The Frozen Dessert Sicilians Eat for Breakfast

June 23, 2015

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.

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In an ideal world, we would all breakfast like the Italians: sweet buns filled with whipped cream like old-school Romans do or lemon granita with brioche buns as they do in Sicily in the summertime.

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.   

More: Another lemony, Italian recipe to cool you down.

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.

Lemon Granita

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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  • Jane Stutfield
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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


elisa August 17, 2019
This sounds wonderful. How would suggest substituting the lemons for say espresso, almonds, or other flavor? Would it be about one cup of liquid like the lemons produce?
Thank you!
Jane S. June 25, 2015
What does 11/2 Cups sugar mean in the Sicilian lemon granita recipe?
Emiko June 25, 2015
One and a half cups of sugar :)