"snow gives the most delicate flavor to creams, but ice is the most powerful congealer and lasts longer."
-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third President of the United States.
At summer's height, few people crave heavy desserts, but dinner guests always enjoy something fresh and seasonal. Simple granitas, frozen desserts with an appealing icy texture and crunch, fill the bill.
The Chinese had discovered how to conserve naturally formed winter ice for summer use by building icehouses, which were kept cool by evaporation. The harvesting and storage of ice are recorded in a poem of circa 1100 B.C. in the Shih Ching, the famous collection of Food Canons.
However the granita—the precursor to ice-cream was introduced to the world by Italy. When Marco Polo returned to Venice, from China he brought with him ‘ice’; which the able Italian chefs later made into frozen desserts like granita.
Granita is a frozen dessert made with water and a syrup base, much like sorbet. It is popular in Italy, and closely associated with Sicily in particular. In Italy, granita may be served at breakfast, with Italian brioche, or at any other time of the day.
Like many other frozen desserts, granita is probably related to sherbet, a Middle Eastern drink made with syrup, water, and ice. According to legends, granita was invented accidentally by a sherbet seller who left her wares on ice too long, causing the sherbet to turn into a block of highly granular ice.
It should not, however, be confused with shaved ice. Shaved ice is made by drizzling syrup or a flavoring over a dish of ice which has been shaved from a block. When making granita, the flavoring is mixed into the ice, and even when it is shaved, granita has a crackling crystalline structure which is quite distinctive in the mouth.
I have been making this simple ‘drink’ dessert for a long time now using seasonal fruits. I have tried several versions with coffee, lemon, blood oranges etc. Imagination is your limit to the different flavours you can incorporate in your granita.
Here is one of my all time favourite— Green Apple Granita. Generally this granita contains a dark,apple flavoured brandy like Calvados. However, I made it without any alcohol. Just added a dash of flavoured soda instead, while serving.
Minty Green Apple Granita
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
¾ cup unsweetened apple juice
2 tart green apples
2 tsp lemon juice
a dash of flavoured soda (optional)
a sprig of mint,bruised
Peel, seed and slice apples. Place in a heavy saucepan with the apple juice, water and sugar. (I left some apple skin on, just for added crunch.)
Cover and cook over moderate heat until very tender (about 15minutes).
Process the apple mixture in a food processor and stir in lemon juice. Cool.
Add the bruised mint leaves.
Pour mixture into 13 x 9 in. baking pan and place in freezer.
Every twenty minutes, take the pan out and scrape the frozen mixture with a fork until all the frozen pieces are broken into small shavings and mixed well with the remaining liquid. Continue to freeze. Scrape every twenty minutes until no more liquid is in the granita.
Serve it in chilled glasses with a straw and a dash of lemon soda.
Drink your dessert!! :p