In many parts of the US this week, there’s been a big heat wave. We’ve set records here in the mountains with temperatures in the afternoon hovering in the low 100’s. Now that’s hot. This kind of weather calls for cold desserts and of course ice cream and sorbet come to mind.
But what if you don’t have an ice cream maker? Leave it to the Italians to come up with the perfect solution. They’ve long known the simple pleasures of flavor and refreshment in one. Proof lies in their love of granitas, a delectable Italian grainy ice dessert made in the freezer that needs no fancy machine.
Granitas have been around since the 1500’s. As the story goes, Catherine de Medicis traveled to Paris in 1533 from her home in Florence, Italy to marry Henri, duc d’Orleans and heir to the French throne. Along with Catherine came Italian chefs. During the grand wedding celebration, one of the Florentine chefs made a different flavored ice each day, giving the French their first taste of these delicious desserts. The French obviously recognized a good thing when they tasted it too. By 1576, there were more than 250 master icemakers in Paris.
Granitas are super simple to make, but you’ll need to plan ahead because they need to sit in the freezer for four to six hours. Although they can be left for a day to freeze all by themselves, I like to check on them every hour or two to make sure they are freezing properly and to scrape them.
After the ingredients are heated, then cooled, the granita is poured into a shallow, rectangular dish and placed in the freezer so that they can form a fairly thin layer that should be scraped to prevent ice crystals from forming on the surface. I use an 8 x 8 metal pan, but Tupperwear or a similar plastic container also works.
To serve, scrape the surface with a metal spoon or an ice cream scoop. It’s the granita’s grainy, icy texture that makes them special. You probably won’t have to worry about leftovers because this refreshing dessert is packed with flavor. But if you do have some extra, granitas can be kept for up to two weeks in the freezer before losing flavor.
I’ve made my favorite granita using Campari, a popular, bright red and slightly bitter Italian aperitif that derives its distinctive taste from a mixture of herbs and spices that have been steeped in alcohol. An interesting fact about bitterness - research tells us that bitterness is the last of the four primary tastes to be appreciated, following sugar, salt, and acid. The Campari infused with the orange and sugar imparts a flavor that reminds me slightly of grapefruit in flavor and color. Some other popular flavors of granitas include cappuccino as well as lemon.
Campari Orange Granita
From The Silver Palate Cookbook –serves 6
3 cups strained fresh orange juice
1 cup Campari
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup granulated sugar
Mint sprigs for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is about to boil and all the sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature. Pour into a shallow pan (an 8” square cake tin is ideal) and set in the freezer. Follow directions above about scraping every hour or so. The mixture will take from 3 to 6 hours to freeze. If it is very hard, set it in refrigerator for 30 minutes to temper the texture slightly. Garnish with mint sprigs.
This recipe will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Living, Foodie Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Please stop by and enjoy the recipe round-up.
Summer has always been my favorite time of the year. I hope you stay cool and enjoy all the wonderful, relaxing things that summertime has to offer, such as walks on the beach or reading a good book in a hammock on the porch.