When I was a kid, I focused on each summer’s movies and songs. For at least a few months, they seemed were omnipresent to me. I still remember them fondly. Now I find food trends taking up some of that space in my head and this year granita seems to be the “it” summer food. In blogs, cookbooks, magazines spreads of summer foods and photos on my various online streams – everyone seemed enamored of the stuff.
Food trends often don’t captivate me, and I’m more likely to make fun of a trend than to join it, but this one is alluring.
What is Granita?
“Granita” comes from the Italian verb granire – which meants “to make grainy.” It is traditionally a sweet, made with water, sugar and flavoring, but now you can find savory versions (without sugar) that are nice as small “palate cleansers” between courses. Whether you start a granita with a liquid such as coffee or a thicker mixture such as a fruit purée, you’ll end up with refreshing, flavored morsels that melt on your tongue almost as soon as you take a spoonful.
“Foodie granita” may handmade and use sophisticated flavors, but when I close my eyes and take a taste, granita takes me back to the shaved ices and snow cones of my childhood. Just like they did, granita will cool me down and turn hot summer days into happy memories.
How to make Granita?
Granita takes a few hours to make and requires tending, but it is simple and does not require fancy equipment. Once you learn the basic technique, you can experiment to your heart’s content. Start with a good tasting liquid or purée (fancy word for mush) that can be either sweet or savory. Pour it into a non-reactive cake pan, glass dish, or similar container and freeze it. At regular, short intervals, take the container out of the freezer and scrape the chilling liquid or mush thoroughly with a fork, so that granules form. Return the container to the freezer (as quickly as possible) and repeat the process over the course of a few hours until the mixture is uniformly grainy and well chilled.
If you want to serve the granita hours after it is done, cover the container and keep it frozen. The granules keep their shape for about 24 hours.
Tips for Making Granita
- Container size – Use a container that will allow you to spread the liquid or purée in a thin layer, preferably less than 1-inch thick. I used 2 cake pans and a pyrex dish for my 3 granitas below. The container should allow scraping and accommodate increased volume without overflow; as it chills and you scrape, the volume of the granita increases. My granita mixtures almost doubled in volume. The thinner the layer, the more quickly the granita will reach a grainy consistency suitable for serving and the fewer times you’ll have to scrape it. Also a thinner layer is easier to scrape.
- Scraping – Scrape thoroughly and break up all the chunks every time you take the container out of the freezer, and do so at reasonably short intervals. The goal is to make sure no chunks develop that are too hard to break into granules. Use the back of the fork (as well as the tines) and pull the freezing granita off the sides of the container at every interval.
- Timing – How long it takes your liquid or purée to reach the right texture depends on many factors, including its temperature and consistency when you begin, how cold your freezer is, how thin a layer you spread, and how frequently you scrape the mixture. As a general rule of thumb, figure that it will take at least 2 hours for a cool thinly spread purée to turn into granules and 3-3 ½ hours or longer if you started with a room temperature liquid. The ideal interval is every 30 minutes, though 40 minutes works too. I did see one recipe that used hour-long intervals, but I think that makes the scraping too difficult. To speed freezing, chill the container before using it and start with cool or cold liquid or purée.
My Granita Experiments
I made 3 types of granita: coffee, mint, and (savory) cucumber and basil. I chose those because I had the ingredients on hand and they provided range in terms of taste and texture. I do plan to try fruit granitas too, later in the week.
- 1¼ cups strong coffee at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) sugar dissolved in a tiny amount of boiling water
- 2 tablespoons of simple syrup (in a 1-to-1 ratio of sugar to water) added later
Verdict – I added the simple syrup after an hour because the coffee mixture was not sweet enough for my taste as it chilled. I could have added it earlier and will do that next time. In any event, the final result had a vibrant taste, neither too bitter nor too sweet, and it was my personal favorite of the 3 flavors I made.
- 1¼ cups freshly brewed mint tea (2 peppermint/spearmint tea-bags), plus a large sprig of fresh mint,
- 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of honey dissolved into the liquid before the tea cooled down
Verdict – Light in both color and taste, but quite refreshing. The mint taste was definite, but less pronounced than it had been mid-way through, so I might add more fresh mint in my next batch.
Cucumber and Basil Granita
- ½ of a long (English cucumber), about 1½ cups, peeled (at least partially) and seeded
- 1 teaspoon fresh basil leaves, chopped
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
I left a bit of peel on the cucumber for color, chopped it in large pieces, and puréed the chunks in an immersion blender. Then I added the chopped basil, 2 large pinches of salt, and a bit of pepper, and puréed it for another few moments to incorporate the basil.
Verdict – The basil got more intense as the mixture chilled and almost overwhelmed the cucumber taste that predominated when I began. Fresh basil is not uniform in strength, so it could have been the batch, but I will start with less next time.