The Mindful Mouth
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The Mindful Mouth

The Year in Mindful Eating: Summer- National Ice Cream Day

In New York City we march to our own drum — and calendar. Take national Ice Cream Day for example. Sure, we celebrate it, but rather than limited the joy to July 17 we spread it over months, starting training for the big day on Memorial Day and extending the celebration until Labor Day. For me, the day itself is reserved for the queen of ice creams, my all-time favorite, the tartufo.

There’s a reason for New York’s extended celebration, and you’ll find it in almost every neighborhood in the city. Gelato stores. Gelato, like so many other culinary treats came to New York City from Italy. Yeah, we have regular ice cream here, but why would anyone choose that when a gelato store is only a block or two away from most locations in the five boroughs.

Don’t get me wrong. Italian ices are inclusive. When Asian immigrants enriched our ice cream choices with lychee, green tea, and matcha flavored versions, enterprising gelato makers simply embraced these new tastes and added them to an already extensive menu. Thinking about it, that might be the reason for the extended ice cream indulgence. If you start working through the menu at many local gelato stores on Memorial Day it may take you until Labor Day, to get through all the flavors.

Come July 17, with all the warm ups, or rather cool downs — there’s nothing like ice cream on a hot summer day — I’m at my peak ice cream eating form. Time for a Tartufo.

I had my first tartufo at Toto’s Pizzeria in Lygon Street, Carlton in Australia when I was 17. If you listen to the old, Italian guys who gather in parks in Queens, New York to play bocce ball, an ancient Italian game of lawn bowls, they’ll tell you that that couldn’t have happened. According to them, tartufos were invented in New York and were originally called bocce balls because of their similar appearance. Nonsense. Tartufos were invented in Pizzo, Italy in the early1950s to avoid a dessert disaster at the wedding of a prominent family.

While recipes vary, all tartufos share two flavors of gelato, shaped into a ball. In my neck of the woods, the standard is rich, creamy vanilla and chocolate gelato. At the center you’ll find a cocktail cherry, surrounded by flaked almonds in the cherry syrup, then comes the two ice creams, and finally the whole thing is encased in dark chocolate. Sounds good, right.

When I first got to New York, I ate my tartufos at what was then Mike’s restaurant in the Bronx. Typical for New York, Mike’s, a small, family owned Italian restaurant had two doors leading to two different incarnations, the first a pizzeria, the second a cozy, casual dining room.

The food was so good, and the owners so friendly that our ritual became meet up with extended family for Saturday night dinner. The first tartufo I had at Mike’s made me realize that the Tartufos at Toto’s, where barely okay. At Mike’s the chocolate was dark, the gelato melt in your mouth vanillary and chocolatey, the cherry perfectly preserved, and the almond slivers fresh and crunchy.

My ex’s uncle, a great story teller by any standard, noticed how enamored I was of my tartufo. “They used to be called bocce balls,” he said. His story has blurred in the mist of time, but as I remember it, this uncle discovered the bocce ball dessert and began distributing them to restaurants in NYC. Somehow it became a tartufo and made its way to Australia. Luckily, it also travelled to Queens where it remains in my favorite dessert and the best choice hands down for National Ice Cream Day.



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