Every Tuesday, Italian local Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Cool down and freshen up with this age-old Sicilian treat.
Grated ice—or snow, collected from the winter mountains and stored in caves—that's been flavored with fruit, syrup, or rose water has cooled and quenched Sicilians in the summer for centuries. It's an ancient preparation that the Sicilians inherited from the Arabs over a thousand years ago. Today, it's still a warm-weather favorite, eaten at all times of the day, whether for breakfast (together with a brioche bun), afternoon pick-me-up, dessert, or as a palate-cleanser between meals.
Lemon is not the only classic Sicilian granita flavor: Various Sicilian cities are known for particular flavors—Messina for coffee granita, Catania for chocolate granita, and Modica for toasted almond granita. These days, however, you can find everything from mandarin, mulberry, jasmine, and prickly pear granita all over. Lemon, though, is hard to go past for its brightly acidic, palate-cleansing pop of flavor. Sicilian lemons are definitely ideal, but Meyer lemons would be a great substitute.
No matter the flavor, granita is very easy to make at home—just a couple of ingredients, barely any cooking to do, and most of the work happens in the freezer (the syrup is what is going to keep the mixture soft and not rock solid in the freezer). You only need to be on hand to give the whole thing a bit of a swirl with a fork and fluff it up every now and then until it is frozen to a texture somewhat between a sorbet and a slushie. It is a bit icy, but pleasantly so: tiny, subtle shards of ice that refresh and revive like nothing else—especially when you're wilting in the heat.
Serves about 4
5 to 7 medium Sicilian or Meyer lemons (at least 1 cup juice and zest of 1 lemon)
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 1/4 cup (300 milliliters) water
Photos by Emiko Davies