Gelato alla Nocciola for January

hazelnut gelato over 2

It took me years ~ no, decades ~ to appreciate gelato alla nocciola. Chocolate, not hazelnut, was my flavor when I was a child and it kept on that way for years, through visits to gelaterie from Venice to Palermo and at our favorite parlors in Rome and Silvi Marina, where we spent our summers: cioccolato, in a cone or in a cup, crowned with a swipe of fresh, unsweetened whipped cream from the gelataio’s hand-wielded paddle.

Eventually I moved on to gianduja, which is sort of like chocolate for grownups ~ an inspired combination of mostly chocolate with a dollop of hazelnut paste mixed in to round out the flavor; after that came granita di caffè con panna (coffee granita with whipped cream), and granita di fragole (strawberry granita).

Finally, two summers ago in Puglia, I ordered a small cone of plain, unadulterated nocciola and found out instantly what I had been missing. The rich flavor of toasted nuts freshly churned with cold milk and cream was heaven, especially on a sweltering day in mid-July on the streets of Lecce.

hazelnuts bowl

One of the nicest things about gelato alla nocciola, though, is that it hits the spot at any time of year, whether July or January. Truth be told, I have been craving this ice cream since September, when during a trip out west I bought a bag of freshly harvested Oregon hazelnuts at the Portland farmers’ market. I used most of them to test biscotti recipes. But I had a couple of handfuls left over and so I packed them tightly and put them in the freezer. When a new ice cream machine appeared magically beneath the tree on Christmas day (my old one had conked out some time ago and I guess all my grousing about that finally paid off) I headed straight for that freezer.

gelato machine

I used the pistachio gelato recipe from Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian as my starting point–it calls for grinding the nuts yourself in a food processor rather than buying expensive nut paste. I took a bit of a detour after I spied a jar of Nutella on a kitchen cabinet shelf, so that in the end the gelato wasn’t pure nocciola but more like an inverted gianduja recipe ~ mostly hazelnut with a dollop of chocolate mixed in.

affogato caffetiera

If the idea of eating ice cream in January makes you shiver, let me offer this alternative: Brew yourself a nice strong cup of espresso. Sweeten it with sugar and, while it’s still hot, drop in a small scoop of your gelato alla nocciola. Now you’ve made yourself an affogato al caffè, and I can’t think of a better, more Italian way to warm up to the New Year. Wishing you all a dolce 2014.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

Gelato alla Nocciola

Nocciola, or hazelnut, is a classic gelato flavor in Italy, one you will find in any gelateria. But it's easy to make at home, too. This simple recipe calls for grinding toasted hazelnuts in a food processor rather than using a more expensive hazelnut paste. A few tablespoons of hazelnut oil further enhances the toasty nut flavor. Remember that your hazelnut gelato will only be as good as your hazelnuts. Nuts turn rancid fairly quickly, so use recently harvested nuts if you can. If you don't use them right away, store them in your freezer.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shelled hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (see Note)
  • 3 cups whole milk, plus 8 tablespoons
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 6 large egg yolks (reserve the whites for another use)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons hazelnut oil (optional)

Instructions

1. Place the hazelnuts in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, drizzle in 6 to 8 tablespoons of milk, enough to form a creamy paste, about 1 minute. Scrape the nut paste into a bowl.

2. Heat the 3 cups milk and 1 cup cream in a saucepan over medium heat. When the mixture is hot (but not boiling) whisk in the nutella until completely melted. Remove from the heat.

3. Combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a bowl and whisk until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in the hazelnut oil 1 tablespoon at a time, if using. Slowly dribble in a ladleful of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Whisk in another ladleful of the hot milk mixture, then slowly whisk the egg mixture back into the hot milk. Stir in the hazelnut paste and set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 15 to 20 minutes or until a custard forms that lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.

4. Strain the hot custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. Freeze the custard in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. When thickened, spoon the gelato into a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover, and freeze until firm, about 4 hours. To serve, remove the gelato from the freezer and let sit for about 5 minutes before scooping into bowls.

