Desperately Seeking Spumoni

dining_spumoniWhere I grew up, pistachios were red and arrived in Christmas gift baskets. My sisters and I would finish off the bag with split thumbnails and pink fingers to show for it.

Later, I found pistachio ice cream in France as ubiquitous as chocolate. Although I wondered silently why it was green and found its flavor odd, surprisingly enough it was familiar, reminding me of spumoni.

As a child, the occasional trip to San Francisco with my grandparents typically included an Italian dinner, most often in the Doll Room at Veneto’s. The meals would invariably begin with a Shirley Temple and end with spumoni. It’s not that I ever craved this frozen finale, but it was part of our ritual and a rare opportunity for dessert was not to be dismissed. Swirls of chocolate, pink and alien green ice creams contained nameless bits of things found in holiday fruitcakes, but it was cold and very sweet.

From the word “foam” in Italian, traditional spumoni layers mousse mixed with nuts, fruit and sometimes rum with flavored ice creams. Unmolded, it is sliced to reveal multi-colored striations.

While still available in many Italian-American neighborhoods, it is a seasonal specialty elsewhere. Dreyer’s spumoni is available locally, but it contains about 40 ingredients including partially hydrogenated soybean oil and artificial this and that.

I visited four markets before encountering a pint of Villa Dolce Spumoni Gelato ($4.99) at Whole Foods. This Los Angeles-based company uses just 12 ingredients, including dark European cocoa powder, sour Amarena cherry paste, and Sicilian pistachios.

The texture is light and icy, the chocolate flavor fudgy. The pink swirl exudes bright cherry essence; the green one pieces of pistachio and roasted almonds. The end is near for that carton in my freezer.

Villa Dolce Gelato, at Whole Foods, 911 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Visit villadolcegelato.com

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