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Friday, March 24, 2017

Some Like it Iced

It’s September, and I see that the Halloween (and Christmas!) merchandise is in the stores, along with the wool jackets and long underwear. Other parts of the country actually have four seasons, but I’m convinced that in Phoenix we have only three: summer, winter, and spring. (Actually, sometimes we don’t even have a winter, we only have summer and spring.) At any rate, we still have a lot of warm weather ahead of us, and as the heat continues, cooling down continues to be a priority.

 

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to Italy for three weeks with a group from a local community college. Every morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. we studied Italian, and every afternoon and weekend we studied Italy–Rome in particular. It was hot in Rome, although not as hot as Phoenix and definitely more humid. We developed a refreshing daily gelato habit, until “il professore” introduced us to the granita.

 

It was called “granita di café con panna” (coffee ice with cream) which I like to describe as a sweetened coffee snow cone with a layer of coffee ice, a layer of whipped cream, another layer of coffee ice, and a dollop of whipped cream on top. Every afternoon around 5 p.m. we found we needed a little jolt (as well as a little cooling off) to bridge the gap between our 1:30 p.m. lunch and our 8:30 p.m. dinner– and the granita certainly did the trick.

 

Called an “ice” in the United States, called a granita in Italy and called a granite in France, it is a frozen mixture of water, sugar and liquid flavoring such as fruit juice, wine or coffee. The proportion is usually four parts liquid to one part sugar. A granita is easy to make because there is no ice cream maker required. Generally the recipe for a granita involves making a sugar syrup (heating water and sugar until sugar dissolves) then adding fruit puree or juice (or wine, or coffee) then pouring the mixture into a shallow pan and putting the pan in the freezer. Every half hour or so you need to stir the mixture with a fork to keep separating the ice crystals to produce a slightly granular final texture. Usually, a granita is ready to serve in about four hours, but can be made a day or two ahead. Just before serving, scrape the granita with a fork to lighten texture and break up ice crystals, so it’s kind of like a snow cone as I mentioned before.

 

When served as a dessert, a scoop of fruit granita is often served with fresh fruit slices or berries and perhaps a little whipped cream, and maybe an amaretti cookie or biscotti on the side. When served as a palate cleanser, serve only with a sprig of mint or other fresh herb for garnish.

 

Keep your cool this September — granitas are refreshing and easy to make, lower in calories than gelato or ice cream, and versatile – you can mix in whatever flavors you like.

 

LEMON GRANITA

This granita is very tart. Increase sugar to 1 cup if you prefer a sweeter dessert.

 

4 to 6 large lemons (need 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice)

2 cups water

2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar

 

Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest in long pieces from 2 lemons. Squeeze 1/2 cup juice from lemons; set aside.

 

In a small heavy saucepan heat water and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir in zest and transfer syrup to a bowl to cool. Chill syrup, covered, until cold. Discard zest and stir in lemon juice.

 

Freeze lemon mixture in a metal baking pan, stirring every 30 minutes to remove ice crystals from side of bowl, until liquid has become granular but is still slightly slushy, about 3 to 4 hours. Just before serving, scrape granita with a fork to lighten texture and break up ice crystals. Serve granita immediately. Makes about 5 cups

 

TOMATO BLACK-PEPPER GRANITA

This is a fantastic palate cleanser, but also tastes great in a Bloody Mary.

 

2 pounds tomatoes (about 4 medium)

1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

 

Quarter tomatoes and in a food processor purée with sugar until smooth. Pour purée through a sieve, pressing hard on solids, into a shallow metal baking pan. Stir in pepper and vinegar until combined well. Freeze mixture, covered, stirring and crushing lumps with a fork about every 30 minutes, until no longer slushy but not frozen solid, 2 to 3 hours. Granita may be made 2 days ahead and frozen, covered. Just before serving, scrape granita with a fork to lighten texture and break up ice crystals. Makes about 1 quart.

 

RASPBERRY GRANITA

If you love raspberries, no doubt you’ll love this granita.

 

1 cup water

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 cups fresh raspberries (about 16 ounces), mashed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Fresh raspberries

 

Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil. Remove from heat. Chill syrup until cold.

 

Meanwhile, mash 3 cups raspberries in medium bowl. Stir in lemon juice. Mix in sugar syrup. Pour mixture through strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Pour mixture into shallow baking dish. Freeze until almost firm, stirring frequently, about 2 hours. Continue freezing granita until firm (do not stir), at least 3 hours or overnight. (Granita can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and keep frozen.) Using fork, scrape surface of granita to form crystals. Scoop crystals into glasses. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

 

COFFEE AND ORANGE GRANITA SUPREMA

Accompany with amaretti or other Italian cookies.

 

4 cups hot espresso or strong coffee made with ground espresso coffee beans

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup well-chilled whipping cream

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Milk chocolate curls

Thin orange peel strips

 

Mix coffee, sugar, grated orange peel and cinnamon in medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature. Transfer mixture to loaf pan. Freeze until granita is consistency of shaved ice, stirring mixture with fork and breaking frozen edge pieces every 30 minutes, about 3 hours. (Granita can be made 6 hours ahead. If possible, stir every 30 minutes to 1 hour. Before serving, scrape surface of granita to form crystals.)

 

Beat chilled whipping cream and 3 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Add Grand Marnier and beat until soft peaks form again. Scoop granita into bowls. Top each dessert with dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate curls and orange peel strips and serve immediately. Serves 6.

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