Italy's cities and towns are built around large squares, and in the evening, after dinner, the citizens gather there for the evening passeggiata, the evening stroll. It is a time to show off babies, discuss politics, flirt with beaus—and eat ice cream. Italians feel that gelato helps the digestion, and eating gelato is almost a birthright. It is undoubtedly a delicious and joyous communal activity. Gelaterias show off their offerings in mountainous scoops, proudly displaying signs saying artigianale or prodzione propria: "our own production."
Traditionally, ice cream in Italy isn't scooped into a ball, as it is in America; rather, a paddle is used and the gelato is molded onto a cone. Even now that many gelaterias do use the palle or "scoop" system, the balls are smaller than those we are familiar with in the U.S. and can easily be made into mezzo mezzo, half one flavor and half another. Gelato always tastes intensely of its flavor. A melon ice cream actually tastes of the melon, and strawberry of ripe strawberries. In our family, we often choose to have two half-and-half flavors, some of us choosing mint or stracciatelle, a cream mixed with chocolate flecks, while others will go for Bacio, the Perugina chocolate-kiss flavor. Our common base flavor is almost always chocolate, and it often sparks a familiar discussion.
Our family is lucky to travel to Italy frequently, and while there we visit different locales and their gelaterias. The children have their favorites in various cities, and we'll plan our days around making those important visits. Every time we go to a new gelateria we compare the quality of the ice cream with our favorites. For us, chocolate is inevitably compared with the decadent chocolate gelato at the Cipriani pool in Venice. So far, although we've had marvelous gelati throughout Italy, that chocolate experience is unsurpassed. Since we can't all go to Venice at once, here is the recipe; now you can enjoy it at home.