The inspiration behind this pistachio ice cream recipe
When in Rome, eat pistachio gelato.
It all started when Rebe and I traveled around Spain and Italy this summer. We had had a great time in Madrid and Barcelona, and made our way to Rome for the next leg of the journey. We arrived at the airport tired, and had to wait an hour in the heat until the airport shuttle arrived to tote us into the city. We then had to transfer to another bus, waiting another 30 minutes before it took out of the station.
Once we got to the neighborhood where we were staying, Rebe realized she never got the address from our AirBNB host, so we almost had to sleep on the streets of Rome for the night. Luckily, her spanish cellphone worked in Italy, and we were able to contact our host.
At this point we were tired, and I was definitely not happy to be in this place that, so far, was crowded, touristy, and that took forever to get to. Then our host met us at the sidewalk of the apartment. And we trekked up 6 flights of stairs to our place. Once inside, he showed us where we were on the map of Rome. We were in, like, the bottom-most left corner of the city. I looked at my sister like, what the heck are we doing here.
We got into our room and said at the same time “Well OK it’ll be fine because we’re only here for a few days. Traveling isn’t always what you want. It’ll be fine. We’ll just suck it up.” Our host knocked on our door and asked us if we wanted wine. We said sure! and went into the kitchen. He brought out a bottle of white with a picture of the girl with the pearl earring on the sticker. It was delicious, and our host talked to us about his job, life, Rome, and where the best places to eat are. He was awesome.
He recommended a place right down the street with amazing pizza and pasta. So we went and ordered — what else? — pizza and pasta, and €2 Italian wine. The dishes were sensational. So simple, but out-of-this-world delicious. Rebe and I looked at each other and smiled through our full mouths. We were starting to think Rome wasn’t half bad.
After dinner we asked our server where we could go to get gelato. A woman who was presumably the owner chimed in excitedly and, in broken English, told us where to go. As we walked with already stuffed bellies, either Rebe or I said “watch this be the best gelato of our lives.”
We entered an unassuming shop with florescent lights and dated tile. Two Italian boys said Ciao, and asked what we wanted. I looked at them and said “What’s your favorite? I’ll have that.” They smiled and shouted “Pistacchio!” (Pees-TA-kyo). We quickly paid for our gelato and sat outside.
Cue best bite of pistachio ice cream in my life. No joke. I think that I’ve said Best ___ of my life a few times in the past few weeks, but if I cold put together a Best List, there is no question that that pistachio gelato would be #1 in the ice cream category.
Italian pistachio is unlike traditional American pistachio, as the Italians grind the pistachio into a butter just like peanut butter and mix it into a vanilla ice cream base. They supplement the buttery flavor with almond extract, which intensifies the nuttiness and offers a bright, floral note. It’s heaven.
The rest of the trip in Rome was fantastic. We ended up loving our neighborhood and being outside the city center, went to an amazing market every day for second breakfast/first lunch, and had unequivocally the best Italian food of our lives. I got amazing pistachio gelato at 5-6 different places, but the gelato that first night remained the best.
So here is my first attempt at pistachio ice cream. It wasn’t the same as Italian gelato, but it was pretty damn close. I did find the custard flavor to be a bit overwhelming, but I think it has to do with the fact that you whip the yolks before tempering them. I may skip the whipping part next time and see if it helps. Nonetheless, this was a hit with Alex and me. Most likely it’ll be gone tomorrow.
Tips on how to make homemade ice cream
Temper the egg yolks — I cannot stress enough how important it is to temper the egg yolks before adding them to the ice cream mixture. If you don’t temper the eggs, they’ll curdle in the hot half and half, and you’ll be very sad because of it.
Chill the ice cream base before churning — You can’t add the hot ice cream base into the ice cream maker, otherwise the pistachio ice cream won’t churn properly. Let the ice cream base chill in the fridge for a few hours until it’s fully cooled.
Freeze after churning — Yes, you technically can eat the pistachio ice cream immediately after it’s been churned, but it won’t be the right texture yet. Scoop the churned ice cream into a loaf pan and pop it into the freezer for at least 6 hours before scooping it.
Pistachio Ice Cream
- Yield: 1 quart 1x
For the pistachio paste:
- ¾ cup unsalted pistachios, shelled
- 6 tbsp. heavy cream
For the ice cream custard base:
- 1½ cups half and half
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- ½ tsp. almond extract
- In a high-speed blender or food processor, combine pistachio nuts and cream, then pulse until the mixture becomes a fine paste (It is OK if you have some larger pieces of pistachio. This will give good added texture). Set aside.
- Using a blender, beat the egg yolks until they are well aerated and light yellow in color. Meanwhile, heat the half and half and 3/4 cup sugar on low heat until heat reaches 180°F. Temper the egg yolks by adding a small amount of the heated half and half to the eggs while whisking constantly. Then, pour the tempered yolks back into the remaining half and half. Stir constantly with a spatula over low heat for about 5 minutes (you will know the custard is ready when it thickens and coats the back of a spoon).
- Once heated, remove from the heat and add in the heavy cream, almond extract, and pistachio paste. Stir to combine, then pour into a container and allow to chill overnight in the refrigerator (or, if you’re like me, for 3-4 hours in the freezer).
- Once completely chilled, prepare the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Scoop into a freezer-safe container and freeze for at least 6 hours, or overnight.