gelato al fico d'india = prickly pear cactus fruit ice cream

Alberobello is a strange little town in southeastern Italy in the Puglia region, which is the heel of the boot of Italy. It has a whole neighborhood of funny white stone houses with grey dome tops called trulli, reminding bob of the Whoville town in the Dr Seuss story How the Grinch Stole Christmas, although if you check out the book illustrations there is no real resemblance—it's just a wierd mental association.

bob first discovered this cactus fruit liqueur by chance in a quick walk-though of the main trulli street there, quick because it was midday, sunny and over 100 degrees. One little sample convinced him this would make a great dessert flavoring, like for gelato or cheesecake, but although strongly tempted to buy a bottle, it was not practical to travel with it first around Italy and second back to the states. So he walked away empty handed, never expecting to return again. This was a 2007  road trip with Donato and his dad Piero, whom we dropped off at his sister's place in his home town (Alberobello), while we went on to the First Italian-Pakistani Relativistic Astrophysics Meeting at the University of Lecce even farther down the boot. Piero was retired and well-loved in the beach town of Sabaudia south of Rome where bob and ani regularly found themselves as honorary part time members of a 4 generation family.

Three years later bob and ani waited outside the surgery room for Piero's last and unexpected emergency operation for colon cancer, from which he never awoke. We lost a wonderful friend. And that same summer, chance took us both back to his home town again for a few hours. bob found the shop and the liqueur, sampled it, but again the dilemma: not practical to travel with a large bottle of this product. BUT they also had these miniature bottles, the catch, only packaged with two other flavors. bob said no, and was about to walk away again, when the scissors came out and freed a bottle. Italian generosity.

Within a few days of our return to the US, bob did the gelato application. Only 1/4 cup but it took more than a third of the bottle! The creamy result was very mild, probably it needs double the amount of liqueur, one more shot and this recipe will again just be a memory. But a strong one, like that of Piero himself, for whom we have to thank for this experience. Maybe somebody out there who can actually get their hands on this liqueur will try this and let us know how they like it. This has great potential.


3 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar
1/4-1/2 c fico d'india liqueur
2 c [= 1 pt] half and half
1 c heavy (or light) cream


  1. This is a two stage recipe: cooking the custard and cooling, then mixing in add-ins before inserting into the ice cream machine.
  2. Start water boiling in the bottom half of a double boiler.
  3. Wisk or beat together the egg yolks and 1/2 c of the sugar in the top half of the double boiler as though making zabaglione. The yolks should turn light yellow as in the zabaglione process. Then beat in the last 1/4 c of sugar with the liqueur.
  4. Heat up the half and half until it is warm but not scalding (1 minute on high in the microwave!).
  5. Place the top pan in the bottom pan and continue beating a few minutes as it heats up, then pour in the half and half and continue beating for a minute to incorporate it.
  6. Then switch to a heat resistant spatula or wooden spoon to continue stirring the mixture until it reaches 160 F and slightly thickens.
  7. Remove from the heat and cool in the freezer about 30 minutes, covering first with plastic wrap.
  8. Remove from the freezer and mix in the heavy (light?) cream.
  9. Pour into the ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. We set our Lello Gelato machine timer on 40 minutes but sometimes it takes about 45 minutes for the mixture to thicken enough so that the paddles begin snowplowing the surface.
  10. Then place in the freezer to solidify further.
  11. Serve in a slightly thawed creamy state.


  1. Alberobello, the trulli town.
  2. bob found his flavor bottle on the main tourist street of the trulli zone, courtesy of Liquoreria Tholos: liquore crema al  fico d'India. Trullo del Gusto, Alberobello. Apparently this is Pugliese liqueur can be found in more than one place in Puglia, like Gargano where it seems to be popular, as well as Sicily. The fruit can also be eaten directly.
  3. Fico d'India = Opuntia ficus-indica = Indian Fig Opuntia or barbary fig, more commonly known in English as prickly pear, with bright red cactus fruit whose syrup is used for fancy fruit alcoholic drinks in the US, among other things.
  4. Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  5. This is a simple substitution in our previous liqueur flavored gelato recipe.
  6. Illustrations available.
gelatofichidindia.htm: 27-nov-2010 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]