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Procopio dei Coltelli

Palermo, 1651 – Paris, 1727

Life and History

Procopio dei Coltelli

Procopio Cutò gained his name “dei Coltelli,” from the French who mistook Sicilian word “Cutò” for couteaux, meaning knives, or coltelli in Italian. Procopio was born at the base of Mount Etna in Sicily and spent much of his childhood playing in the snow – to which he owes his fortune. At the time, the snow from Etna was mixed with fruit juices or honey to make a sort of sorbet, enjoyed by both the poor and the rich aristocrats.

An enterprising young Procopio worked first as a fisherman, like his grandfather Francesco and his father Onofio. When he was not out fishing, Procopio’s grandfather built gelato machines and improving their quality. Francesco left his invention in inheritance to his grandson who began to study the machine himself. Procopio ran many tests, some successful other less so, until one day he felt ready to try his luck outside his workshop. He became a cook and moved to Paris where, with much courage and vision, he opened a café. He called the coffee house Le Procope, the French version of his name. It was the first café in Paris and is still open and active today.

His café became popular amongst cultural and political figures, including Robespierre, Voltaire, Balzac and Hugo. Procopio obtained French citizenship in 1685, ten years after marrying Marguerite Crouin with whom he had eight children. This, however, was not his only marriage. He married two more times, the second time as an elderly man, and fathered five more children.

The recipe

Frozen oranges

This recipe blends gelato, oranges and candied Siclian fruits. It is characteristically French in its elaborate preparation and elegance.

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 6 oranges
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 1 lb vanilla ice-creams
  • 1 oz candied fruit diced
  • 3 egg whites
  • vannilla sugar


Slice off the “crown” of the oranges and empty out the pulp. Squeeze the juice from the pulp and add it to four spoonfuls of the liqueur. Mix this liquid into the ice-cream and use it to fill the oranges up to three-quarters full.

Place the oranges in the freezer. Spray the remaining liqueur on the candied fruit, place in a covered dish and allow to rest in the refrigerator for around two hours. Add a few spoonfuls of powdered sugar to the egg whites and beat until very stiff. Switch the oven on to the highest setting.

Remove the oranges from the freezer and fill with the candied fruit. Using a pastry bag, form a meringue topping on the oranges, arrange the oranges in an oven-dish and bake in the oven for around 5 minutes. The meringue should turn golden brown without melting the ice-cream. Keep the prepared oranges in the freezer until half-an-hour before serving.

Gastronomic Library
F. PORTINARI, Voglia di gelato, Milano, Idealibri, 1987.