The Italian word granita is often translated "frozen
ice." That's a simplification, for granita is neither (as its name
seems to imply) "granular" nor crushed ice. It consists of
thin flakes of ice flavored with fresh fruit and sugared.
May is the beginning of granita season.
Why the confusion? Outside Italy it used to be common to sell
granular crushed ice - from cubes or even large blocks of solid ice -
made with artificial flavors formulated with sweetened syrups as
something akin to granita. The kinship was a distant one.
So how is real granita made?
Cold water, chopped fresh fruit (and its juice) and sugar are placed
in a vat and the mixture is slowly churned at freezing temperatures
until the flakes are formed. Then the granita must be churned
continuosly, and slowly so that it doesn't solidify into a block. As you
can imagine, there are granita machines to do this work.
In the old days, before electricity, ice was scraped off of large
blocks into flakes. It was never simply crushed.
The modern process offers the benefit of the fruit juice and pulp
being infused into the ice flakes. Berries and citrus are the most
common flavors. Lemon granita is literally bittersweet. Strawberry is
common, and mulberry, gelsi in Italian, is a rare delight. (Shown
here is lemon granita with a dash of red mulberry.)
Of course, hardly anybody chews granita. The ice flakes melt on your
tongue. There's no need to suck on them.
Sicilian ice cream differs from granita in
that it contains milk or cream, and perhaps some starch. In earlier times ice cream was made from snow. The origins of
granita are closer to those of sorbet, which is icy but has a very fine
Frozen coffee (caffé freddo) is churned in granita machines. Think of it as coffee granita.
About the Author: Roberta Gangi has written
numerous articles and one book dealing with Italian cultural and culinary
history, and a number of food and wine articles for Best of Sicily Magazine.