Photo © gardenghelle, published under a Creative Commons License.
When I was in Italy, the language barrier was more an invisible fence than an insurmountable stone wall. With a few stock phrases, a smattering of French, and emphatic hand gestures, I’d run around all day exploring without a care. But when I least expected it, I’d get zapped.
Like the time I ordered pumpkin gnocchi. I love gnocchi. I like pumpkin. Sure, I figured it would actually be some sort of squash, but I could handle that. Then a plate brimming with bright pink pasta arrived. Although the server insisted it was pumpkin, the colour and taste proved the vegetable in question was, in fact, beets. And faithful readers know how I feel about bloody beets.
Then there was the time I got brave and ordered “dove” in a high-end restaurant, assuming it was a mistranslation of pheasant or quail. Nope. I’m pretty sure the fowl I choked down was a pigeon shot from one of the statues that afternoon.
So, in a certain way my recent attempt at fig gelato is a fitting tribute to the culinary confusion I occasionally encountered. I knew all the right words — figs, mascarpone, honey — but something got lost in translation.
I studied various recipes from trusted sources, bought the last of the season’s fresh figs and rushed home to make the gelato of my dreams. There were barely enough figs to make a whole batch so I exercised extreme discipline and didn’t take so much as a nibble. But when I served the dessert — to out of town company no less — there was uncharacteristic silence.
The figs must have been slightly off because the gelato had an unpleasant, musky undertone. The seeds made the ice cream gritty and instead of a providing a silky smooth texture, the mascarpone was more like chalk. Could fermenting figs have curdled the dairy?
And the colour wasn’t right. Every triumphant photo in the recipe books showed little balls of impossibly rich but subtle purple. Mine landed part way between insipid taupe and off-putting puce.
Even my motto, “When in doubt add booze” failed to salvage the dish. We tried drizzling scoops with apple brandy, framboise and port. No one agreed on the best topping but everyone agreed I should toss the dessert.
It was worse than the beet gnocchi, which at least looked appealing.
So, no recipe today.
Instead, here’s a picture of how gelato should be eaten. Italian style.