Italians!!! If you’ve ever visited Italy or live here, you will know what I mean. Every time I go somewhere I’m overwhelmed by their attention to detail. The palatial style buildings, majestic sculptures, ornate churches, grand operas, impressive artwork, stunning fashion and proud passion for intricacy leaves me wondering, how the Italians (in quite superb contrast) created such iconic but simple food. Take the granita as a typical example. It’s ice!!! In essence that’s all it really is, ice with syrup and yet it has become a world renowned Italian inspired favourite and I ask myself why? I mean surely there were other nations across the world eating something similar during those long sweltering summer days, so why is the granita so popular? Why hasn’t the ice block that my friends and I loved to buy from the Sweet Lady after school, reached the same level of distinction? Yes I know that there’s many a happy child still messing about after school with ice blocks and popsicles but how often do you find those cold treats on the cover of food magazines? For some time now, it seems like the whole world is in a unified conspiracy to learn how to make the perfect granita and I’ve asked myself why oh why, until the day I tasted the real thing right here in one of the best granita places in town and all my questions were answered in one glorious spoonful.
There’s no refresher quite like granita, if of course you do it right and believe me when I say, the Italians have got this “popsicle” so right yet so easy that it’s no wonder to me anymore why granita is on everyones lips worldwide in the summer time when we’re looking for a delicious way to cool down. Well, there is a special technique involved in making it, I’m using the word technique to show off the sheer brilliance of the idea but actually I wonder that nobody thought about this sooner than the Sicilians. This “modus operandi”, yes wait for it … … … is scraping. A typical granita is made from a simple syrup mixed into fruit juice and left to freeze then scraped with a fork every hour for up to three hours between freezing until a course, grainy texture develops. So basically it’s not frozen solid to the point where you have to suck the life out of it get to the flavour inside. It’s effortless eating and satisfaction in one desperate mouthful when the vengeful Sun is singing Burn Baby Burn and it feels like an inferno without the disco. According to a complimentary shopper magazine I picked up the other day in local grocery store, the granita dates back to 500AC. They called it the “predecessor” to ice cream and I thought – no kidding. Back in those days when people had no other way to keep food cold, a Sicilian community that lived at the foot of a volcano called Etna used the snow from this volcanic mountain to make a living. The caretaker’s of the snow or nivaroli as they are called in Italy, found clever methods to keep the snow frozen for months so they could take it to the villages and sell it in the summertime. The cool ice would have been a welcoming relief to the villagers in the blistering Sicilian heat hence the granita was born. The Sicilians, known for Italy’s almonds pistachios and lemons, used these to create wonderful syrups to flavour the frost. Even now the Sicilians especially on the coastal areas in the summer time, start the day with a typical breakfast of granita and brioche or brioscia. Strange but true but how wonderful.
Later on in more advanced times the scraping of the ice was a way to imitate the texture of the snow. And I must admit that it does work. Everytime I make granita and scrape it with a fork, I’m reminded of snow. No doubt the granita has evolved over time so of course it’s not going to merely be syrup with flavourings here today, although it absolutely can be depending on the mood. But in my most humble opinion fresh fruit make the best granitas. Imagine eating a bowl of ice cold fresh fruit in the summer when your body is screaming for refreshment, well that’s how I love my granita. I love fruit so much that my husband tends to call me a little monkey and I do have this habit of buying more fruit than I can eat. It doesn’t help that the fruit vendors display their fruit outside their shops on the side walk making it difficult to walk by without buying something so I sometimes end up having too much.
Maybe you’ve had summers like that, with a huge watermelon in the fridge taking up space and nobody is touching it because everyone’s waiting for the next person to slice it up. Watermelons make a delicious granita, and when blended can fit in a tray and sit in the freezer when your fridge is exploding with other festive goodies. I also discovered that a really good granita can use all the over-ripe fruit you have lying around when you’ve bought too much. Usually when fruit tends to get too ripe and soft you’ll notice that markets will sell them for next to nothing, that’s the perfect opportunity to experiment with making different flavours of granitas. Or if you’ve ever had the experience of buying fruit only to realise its a bit tasteless or too sour, just make a granita, the simple syrup will lovingly bring the fruit back to life. I’m sharing this recipe with you because it is one of the easiest desserts to start with yet still feel good about what you’ve accomplished and once you learn the art of it, you’ll never forget it and more importantly, you will never go beaten and boiled in the summer again. Here I’m not making a syrup because I found that if you macerate the fruit with sugar and then blend, the sugar will dissolve into the fruit’s juices to form a natural syrup. Also the coconut milk is going to act as the typical water base used in syrup making, so again there is no need to make a syrup for this particular recipe. However if you had to omit the coconut milk and make a pineapple only granita, then you would need a *simple syrup using 250ml water for the same amount of ingredients listed below.
Ingredients (serves 6)
1 medium pineapple or 600g cleaned and sliced
1 can of coconut milk
120g of palm sugar or granulated sugar
- Use this easy method to clean the pineapple by slicing off the crown and the two ends then invert the pineapple so that the flat side of the pineapple is at the bottom of the chopping board supporting the pineapple in an upright position. Using your knife start to slice off a thin layer the skin from top to bottom going around the pineapple until all the skin has been removed. Remove the eyes of the pineapple with the tip of your knife should they have not come off with the skin. Rinse your knife, turn the board over to the reverse side that is still clean and slice the pineapple in half length ways. Slice each half into 3 pieces lengthways. Each piece should now have an edge with a tough core, which must be removed as it is poor in taste and too fibrous for the granita. Remove the core by slicing it off leaving only the soft pineapple flesh. Cut into pieces.
- In a mixing bowl add sugar to pineapple to macerate the fruit and mix. If using hardened palm sugar and not granulated sugar, grate the sugar into the bowl.
- Allow fruit to macerate for no less than 20 mins at room temperature.
A syrup will naturally form inside the bowl of pineapple demonstrating that the sugar is now dissolved. At this point the fruit is ready for the next step.
- Transfer the pineapple mixture to a blender or food processor with the coconut milk and blitz for 2 minutes or until all the pineapple chunks have been crushed to a pulp.
- Transfer into a flat dish and place in the freezer for one hour.
- After the first hour remove from the freezer and scrape down the crystals that have now started the formation of a granita. Scrape until you attain a course and grainy texture. Scrape and mix and freeze again for another hour.
- Repeat the last step.
- When ready to serve, scoop the granita into frozen glasses (optional), garnish with coconut shavings or slices of pineapple and serve immediately.
Maestros Need To Know * Simple syrup is made from heating water and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. This allows for the sugar to amalgamate better when added to other ingredients especially in beverages, frozen desserts and cocktails. * Simple syrup yields the same sweetness as granulated sugar. * Alcohol can be added to granita mixtures but keep in mind that alcohol does not freeze so if using alcohol it’s preferable to use a liquore or champagne that has a low alcohol content which will alter the flavour but still yield the correct texture. * There are two variants or coconut in the can. Coconut milk and Cream of Coconut. The latter is more dense in consistency and not suitable for granita because of its creaminess and lower water content.