July is National Ice Cream month, and the third Sunday of the month is National Ice Cream Day. Both of these are good reasons to make ice cream – as though the heat of summer weren’t enough on its own – so I spent the afternoon of my National Ice Cream Day making a batch of vanilla gelato at home. “Gelato” is the Italian word for ice cream and, like American ice cream, there is no single standard recipe for what it is. It is know for having a denser, softer texture than ice cream, in addition to being made in more and bolder flavors.
This recipe appeals to me because it is incredibly simple. You don’t need to cook anything in advance or wait for anything to chill before pouring it into an ice cream maker. It has just three ingredients: milk, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. The sweetened condensed milk adds plenty of sweetness to the gelato and also helps to make the finished product a little richer. That said, this recipe is a little bit less rich than a similar ice cream might be because it uses milk, not heavy cream, alongside the sweetened condensed milk. This gelato will work with lowfat milk (I did not try it with nondairy milks), but as you lower the fat content, you will also loose a little bit of creaminess in the finished product. The gelato will still be smooth and have a great melt-in-your-mouth texture to it, and it shouldn’t get too hard or icy in the freezer, but it will just be slightly less smooth than a batch made with whole milk.
I used vanilla extract to get the vanilla flavor into the gelato, but you can also scrape a vanilla bean directly into the milk mixture if you prefer to get a vanilla bean look. The vanilla flavor is wonderful, bold and fragrant. It stands alone very well, but could also be served with fresh fruit, a fruit cobbler or with cake.
Easy Vanilla Gelato
2 3/4 cups milk
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl until smooth. Refrigerate if mixture is not cold, or until you are ready to make the gelato.
Pour milk mixture into your ice cream maker and prepare according to manfacturers’ instructions (usually about 20 minutes). Transfer to a freezer-proof airtight container and chill until ready to serve to firm up the texture a bit.
Note: This gelato is best made with an ice cream maker, which will ensure the smoothest texture and best finished product.