Going to Rome? Between visits to the Coliseum and Dolce & Gabbana, please....eat gelato.
I did on a recent visit, and this is what I discovered: Most gelato shops in Italy make ice cream by mixing commercially-made powder bases with water and jam, and spinning the mixture in an ice cream maker. These shops can call themselves ‘artisanal’, a loose term in Italy that means the ice cream is spun on site. But ‘artisanal’ doesn’t mean that the ingredients used are fresh.
So how do you know which gelato is truly fresh versus made from powder? You don’t. But there are some red flags to look out for.
Avoid huge mounds and bright colors like this: Gelato should look flatter and paler like this:
"Gelato should not stand on its own," said Elizabeth Minchilli, the Roman food expert who I met with in her Monti neighborhood. Gelato should be exposed to as little air as possible and "it should not be a very different color than it is in nature,” she added. So neon green pistachio is a no-go. Gelato covered in chocolate sauce is usually a bad sign, too.
So if you're going to Rome anytime soon, here is a small but good list of gelaterie to visit:
With seven locations around the city, Fatamorgana is the brainchild of Maria Agnese Spagnuolo, who studied under the pioneer of modern Roman gelato Claudio Torcè (another gelateria worth visiting). This gelato is as
clean as it gets – with no additives like carob flour or xanthium gum. Spagnuolo, who suffers from celiac disease, keeps her gelato pure with just milk, cream, sugar, and flavorings made from whole natural ingredients like cardamom pods and cacao. They sell standard gelato flavors like chocolate and pistachio but also get pretty creative with flavors like fennel, honey and licorice.
Flavors to try:
Chocolate Kentucky Tobacco Leaves
Sorrento Walnuts with Rose Petals and Violet Flowers
Trastevere, Via Roma Libera, 11
Monti (near the Roman Forum), Piazza degli Zingari, 5
Vatican, Via Leone Iv, 50
Gelateria del Teatro
This gelato shop is a favorite. Coffee is my preferred flavor and the one I hold all gelato shops up to. Theirs was strong tasting but a careful balance of bitter and sweet.
Flavors to try:
Rosemary honey and lemon
Lavendar and white peach
Location : Near Piazza Navona, Via dei Coronari, 65/66
Based in Florence, this second outpost by Simone Bonini makes very good gelato from the freshest ingredients. Though the coffee ice cream was a little weak for me, other flavors hit the spot.
Flavors to try: Stracciatelle, hazelnut
Location: Campo di Fiori, Via dei Chiavari, 37/37a
Minchilli told me about this old-school, divvy coffee bar, which also makes pretty tasty gelato. It was full of locals when I stopped in – always an encouraging sign. The coffee and pistachio ice cream was excellent though a little icy. The taste, though, made up for the texture.
Flavors to try: Pistachio, coffee, all of them
Location: Between Campo dei Fiori and the Garibaldi bridge, Via del Seggiola, 12
This is Rome’s most famous gelateria. It’s been open for 85 plus years and serves about 2,000 people a day. That’s an insane number. While I wouldn’t wait in the lines, if you find yourself in the neighborhood and can see the
counter, try a sorbetto or granita, the recipes for which haven’t changed in years (or so the owner tells me.)
Flavors to try: Pomegranate granita or sorbet
Location: Pantheon, Via del Seggiola, 12
Other Places I Wanted to Try But Didn't Have Time For:
Neve di Latte: Via Luigi Poletti, 6 (which is further north of the city)
Come il Latte Via Silvio Spaventa (between the Villa Borghese and Termini Train Station)
For more gelato recommendations see ELIZABETH MINCHILLI'S blog.