Eating the World

Flashes of Gelato Brilliance in Old Town Scottsdale

Sorbetto and gelato
Sorbetto and gelato Chris Malloy
If you’re a fan of pistachio ice cream and gelato, then you may know from reading ingredients labels that many are secretly loaded with almonds. Large producers often balk at spending what they should on the pricey green nut. They advertise pistachio, and they often deliver mostly almond.

Sacrificing flavor, seeing dollar signs, they try to buffalo us.

Sicily makes great use of pistachios. The green nuts appear in pestos and on cannoli. I have heard that there are many words for "pistachio" in the local dialect, almost like Inuits and "snow." Sicily's pistachio Mecca is a town called Bronte. Nuts from Bronte have been called “green gold.”

The pistachio gelato from Cool Gelato Italiano in Old Town Scottsdale is made with 100 percent pistachios from Bronte, Sicily. These pistachios are so legit and expensive that the shop’s owners, husband-and-wife Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia, hike the flavor’s price by $1 per cup. Even so, they don't make money on the pistachio.

Cool Gelato Italiano's pistachio has a chalky, Matcha-like green hue. Put that pistachio on your tongue, and you will find it compact and creamy. Its potent flavor blooms, rolling to insane levels of richness. The flavor is almost alien to both the experience of pistachios and gelato.

It makes you see both in a fresh way. That has a lot to do with the owners of this little shop.

click to enlarge Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia - CHRIS MALLOY
Alberto Della Casa and Letizia de Lucia
Chris Malloy
Alberto comes from Bologna, Italy; Letizia comes from Abruzzo (a region east of Rome). They met when they were working as food market analysts in Italy (and each have five-year Italian graduate degrees in economics). Wanting to be their own bosses, they learned the craft of gelato at Carpigiani Gelato University (Bologna) and from a maestro named Massimo Barbetta, whose Abruzzo shop doubles as a school. Once they had reached the desired level, Alberto and Letizia opened Cool Gelato Italiano in 2012. Their always-changing gelato flavors range from mind-blowing (50 percent) to great (25 percent) to very good (25 percent).

“Real gelato is making everything from scratch...” Alberto says. Letizia jumps in — they finish one another's sentences all the time — and interjects: "using the best ingredients."

The two start with local whole milk, mixing in sugar and “secret ingredients.” They simmer the sweetened milk for four hours, then rest it for 12. After the rest, the two have the gelato base from which each of their gelatos are born. From here, the addition of chocolate, pistachio, or whatever sends the base forking toward one of a dozen or so various flavors. There are still steps to go, including tempering and two kinds of freezing. At long last, Letizia and Alberto have finished gelato.

click to enlarge Can you taste the pistachio? - CHRIS MALLOY
Can you taste the pistachio?
Chris Malloy
About half of the shop's dozen flavors rotate. Alberto and Letizia offer six or seven sorbettos. (Sorbetto is like gelato but without dairy. Gelato is like ice cream but with less fat, fewer eggs, and is often churned harder.)

Some of the flavors come close to hanging with pistachio.

A creamy pear sorbetto explodes with juicy flavor and, somehow, contains no cream. A hazelnut gelato made with nuts from Piedmont (a region in Northern Italy) is refined and elegant. Fior di latte, a favorite in Italia, tastes like cold cream but in gelato rather than out-of-the-carton liquid form.

Coffee is soothing. Chocolate is nice and dark. Pomegranate brings a heady tart flavor. Guava surprises with a tropical current and strawberry-like notes.

click to enlarge Dorayaki with hazelnut gelato filling - CHRIS MALLOY
Dorayaki with hazelnut gelato filling
Chris Malloy
Alberto and Letizia aren’t kidding when they say they use the best ingredients. There’s the pistachio, yes, but also, for other flavors, Passport-roasted coffee beans, ingredients from the Old Town Farmers Market, local mulberry, lemon, and orange, and so on.

“We use local and organic production when possible,” Alberto says. “But of course, with pineapple this is not possible.”

There are a few differences between making gelato in the desert and in Italy, they say. The milk here isn’t as fatty. The arid air can change texture. And the two feel like they have to use more of everything to attain the same depth of flavor. Air conditioning stabilizes temperature, though, striking what would be the most trying variable: heat (as Alberto learned when his AC busted last summer).

click to enlarge Marzipan, an unexpectedly intricate dessert combining almond paste and sugar. - CHRIS MALLOY
Marzipan, an unexpectedly intricate dessert combining almond paste and sugar.
Chris Malloy
Cool Gelato Italiano sells a variety of marshmallows, chocolates, cookies, and marzipan (confections shaped from almond paste and sugar). Alberto and Letizia "bread" gelato sandwiches using macarons, hot French brioche, marshmallow, and dorayaki (Japanese pancakes made with flour and green tea).

The headiest of their gelatos, even over pistachio, might be the Capri Cake.

The flavor is based on a cake that goes by variations of the name torta caprese al limone. It’s one of the local deserts on Capri and the Sorrentine Coast opposite. This blue coast is the land of the lemon. Hills are coated with trees festooned with softball-size lemons. Those lemons are in the cake.

The gelato tastes like cannoli cream but with almond vibes. After a split-second, the trademark brightness of lemon goes off like a flash bang. The lemon has no tartness, only the fragrant and fruity flavors of the citrus, which the couple harness by using rind rather than juice.

If you’ve been to that coast, the flavor almost makes you see it again. It isn’t as bombastic as the pistachio, but the sunburnt suggestions are just as nice. The power of this shop is that the gelatos are so well-made and so intensely flavored that you never know where they’ll take you.

Cool Gelato Italiano. 7373 East Scottsdale Mall, #125; 480-941-3100
Wednesday to Thursday 1 to 8 p.m.; Friday 1 to 9 p.m.; Saturday noon to 9 p.m.; Sunday noon to 7 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday.
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy