Last week, in passing, I mentioned granita as a summer treat. Today, I want to tell you more.
At its best, granita is heavenly; at its worst, sewer sludge. The worst has the consistency of slurpees sold in the 7-Eleven stores in the U.S. The machine stirs an icy mixture round and round. This mixture is decanted into a plastic cup to order. The most common flavors are lemon and mint. They are vile. The lemon tastes like dried lemonade mix with a metallic aftertaste. The mint resembles stale chewing gum. There are sometimes other flavors, but don’t try them. Trust me.
The best is another story altogether. Gelato shops labeled artigianale make their own. A syrupy liquid is poured into stainless steel pans resembling those used in cafeteria hot tables. Freezing coils reside underneath instead of hot water. The syrupy liquid is stirred from time to time as ice crystals form, but these crystals are never allowed to completely solidify. When someone places an order, the waiter stirs the granita to ensure that no lumps contaminate the icy mixture, then the granita is transferred to a dish (or a plastic cup to go) and served with a spoon.
The most common flavors are lemon and coffee. The lemon is made with freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar, and water. It’s very concentrated, like the best homemade lemonade. On a hot day, the icy lemon granita refreshes like nothing else I know. The coffee is made with concentrated, sweetened espresso. This is served in layers, granita, whipped cream, granita, whipped cream. There is often a cookie on top. Sublime.
Other fruits produce tasty granita, too. These are made with pureed fruit pulp, sugar, and water. The proportions depend on the fruit, of course. In an artigianale shop, it’s probably good. Other fruit flavors you might find include cherry, cantaloupe (melone in Italian), or mixed berry (frutta di bosco).
If you can bear to forgo gelato, I recommend granita.
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