Rather than berating me for my extremely overweight suitcase the security man, simply nodded knowingly and smiled approvingly at the contents of my bulging luggage- particularly the 2 kilos of almonds and the same weight of almond paste- before he quietly ushered me through the security check with a Sicilian wink whilst whispering something about making granita di mandorla.
He was right, granita, granita di mandorla (almond granita).
Our 5 fiendishly hot and wonderful days in Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily were punctuated with granita – one of the simplest and nicest of the great family of ices, a slightly slushy, grainy mass of flavoured sweetened water frozen and crushed to make something between a drink and a water ice. Taking our lead from the locals and our Sicilian hosts, breakfast each morning – in one of the bars hidden within the labyrinthine medieval streets of sultry, civilised, old Siracusa – was granita di mandorla, mopped up with a warm brioche, a gloriously delicious, cold, icy, sweet, soft, nutty, creamy, nourishing, slithers down your throat way to begin the day.
About 11 30 pleasantly weary from happily doing nothing, beginning to wilt a little under the scorching sun we would find another bar for our second granita appointment, this time choosing the clean freshness of sharp/ sweet lemon or orange, to startle and awaken our palates and bodies into some kind of lazy activity before lunch.
Post lunch was the time for granita di cafe, crystals of very sweet strong coffee in place of espresso, sometimes indulgently topped with cream, eaten first with a spoon and then the last inch slurped pleasingly through a long straw.
Mid afternoon we took to having granita di gelsi or pistaccio, the former a deep red, rich and regal to the eye but clean and fresh in the mouth. Pistaccio smooth and creamy giving the impression of being more indulgent but in reality just as light and refreshing. It was a beautiful moment last Friday afternoon when, in between the beautifully traditional catholic wedding service we were in Sicily to be part of and the elegant reception, the entire wedding party including the bride and groom took refuge in the coolness of the local bar to inhale a granita before continuing with the wedding proceedings.
Post dinner- our friend Bruno declared as he does – was the time for granita di limone once more. I rebelled once or twice bewitched by granita di mandorla but in retrospect I think he is right, the clean citrus is right at night after a late Sicilian dinner when the scent of warm sea air hangs heavily over the dark city.
Back in Rome with almond gifts for Vincenzo who did not come back to Sicily with me this time and the taste of granita di mandorla still on my lips I set about making a primitive and rustic version for us.
I have the almonds to make some almond milk at some point but for now I used the marzipan-like almond paste I bought in Siracusa which is simply ground local almonds, sugar and just a few bitter almonds (which lend it an intense and most extraordinary flavour) bound togther into a paste with a little water.
On first glance I thought it was soap…..in a pasticceria…. what can I say, it was hot…..
You dissolve the paste in water to make almond milk – 140g of paste to each litre of water, blast with the blender and then freeze in a large shallow container for a couple of hours pulling the container out every 30 minutes or so to agitate it with a fork to incorporate the crystals back into the liquid and obtain a rough, slightly slushy, grainy mass. You need to keep an eye on it slushy is the key word here, too long in the freezer and you have a block which you could knock someone out with. This primitive method does not produce the creamy granita you find in Sicilian bars where it is slowly churned at carefully observed temperatures, but it is delightful just the same and pleasingly simple to make, no clutter, no cumbersome machines and all that.
It’s like slushy almond flavoured snow…..
Then you serve it in little glasses with a little spoon and a straw if you have one, on a hot day with somone you love, you eat it slowly (as the Sicilians always remind you) or it will shock your stomach and you may faint !!
He didn’t faint and he ate with impressive speed.
Maybe it was the company, maybe it is because I am still on holiday, maybe it’s the heat but it almost…almost tasted as good as in sicily, it needs some work, I don’t think I quite acheived the right consistency of slush but thats my fault.
Yes it needs work, but nice work, the fumbling, playing in the kitchen kind we all seem to like.
Granita di limone next and then cafè…then pesca…then pistaccio….then fig….then mint…then rose….then gelsi… then campari…I think this may well come to be known as the summer I made granita.