NOTE Many supermarkets carry packages of hazelnuts that have already been toasted and skinned. But it's not hard to do it yourself, and it's usually less expensive to buy them raw (and even less expensive if you buy them in the shell and shell them yourself). Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the shelled hazelnuts out on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the skins have started to crack and the nuts are fragrant. Wrap the nuts in a clean kitchen towel and let them sit for 1 minute. Then rub the nuts in the towel to loosen and remove the skins. Let cool completely before using.

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27 Responses to Gelato alla Nocciola for January

  1. Pat January 2, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    Sounds wonderful!

  2. Adri January 2, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Any time of year is gelato time around my house; the ice cream machine sits out on my counter year round, ever ready to churn up something cold and sweet. I am pleased to see that Dicembre Dolce has carried over into January!

    I look forward to trying this recipe. I bet the hazelnut oil adds an unctuous richness to the eggy creme anglaise base, the way olive oil does in other recipes. I make a Nutella swirl gelato, and I blend a little hazelnut oil into the Nutella prior to swirling it into the vanilla base. The oil prevents the Nutella from seizing up when it hits the cold, keeping it elastic, but the idea of adding it to the base sounds wonderful. Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful 2014!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 2, 2014 at 11:53 am #

      Adri, I thought about swirling in Nutella. Your idea of thinning it with hazelnut oil is genius. I’m definitely going to try that next time. My kids will love it (so will I). Cheers and all the best in ’14, my friend. BTW, what kind of ice cream machine do you have? I had the Kitchen Aid attachment but the bowl started leaking in the freezer after just a few uses and KA declined to replace it. I got a Cuisinart for Christmas. It’s not all that sturdy (a lot of plastic) but probably fine for home purposes.

      • Adri January 2, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

        I have a Breville Smart Scoop. It performs beautifully, and because it has a built-in compressor it is always ready to go. I too had a KitchenAid unit, but it did not stay cold enough to adequately freeze some of the bases I use, especially for ices and sorbetti. Also it was bulky and just took up too much space. I am shocked to hear that they would not replace it. Talk about false economy on their part. The Breville was very expensive, and for years I resisted spending the money, but I got it last July and never looked back. It is a great machine, and I use it all the time.

  3. ciaochowlinda January 2, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Ice cream in January is no problem at all for me Domenica, and I have always loved hazelnuts since I was a child and we used to sit around with a bowl of nuts following holiday meals. I have some hazelnuts in the freezer right now, waiting for a good recipe. I think I found it.

    • Domenica Marchetti January 3, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      We used to do the same thing, Linda ~ we had bowls of nuts out, with a nut cracker right on top. My mom used to shell all the nuts for her cookies (then she passed that chore on to my sister and me when we were old enough). I never thought I’d say I miss those days.

  4. bettyannq @Mango_Queen January 2, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Ohhhh I love gelato and hazelnuts in them? Bookmarked this to make soon. Thanks for sharing. Happy New Year, Domenica !

  5. italyonmymind January 2, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    Ciao Domenica,
    Including Nutella is an inspired idea. Luckily it is summer here (not that I need an excuse to make this on the weekend). Grazie cara per una ricetta splendida

    • Domenica Marchetti January 3, 2014 at 9:58 am #

      Paolo, I envy you at this moment. It is 17 degrees F outside and windy right now. One day I’m going to make it to that side of the world. I want to go to the Australian Open!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 3, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Typed too fast! *Paola* 🙂

  6. elisa January 3, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Buon anno Domenica! And what a wonderful way to start the year with my, absolutley favorite gelato! Hazelnuts are my favorite nuts and I use them by the bags! (trader Joe’s has a good price for large bags). Yes I use them ground, mixed with Parmigiano Reggiano as a pasta topping,and….on a white pizza I make with mozzarella and spinach with hot pepper flakes, and…. I grind them with olive oil and basil for pesto…and I will make this ice cream in a blender for a.. smoothie.. Grazie for another great post!!!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 5, 2014 at 10:07 am #

