Thursday, July 2, 2015

I Scream. You Scream. We All Scream... For Granitas!

The Summer 2015 issue of My Outer Banks Home Magazine recently came out with my article about granitas.  See page twelve.  Here's a wrap up of my non-alcoholic granitas.  Saving the boozy ones for their own special posts. They deserve it!

It’s summertime and the livin’ is hot.  What better way to cool down and re-energize than by consuming that wonderfully refreshing Sicilian thirst-quencher – the intensely flavored ice known as granita.  Back in the Middle Ages, the Sicilian colonizers – Romans, Greeks, Spanish, and Arabs – used to harvest the snow of Mount Etna and pack it into stone grottoes along the slopes.  The nevaroli, or snow-gatherers, would retrieve their chilly treasures from the slopes during the sizzling summer months, and haul the blocks of snow to the city to concoct those half-frozen crystalline mixtures of water and sugar, flavored with rose petals or jasmine, cocoa or coffee, wine or sweetened fruit essences, including their wonderful Sicilian lemons.

A granita is typically a dessert item or a palate cleanser (although it can certainly be enjoyed on its own) made with sugar syrup and fresh fruit juice.  The liquid is frozen in a shallow pan and raked with the tines of a fork every half-hour or so to break up the forming crystals, resulting in a fluff of tiny prickles of flavored ice.   The texture of a granita can vary, as it does throughout Sicily itself, but it’s not an ice cream or a smoothie which are smooth-textured and creamy, and it’s not a sorbet, which goes into an ice cream machine, resulting in a more compact and smoother textured product which will melt pleasingly on the tongue.  The texture of a granita is somewhere between that of a sorbet and a sno-cone .  It’s flaky and that makes it unique.  The ice has the momentary, fleeting, and slightly alarming feel of little shards landing on one’s tongue, and then spreading into refreshment.

Classic Italian granita needs to be made by hand to achieve those flakes of ice.  You need no special equipment.  All you need is a fork to go from granular to flaky consistency.   
Every granita starts out with a simple syrup, which is a mixture of water and sugar in differing proportions, usually around one part sugar to two parts water.  The sugar and water mixture is brought to a boil and then simmered until the sugar dissolves.  Fruit purée and/or fruit juices are added to the simple syrup and the mixture is poured into a shallow pan and placed in the freezer.  Every 30 minutes for several hours, the mixture is raked with a fork, the outside scraped towards the center. The sugar content of fruits varies, so the simple syrup ratio may need to be adjusted, depending on what fruit you’re using. The size of the crystals in a granita depends on the amount of sugar in the mix.  The less sugar, the larger the ice crystals.  Too much sugar and you get slush. You can make a large batch of simple syrup and store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a month.   Now, you’re able to make different fruity ices throughout the coming weeks.  The plus here is your simple syrup will already be cold so your granita will freeze a lot quicker.  Once you’ve learned the basic technique, you’re open to a world of icy fruit and flavor combinations.

Granitas are best enjoyed at their peak of perfection - after three to four hours with intermittent raking.  If you have any leftover the next day, which rarely happens, set the dish out, let it thaw a bit, and rake again with a fork.

I've made granitas before.  Lovely granitas.

Peach Granita
Serves 4-6.
3 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and coarse-chopped
½ cup water
¼ cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch sea salt or kosher salt

Make your simple syrup by combining water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium high heat.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.   Remove from heat and cool.

In a blender, purée peaches with simple syrup, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt.  Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish.  Freeze for about 3-4 hours, raking with a fork every 30 minutes or so, scraping the icy outside pieces into the middle. 

Serve with a garnish of blueberries.


Strawberry, Kiwi, And Basil Granita
Serves 4-6.
½ cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 heaping cup hulled strawberries, sliced
1 kiwi, peeled and sliced
Small handful of fresh basil leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
⅛ cup balsamic vinegar
Freshly cracked black pepper
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt

Prepare the simple syrup and let cool.

 In a processor, combine strawberries, kiwi, basil, lemon juice, and simple syrup.  Process until thoroughly combined.  Pour into 8 x 8 inch baking pan and place in freezer for 2-3 hours.   Every 30 minutes or so, fork the icy edges into the middle to incorporate.   Spread the mixture evenly and place back in the freezer.   

 For the Balsamic Vinegar:
In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar  with a liberal amount of freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of sea salt.  Stir to combine.
Give the granita a scant drizzle over top and garnish with a small sprig of basil and kiwi and strawberry slices.


Sunset Orange Granita
Serves 4-6.
juice of 6 oranges
½  cup water
¼  cup sugar
juice of 1 lime
Maraschino cherries and juice

 Make a simple syrup with water and sugar and let cool.
Thoroughly mix orange juice, simple syrup, and lime juice.  Pour into an eight-inch square baking dish.  Set in freezer.  Rake with fork every 30 minutes for 3-4 hours.
For a pretty presentation, I serve these in an orange cup.  Top with a few maraschino cherries and drizzle a little cherry juice over top.

Pineapple Granita
Serves 6-8.
1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and chopped
½ cup water
¼ cup sugar
Juice of one lime
Zest of one lime

Prepare the simple syrup and let cool.
In a blender, combine pineapple, simple syrup, and lime juice.  Process until smooth.  Pour into a 9 x 11-inch pan.  Set in freezer and rake with a fork every 30-40 minutes for 3-4 hours.
Spoon granita into a dish, garnish with strawberry slices, and sprinkle lime zest over top.

Cucumber/Lime/Mint Granita
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and coarse-chopped
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup mint leaves
1 lime, zested and juiced
Prepare the simple syrup.  Add in mint leaves and bring to boil.  Simmer until sugar is dissolved.
When sugar is dissolved, turn off heat and let mint steep for 30 minutes.
Add cucumber, lime zest and juice to processor.  Add mint simple syrup to mixture through a strainer, pressing to extract all the minty flavor.  Process.  Pour into 8 x 8-inch dish and freeze, raking with a fork every 30 minutes for about three hours.

Stay tuned for the boozy granitas.

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