All about sorbetto and Gelateria Davide in Sorrento.
An ideal Italian summertime indulgence is sorbetto - a water-based, no cholesterol, fruit-flavored dessert ice, which has in fact been around longer than gelato, Italy's rich ice cream.
Although Sicilians probably made the first sorbetto (a descendent of their slushy granita, but with a smoother, firmer texture), northern Italians have been savouring it since at least the sixteenth century. Florentine Catherine de Medici reportedly introduced fruit-flavored ices (along with vegetables such as broccoli, artichokes and haricot beans) to the French court around 1533. Later, about 1660, the Sicilian Procopio de Cotelli went to France, opened a cafè (it still exists - the Cafè Procope), and offered less courtly Parisians the treat that most people now call "sorbet." It's a familiar story: whether pronounced ga'noise, soupe a l'oignon or sorbet, Italians first created it, and the French took credit!
Sixteenth-century Italian medical texts wondered about the gastric implications of consuming very cold foods, and many Italians remain particularly skeptical about ice, believing it disturbs the natural heat of the stomach. Judging by the abundance of sorbetti and gelati in Italy today, however, such concerns can be overlooked, given the right temptation.
For killer sorbetto, in the country that invented it, nowadays I recommend the gelateria called Davide, in Sorrento, on the south side of the Bay of Naples. In its vast assortment of flavors look for the stellar pink grapefruit, banana, lemon, cantaloupe or mulberry. Owner Guglielmo even makes his own cones, since commercial cones have artificial flavoring and coloring - strictly forbidden by purists.
A quick, cool substitute for a visit to Davide might be any of the sorbets from Gourmet magazine in Epicurious's Recipe File - just remember to call it sorbetto!
Davide, via Padre Reginaldo Giuliani 39, Sorrento, tel. 39-081-8072092.
Closed Wednesdays (except in summertime).
June 24, 1996