Herbs take classic granitas to new heights. So put the dessert goblets in the freezer and get ready to cool off the Italian way.
9 Granita Recipes:
• Peach and Lemon Verbena Granita
• Grapefruit-Rosemary Granita
• Tarragon and Blood Orange Granita
• Grapefruit and Mint Granita
• Rosemary-Lavender Granita
• Balsamic–Tarragon Granita
• Savory Lemongrass Granita
• Savory Red Pepper-Rosemary Granita
• Three Herbed Lemon Granitas
Air conditioning and automatic ice makers help make hot, humid weather more bearable, but the calendar still says summer, and the foods we crave—air conditioning or no air conditioning—are cool, full flavored, and refreshing. Taste buds tend to dull in summer; the proverbial dog days are no time for subtle flavors or dishes with rich, palate-coating ingredients such as butter and heavy cream. More satisfying are foods with bright notes (tart-sweet lemonade, spicy salsa), rousing textures (crunchy coleslaw, cucumber salad), and plenty of moisture (a juicy tomato, a wedge of slurpy watermelon). And what would summer be without frozen desserts: ice creams, sherbets, sorbets, and all their cousins? Among the most heat quenching of these are granitas, intensely flavored, coarse-textured ice confections typically made from fruit.
The earliest granitas date back to seventeenth-century Naples, where the new treat made with sweetened crushed ice—and enjoyed mainly by the upper classes—was described as having the alluring consistency of “sugar and snow.” By the end of the century, ices were sold by vendors on Naples’s sweltering streets.
Classic granitas have changed little over the years (they’re a slightly crunchy mound of flavored ice crystals like a refined snow cone) and continue to be a popular summer treat in Italy and in Italian neighborhoods and restaurants in America.
Americans have Italian immigrants to thank for bringing the tradition of flavored ice across the Atlantic. Italian-American cookbooks abound with references to steamy New York nights and cravings for sweet, strong, lemon- or espresso-flavored ices. Today, granitas can be found not only at Italian street fairs and in Little Italy’s pastry shops but also across the country in upscale restaurants, where innovative chefs have updated the classic recipes with herbs, spices, honey, and even balsamic vinegar. Most of the new granitas are sweet and are served as a dessert or between courses to refresh and surprise the palate. But perhaps the most original of the new granitas are the savory ones intended as condiments or garnishes for soups, fish, and shellfish.
Purists may shudder, but the addition of fresh basil or sorrel to a lemon granita or tarragon to an orange granita adds complexity, while a lavender and rosemary granita conjures up the essence of Provence. How about a scoop of deep, dark, tangy balsamic-tarragon granita on your gazpacho? Talk about a flavor explosion!
Granitas are easy to make at home; if you have a refrigerator with a freezer and a few ice cube trays, you’re in business. A food processor or a heavy-duty blender makes chopping the frozen mixture into crystals a snap, but a fork and a little elbow grease will do in a pinch.
Granita mixtures may be made at your convenience and chopped into crystals just before serving. Because granitas melt fast, they’ll hold their shape longer if served in dishes that have been chilled or frozen. Many children prefer unadorned, herbless granitas, so make a batch of simple lemon, peach, or orange granitas if kids are on your guest list.
Sally King is a contributing editor for Bon Appétit and lives in Virginia, where granitas are most welcome in summer. The granita recipes she presents here can often be found on the menus of her favorite restaurants.