I must admit that when I first made this recipe from Roman cookbook writer Ada Boni, I thought I was making granita. I had in my head the idea of flaky icy shards, stained bright red, to sip with a straw. But the next day, when it was firmer and I scooped it out into a bowl, rather than a glass, and my three-year-old asked if she could have some gelato too, I realized it was a lot less like a granita than I thought. I looked up the recipe again, grabbing a copy of the Talisman off the shelf, and there it was: “Strawberry gelato (sherbet),” the recipe says.
I have three copies of Ada Boni's Talisman. I love it, and it is rather handy to be able to compare all the different editions. One is a lovely linen-bound hardback, a vintage Etsy find, printed by Crown Publishers in New York, 1950. Another, a worn-around-the-edges paperback picked up for £1 in England, printed in London in 1975. But they are both condensed—very condensed—versions of the original Italian one, Il Talismano della Felicità (with that ever-so-romantic title, “The Talisman of Happiness”) published in 1929. It is over 1000 pages long and could easily be mistaken for a doorstop by its weight alone.
It is funny what different parts of the English-speaking world (and 25 years between publishing dates) can do for food language: The London edition, where I read the recipe first, calls the same recipe “Granita di fragole (Strawberry water ice)." What I do love about that edition is that the titles are written in both Italian and English, which is usually more helpful than some of the descriptions given to these Italian classics in 1950, when it was translated; most people, for example, are probably more familiar with “vitello tonnato” than its 1950 translation, “tunnied veal.”
A granita is an icy, usually fruit-flavored (but often found with other flavors, such as coffee) refreshment, somewhere between a slushie and sorbet. It's an ancient preparation that the Sicilians inherited from the Arabs, when, centuries ago, grated ice was flavored with fruit or syrup (much like Rome's grattachecca) and eaten to cool off during warm weather. In Sicily, they still love eating granita with a brioche bun for breakfast. Meanwhile, sorbet generally refers to a dairy-free gelato made with fresh fruit. Either way you prefer it, Ada Boni's recipe can be used for both granita or sorbet.
There's not much messing around: You don't need any special equipment, and aside from waiting for it freeze (which can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, but I like the texture better when it's had overnight to freeze in peace, rather than be poked at every hour), it's quick to prepare.
First, you make a simple syrup. Ada Boni instructs to pass washed strawberries through a sieve (the 1975 edition adds “or liquidizer”—that is, blender). I choose the latter; it seems less tiring. Add the juice of 2 lemons and an orange to the syrup and freeze it. She calls for stirring after an hour “until it has the consistency of thick mush”—and this, to me, sounds like granita. If you eat it that day, it will be undoubtedly "slushier" and really ideal for granita. If you want to eat it as gelato, let it freeze overnight. The sugar syrup prevents it from freezing solid, and the next day, you will have a wonderful, soft, creamy sorbet.
- 8 ounces (200 grams/1 quart) strawberries
- 1/2 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 1/4 cup orange juice (about 1 orange)
- 2 1/2 cups (750 ml) water
- 2 1/2 cups (500 grams) granulated sugar
Granita or sorbet—what's your favorite? Tell us in the comments.