We always recall the truly memorable food moments in our lives with a smile and a longing to revisit the flavours, the textures, the sensory experience of that gastronomic interlude. Sometimes we can, other times it must remain a sublime memory … perhaps associated with a special occasion, with people we love dearly, or places we have travelled to, that have left an imprint on our hearts.
Gelato is one of those things that can vividly recall happy foodie memories. My fondest gelato memories always take me back to Italy. I’ve had many great gelato moments in Italy and, not surprisingly, many of those involved variations on a chocolate flavour theme. But perhaps one of the most memorable had nothing to do with chocolate. It was at a particularly amazing gelateria in Piazza Navona in Rome … gelato made with fresh ingredients in a vast array of flavours, and no less than fifteen chocolate flavours to choose from. Therein lay my dilemma. Way too much chocolate choice (oh sure, try them all … ). I couldn’t decide so I distracted myself by looking at the other flavours. The thing with Italian gelaterie is that, whatever flavour experiments they come up with, the classic gelato flavours will always feature. Pistachio, cioccolato, caffè, nocciola, limone, stracciatella, and panna e amarena. Panna e amarena is a classic combination of a simple cream gelato swirled with sour cherry preserves, known as amarenata. I’m not a fan of plain cream but oh I am a huge fan of amarenata. I make my own every year. You see this gelato everywhere but I’d never actually tried it. It was wonderful. So beautifully simple, with just a faint hint of vanilla in the creamy gelato, punctuated by the tart sweet cherry sauce and whole cherries swirled through it. Perfection.
I’ve created a semifreddo version of this classic for Christmas. Cherries always remind me of Christmas and it will complete a lovely Christmas trio of semifreddo style gelato I’m planning to serve with slices of pandoro on Christmas night. This one, the Torroncino, and the Lebkucken spiced one. There will be crushed up chunks of torrone and a rich ganache sauce spiked with Amaretto liqueur to serve alongside the gelato. Not bad, yes?
The higher proportion of Italian meringue in this gelato makes it incredibly light and mousse-like in texture. You can buy prepared amarenata or make your own. It’s very simple to do, if you can find fresh or frozen morello cherries. I have a simple recipe here. Alternatively, you can make a sour cherry jam and swirl that through. I’ve given a recipe for that below too. I have not given exact quantities for swirling the cherry preserves through the gelato. This is really up to you. Both recipes for the sour cherry preserves make more than enough. Leftovers are fantastic and can be kept refrigerated for several weeks.
It makes a pretty gelato to serve at Christmas and it matches the flavour of a classic nougat and chocolate perfectly. Then again, it is also wonderful scooped in to a bowl or atop a waffle cone on a summer’s day … and pretend you’re sitting under a canopy in Piazza Navona and watching the world go by. Bliss.
3 large eggs, separated
90 grams sugar
20 grams vanilla sugar*
35 millilitres water
200 grams cream (35% fat), chilled
200 grams crème fraîche, chilled
Amarenata (recipe here) OR Conserva di Amarene (recipe below) q.b.
15 millilitres (1 tablespoon) Amaretto or Frangelico liqueur (optional)
*If you do not have vanilla sugar, replace the vanilla sugar with 20 grams of sugar and add one teaspoon of pure vanilla bean paste or extract. I used the vanilla sugar to avoid adding colour to the gelato from the addition of vanilla beans. However, this is purely my aesthetic preference and is not necessary.
Combine the sugars and water in a saucepan over a low-medium heat. Let the sugar dissolve and bring to the boil. Do not stir. Place the egg whites in a bowl nearby. Have the egg yolks ready in a separate bowl.
When the syrup has begun to boil watch it carefully. Insert the candy thermometer in the syrup and wait until it reaches 115℃. As you do this, beat the egg whites until they reach soft peak stage only. When the syrup is ready, pour half of it in a thin and steady stream into the egg whites, as you continue to beat them on high-speed. Set the remaining syrup aside, off the heat for now. Continue beating the egg whites until they are glossy. Set the meringue aside.
Return the syrup to the heat if required, just to melt it a little (it may start to form a skin and set if it cools). Beat the egg yolks. Pour the remaining syrup into the egg yolks in a thin steady stream as you beat them on high-speed. Continue beating until the egg yolk mixture is light, tripled in volume, and has cooled. In warm weather, or simply if you prefer, set the bowl in a larger bowl with an ice bath. It will help to cool the egg mixture more quickly.
Make sure the cream is chilled. Place the cream and crème fraîche in a large bowl. Whisk until thickened slightly and the cream forms soft peaks. Do not over-whisk the cream.
Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the cream. While you can be a little heavy-handed, you still want to keep the lightness of all that air we’ve beaten into the eggs. Finally, gently fold in the meringue until no streaks remain.
Transfer the gelato to the prepared container or loaf pan. Mix the amarenata or conserva and add the liqueur, if using. Mix well. Swirl some of the preserves into the gelato, with a light hand, making sure you swirl it about evenly.
Cover the gelato and freeze for 4 to 6 hours until set. This semifreddo will never set hard and is very light and mousse-like.
It will keep for several days in the freezer, tightly covered.
Conserva di Amarene
500 grams morello cherries, pitted weight (fresh or frozen)
250 grams sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (cassia bark)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla seeds or paste
Place all the ingredients into a heavy-based saucepan and mix. If using fresh cherries, add about 50 millilitres of fresh water. If using frozen cherries, there will be enough moisture as the cherries thaw and heat up, so extra water is not required.
Place over a low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is melted. Bring to a simmer. Cook until a small amount place on a chilled plate start to gel, or you can run a finger through it and it will leave a trail. Remove from the heat and pour into clean jars and seal. If you want to make this to use as jam, process the jars for about 45 minutes in boiling water. Cool then store at room temperature. When opened, they should be stored in the refrigerator.