      Buon anno Elisa! I have made pesto with walnuts but never hazelnuts. I’ll definitely try it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. Jamie January 4, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Affogato al caffè is my favorite treat… but when it comes to gelato I am all about the chocolate or coffee. Now, ice cream in winter is a passion and a family tradition – sorbetto or granità is what I enjoy in the summer. And I have never eaten gelato alla nocciola! I love the touch of chocolate in yours with the addition of nutella. It looks perfect! Happy January and Happy New Year, my dear friend!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 5, 2014 at 10:12 am #

      Happy New Year, my friend! Glad to know there is someone else out there who enjoys ice cream in cold months. There’s something oddly comforting about it ~ especially when it is accompanied by a hot beverage. Wishing you all the best in ’14. I look forward to following your adventures at Life’s A Feast. 🙂

  8. Frank Fariello January 4, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    I usually go off ice cream from about October until June (pizza too, I’m funny that way) but this looks so good that I’m sorely tempted to break the habit…

    • Domenica Marchetti January 5, 2014 at 10:16 am #

      Frank, that’s interesting, especially about the pizza. I don’t think I could survive without it. Buon nano ~ looking forward to seeing what you cook up over at Memorie di Angelina.

  9. duespaghetti January 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    This looks wonderful. Nocciola is an absolute favorite, and who can resist the addition of Nutella! Thank you, Adri and Domenica, for the ice cream maker consultation – we’re looking into investing in one in the coming months. As far as l’affogato goes, if we’re feeling sophisticated sometimes we opt for gelato affogato con whiskey.

    • Domenica Marchetti January 10, 2014 at 8:38 am #

      Can’t go wrong with whiskey, Due! Let me know which ice cream machine you end up with.

  10. Laura (Tutti Dolci) January 5, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Gelato alla Nocciola is my favorite, I can’t wait to put my new ice cream maker to use with your recipe!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 10, 2014 at 8:38 am #

      Laura, what kind of ice cream maker did you get? Have you tried it yet?

  11. paninigirl January 6, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    Nocciola is my absolute favorite and I will be making this soon. I’ve never seen hazelnut oil though so I’ll have to search around for it.

    • Domenica Marchetti January 10, 2014 at 8:37 am #

      Janie, you can find hazelnut oil in many supermarkets. I know Whole Foods sells it. It’s grouped with other specialty oils, such as walnut and grape seed. It’s not cheap but as I said, worth the occasional splurge. I use it in salads, to drizzle over pasta, in cookies and I’ve even put it in dinner roll dough. I keep it in the fridge so that it stays fresh longer.

  12. Chiara January 6, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    ogni momento è buono per un gelato ! Buona settimana Domenica, un abbraccio !

  13. Laurie May 23, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Words cannot describe how happy you’ve made me today! I have been looking for a nocciola gelato recipe that made sense and you have struck gold 😉 I will pass on one easy tip…recently I came across another gelato recipe that was sheer genius…the author used a Vitamix/Blentec (super blender) to do the heavy lifting. I just tested this on your recipe, and it worked like a charm. Make the paste as you indicate and then pour everything into the blender. I use the ‘soup’ setting on my Blentec but basically you want to get it up to 180 F (if you have a Vitamix you can do this and skip heating it in a pot). I run it a few times and then put it in a pot w/ a candy therm. to get it heated the rest of the way. Chill and churn. Works magic and you don’t have to temper eggs, strain, etc. Costco now sells shelled/toasted hazelnuts so I think we’ll be eating quite a bit of nocciola gelato!!! Thank you!

  14. Frany April 7, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    If I want to make gelato alla nocciola without nutella, would you substitute the nutella with heavy cream? thank you!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 7, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

      I would just leave out the Nutella rather than add more cream. It should turn out fine. You could grind an extra handful of nuts if you like. Enjoy!

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