lou Monte song. But a better, purer version of it. Like a Lou Monte song played at 33rpms on my grandparents’ old hi-fi in their living room. Which is just the way I like it.
This is a several step process, but there’s lots of downtime so it’s pretty easy. You may have to break it out to a few days, depending on your ice cream maker. My KitchenAid freezer bowl took several hours in the deep freeze to get back down to temp after each batch.
I also employ my friend Esteban’s pistachio brittle recipe in the pistachio ice cream. It’s a basic sugar and butter brittle with a few embellishments but it tastes like something much more ethereal. He serves it at his restaurant with roasted peaches and Mt. Tam triple cream cheese, which is alarmingly good. I’m pretty sure you could serve it over a dead squirrel and it would still be fantastic.
Chocolate Ice Cream
8oz whole milk
3 oz 55% chocolate
4 oz egg yolks
4 oz sugar
Heat the milk and cream. Mix the sugar and egg yolks. Cut the chocolate in small pieces. When milk is nearly at a simmer, lower the heat and stir in the chocolate till it melts. Temper the egg mixture with the milk mixture then combine, whisking over low heat till it’s thickened. Chill, add salt, then put in your ice cream maker and follow directions. Freeze the ice cream while you make the others.
Pistachio Ice Cream
8oz whole milk
1 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
4 oz egg yolks
4 oz sugar
3oz or so pistachio brittle, broken into small chunks
Heat the milk and cream, add the chopped pistachios and steep over low heat for 20-30 minutes. Strain the milk and reserve the pistachios. Mix the sugar and egg yolks. Temper the egg mixture with the milk mixture then combine, whisking over low heat till it’s thickened. Chill thoroughly in the fridge and use the steeped pistachios to make your pistachio brittle. When both have cooled, taste the ice cream adding a little salt if necessary. Put the chilled ice cream in your ice cream maker and follow directions. When its about have frozen put small, broken pieces of the brittle into the mix and continue churning till it’s done. Freeze the ice cream while you make the others.
Cherry Ice Cream
8oz whole milk
3 oz Amarena cherries, halved or quarted
3 oz Amarena cherry syrup
4 oz fresh cherries, pitted and chopped
4 oz egg yolks
3 oz sugar
I used a combination of fresh and Amarena cherries in this to give a bright and well rounded cherry flavor.
Heat the milk and cream, put in the chopped fresh cherries and steep over low heat for 20-30 minutes. Strain the milk and discard the cherries (you can leave them in if you like for an even more cherry filled ice cream, but I find they’ve given up most of their flavor). Add the Amarena cherry syrup to the ice cream. Mix the sugar and egg yolks. Temper the egg mixture with the milk mixture then combine, whisking over low heat till it’s thickened. Chill thoroughly in the fridge. Put the chilled ice cream in your ice cream maker and follow directions. When it’s about have frozen put the Amarena cherry halves into the mix and continue churning till it’s done.
Remove the other two ice creams from the freezer and allow them to soften slightly. When they have, spoon them alternately into a container large enough to hold all three. Combine the ice creams randomly without stirring them together, to create a marbled, not uniform mix. Chill the spumoni in the freezer till it sets. Enjoy after a nice meal of a little pasta and homemade tomato sauce with red wine that doesn’t come in a basket. Play “Lazy Mary” in the background, “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” if you have it.