Was the pistachio ice cream you ate growing up neon green? If so, then you clearly weren’t eating real pistachio gelato.
Authentic pistachio is the palest of greens, getting its color from just-finely-ground nuts. Technicolor pistachio gets it tint from, well, we’re not sure, but we know we don’t want to eat it.
Back away from the grocery store ice cream aisle, San Diego. There’s never been a better time to indulge in gelato, the ultra-creamy, intensely flavored frozen treat imported from Italy and now made throughout the county.
From Carlsbad to Little Italy, La Jolla to Rancho San Diego, homemade artisan gelato — frozen in Italian — is being created in small batches, with most made exclusively from organic, local, super-fresh ingredients.
Significantly lower in butterfat than ice cream — from 0 to 8 percent on average, versus 10 to 18 percent or higher — gelato is churned with less air, so it’s unexpectedly denser and richer in the mouth. A little goes a long way. And while it’s not quite health food, we’ll make the case that the way it’s crafted at a premium shop, with just a handful of ingredients, gelato needs to be your go-to dessert of the summer.
Or year-round, like the Italians.
“As a food, gelato is as important in Italy as pizza and spaghetti, said Marco Saba, co-owner of Bobboi Natural Gelato, a 3-year-old shop in La Jolla. “Gelato is the king of all desserts.”
With his partner Andrea Racca, Saba demonstrated to the Union-Tribune what goes into Bobboi’s gelato — and what doesn’t.
The recipe for mango sorbetto (sorbet), for example, calls for 50 percent fresh Mexican Ataulfo mango, water and sugar, but no dairy, so its vegan. After 10 minutes in the Italian-made gelato machine, it comes out creamier and more vibrant tasting than any frozen fruit-water should be.
The pistachio is equally simple — milk, cream, sugar, California pistachios and a touch of sea salt. (See recipes for make-at-home gelato below.)
The taste is anything but; emerging nearly white from the gelato machine, the pistachio was luscious and complex.
“Pistachio is the benchmark flavor” for judging a gelateria, as well as stracciatella, Racca said, referring to the creamy white gelato with little shreds of chocolate throughout.
The partners, who are from the Sardinia, are committed to the same ethos that drives top-notch chefs — it’s fresh, it’s on the menu.
“The secret of a good gelato, a good sorbetto, is the right choice of ingredients,” Saba said. “We don’t go and buy whatever we find at the market. If it’s not right, if we don’t like the ingredient, we make something else.”
On the day of recent visit, flavors included the familiar, like chocolate hazelnut, salted caramel and coconut, as well as the unique — Meyer lemon and sage, blueberry and lavender and orange and ginger. In fact, most local gelaterias are experimenting with flavors that are way outside the supermarket ice cream box. You might find mojito or strawberry basil at Nado Gelato in Coronado and at EscoGelato in Escondido, there might be apricot goat cheese or sour cream brown sugar.
To the owners of Bobboi, who worked together at a gelateria when they were kids in Italy, the flavors themselves aren’t as important as the reaction they get from customers.
Making gelato is second career for them, Saba was a tax attorney and Racca, who has a business degree from the University of San Diego, was an executive at a wholesale electrical products company.
“We wanted to do something for smiles,” Racca said. “We made people miserable with our work before and one day I said (to Saba), ‘I just want to go back to La Jolla and open a gelateria.’ Now we’re making people happy.”
Bobboi Natural Gelato, 8008 Girard Ave., La Jolla. (858) 999-1362 or bobboi.com.
The Sweet 6
A select list of other artisan gelato makers in San Diego:
Pappalecco: The ever-expanding local chain of cafes, which proudly proclaims to use only five ingredients in each its gelatos, now has five locations (Hillcrest, Kensington, Little Italy, Del Mar and Cardiff). Order yours in a cup, cone, stuffed in a croissant or affogato (drowned) in espresso. pappalecco.com.
EscoGelato: Owner and Escondido native Suzanne Schaffner said the secret to her gelato’s success is its freshness. “It’s never more than two days old in the case. You make and it and you serve it right away,” she said. Want to know where Esco’s ingredients come from? The farms it sources from are listed on the website. 122 S Kalmia St., Escondido. (760) 745-6500 or escogelato.com.
Herb + Eatery: Not hand-scooped, but handmade and sold in pint containers at this marketplace attached to Herb +Wood. Flavors vary based on what they’re making at the restaurant. Last week there was matcha, black currant, vanilla bean, Turkish coffee blackberry. Alas, no thyme and black pepper. 2210 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy. (619) 794-2790 or herbandeatery.com.
Nado Gelato: This all-natural gelateria from Bottega Italiana (which also has a location at Westfield UTC and sells at various stores and restaurants in San Diego) has 60 flavors rotating through its artisanal arsenal. Nearly half are dairy free and the cream-based lineup taps into traditional Italian tastes (panna cotta, mascarpone) and all-American (pumpkin, peanut butter). 1017 C Ave., Coronado. (619) 522-9053 or bottegaitaliana.com.
Gaia Gelato: Run by cousins Cristina Amoroso and Paola Richard — who also come from Italy and also made a dramatic career change — Gaia exudes Roman authenticity. Small batches of gelato, from whiskey and cream to Nutella and Italian coffee, are made daily and not sold after 24 hours. 300 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad. (442) 500 8231 or gaiagelato.com.
Dolci Cafe Italiano: A popular neighborhood Italian restaurant that makes its own gelato from scratch, Dolci creates a dozen flavors that lean heavily on the classics: tiramisu, chocolate hazelnut, caramel and pistachio. Don’t worry if you’re not hungry for a full meal, you can still come in just for gelato. 2650 Jamacha Road, Rancho San Diego. (619) 660-2013 or dolcicafeitaliano.com
Bobboi’s Simple Secrets
For those with home gelato makers, Bobboi owners Andrea Racca and Marco Saba shared their recipe for pistachio and mango gelato. Each recipe yields about two pints of gelato.
Organic Pistachio Gelato
2 ½ cups organic whole milk
1/3 cup organic heavy whipping cream
1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar
1 cup organic roasted pistachio kernels
1/3 tsp. Mediterranean sea salt (don’t use if pistachios come salted)
Pour milk and cream in a pan and warm. Mix sugar and salt in a bowl and pour in the warm milk and cream. Mix and bring to 150 degrees. Take off the heat and let the mix rest for four hours. When cool, pour in a blender and mix pistachios at max speed for one minute. Pour mix in an ice-cream or gelato machine for about half hour.
Organic Ataulfo Mango Gelato
1 pound organic Ataulfo mango pulp
1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar
10 oz. water
(Note: For one pound of mango pulp you will need about two pounds of whole mangoes, about five mangoes. Mangoes must be ripe with a warm yellow to orange pulp.) Mix pulp with water and sugar in a blender. Blend until you get a smooth mix. Pour mix in an ice cream or gelato machine for about half hour.