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 ingredients, such as butter and heavy cream. More satisfying are foods with the bright notes of tart-sweet lemonade or spicy salsa, the rousing textures of crunchy coleslaw or cucumber salad, and the moisture of a juicy tomato or 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 water, sugar, and fruit. Granitas are frozen, and they’re stirred during the freezing process, which gives them their icy, granular texture while requiring no special equipment. This method differentiates granitas from other similar desserts and palate-cleansers. Sorbets, for example, contain similar ingredients (and no dairy) but are usually frozen in an ice cream maker for a smoother texture.
Classic Recipe, New Flavors
The earliest granitas, also commonly called “ices,” date back to 17th-century Naples, where the new treat made with sweetened crushed ice was described as having the alluring consistency of sugar and snow. By the end of the century, ices were sold by vendors on Naples’ sweltering streets.
Classic granitas have changed little over the years and continue to be a popular summer treat in Italy and in Italian neighborhoods and restaurants in the United States. Today, granitas can also be found in upscale restaurants, where chefs have updated the classic recipes with herbs, spices, honey, and even balsamic vinegar. Most granitas are sweet and are served as a dessert or between courses to refresh and surprise the palate. But perhaps the most original granitas are savory, intended as condiments or garnishes for soups, fish, and shellfish.
In these recipes, the addition of fresh herbal flavor, such as lemon verbena to a peach granita or tarragon to an orange granita, adds complexity, while the lavender and rosemary granita conjures up the essence of Provence. A scoop of savory red pepper and rosemary granita on cold avocado soup adds a surprising burst of flavor.