Granita: Sicilian Thirst-Quencher

July 25, 2012 / Food & Wine
Sicily
Arab influences are strong in Sicily, from the architecture to the sweets, from the underground Arab aqueducts of Palermo to the granulated-ice dessert, la granita. The Arabs brought their sherbert to Sicily, an iced drink flavored with fruit juices or rosewater. In the Middle Ages, the nevaroli (meaning ice- but lit. snow-gatherers) had the important task of harvesting the snow of Mt. Etna and other mountain ranges in stone grottoes. The nobility bought the mounds of ice during the sizzling summer months, mixing in the juice of the island’s lemons to make a perfect thirst-quencher.

Later, juices of different fruits were added and even edible flowers. Palermo is still today best known for its granita di limone, while the granita di caffé and strawberry granita reign in the Messina area. Bronte – not far from Mount Etna – area is famed for its granita di pistacchio. Catania lays claim to the minnulata or the toasted almond granita (where some bitter almonds are an essential ingredient), topped with a splash of espresso – but le granite of Avola, Siracusa and Agrigento, all almond areas, are not to underestimated.

Nowadays, the array of granite reflects the myriad flavors of Sicily: tangerine, mint, pomegranate, prickly pear, peach, tiny wild strawberries, watermelon, hazelnut, dark chocolate, pistachio and jasmine. But hold on: at a café at San Vito Lo Capo, on Sicily’s western coast, I tried una granita di gelso nero (black mulberry) for the first time last year. Buonissima!
When visiting Pino’s family in Palermo, we often make the 1-1/2 hour drive from Palermo to San Vito just to swim off that spectacular stretch of coast. I’d make the drive again just for the granita di gelso.

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An Umbrian tour guide in Italy most of the year, Anne also teaches Umbrian rural cuisine in private homes in the U.S. in February and March (see www.annesitaly.com/united-states-events/u-s-cooking-classes)… and lectures.
Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s and rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for Anne. She writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. See www.annesitaly.com for more on her tours, cooking classes, lectures – and her blog! Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out!

31 Responses to “Granita: Sicilian Thirst-Quencher”

  1. Joe Mattei

    Been there, done that! It’s great. In one of your photos I noticed the sign that says, “Waffelleria.” I could go for one of those right now.

    Reply
  2. Sandra Spector

    As usual, Anne’s articles are great. This one makes my mouth water! How do you say “Yumm!! ” in Italian?

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    • buono (while pointing to your cheek with your pointer finger and twisting it back and forth)…well, that’s Sicilian anyway.

      Reply
  3. Jenny Underwood

    Interesting article. Can’t wait to see you in September to have Hot Chocolate in Perugia. Unfortunately not granita weather.

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  4. Paula (Giangreco) Cullison

    I love la granita…didn’t know of its Arab origins.
    My parents came to NYC from Sicily. Grazie!

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  5. Janice Peters

    This makes me want to jump on a plane!

    Buon Appetito–

    Janice

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  6. Donna Waltrip

    This makes me want to go right to the kitchen and make one of these tasty treats~
    Yummy!! It also makes me want to visit Palermo and have the special treats there!!
    Even better!!

    Reply
  7. Anne Robichaud

    - Sandi, guess “squisito” would be your best bet!
    Thanks to all for your notes.
    No Sicily this year and will miss those granitas.
    As hot as it is here in Umbria, forget the granitas (well, at least, I have no idea where to find a good one! :) )

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  8. I am an art teacher taking tours to Italy and Anne gave us the most Fabulous art and history tour of Assisi followed by a delicious wine tasting in Speloto! Everyone said it was one of the highlights of our trip and I will definately do it again.

    Reply
  9. Toni Galli Sterling

    Another wonderful articel, Annie! I will have to add this to my ever growing list of places in Italia to visit.

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  10. Great to receive this cool and refreshing article when it is so hot today in New York. Thanks for the treat!

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  11. Delicious! It is such a treat to read about these wonderful recipes and ideas.

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  12. Love Granite in Sicilia. When we visit Gioiosa Marea my wife’s favourite collezzioi is ‘Granite Limone e Brioche’. Eaten by using the fresh brioche to scoop up the granite. Apparently a Sicilian speciality. Doug.

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  13. Linda Gasbarro

    Amazing, I cannot think of any part of Italy without associating a wonderful food or drink with it and now you have introduced a new one. Yum, my mouth tingles just thinking of all the great delights for the taste buds. Ah, Italia!! Thank you for the new sensation to look forward to.

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  14. louise

    I’d go 1 1/2 hours just to take a look at the scrumptious waiter!

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  15. lisa evans

    my favorite granita in Diamante,calabria was granita di cedro…

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  16. Hi Anne,

    I love this posting about granita and Sicily. My mom came from Bronte. Her family had a pistacchio & olive oil farm. Granita was a favorite in our “italian neighborhood”, as Mr. Ligouri would come daily on his biclycle with a refrigerated cannister of lemon or chocolate granita attached to it. We all loved it!

    Marianna

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  17. GREAT article Annie……..and you certainly know your Sicilian granita after spending so much time there.

    I want to add that it’s a joy to meet up you and one of your tours here in Perugia, even if only for a few minutes to say ciao. Everyone obviously loves being with you.
    Keep up the great writing about Umbria and Sicily……and keep those smiles on the tourists!

    Christine

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  18. Francesca

    Really good article and great pictures Anne! They make me want to fly to sicily to have a granita di gelso, I don’t even remember the last time I had it…so good!

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  19. GREAT article Annie……..and you certainly know your Sicilian granita after spending so much time there.
    I want to add that it’s a joy to meet up you and one of your tours here in Perugia, even if only for a few minutes to say ciao. Everyone obviously loves being with you.
    Keep up the great writing about Umbria and Sicily……and keep those smiles on the tourists!
    Christine

    Reply
  20. Suzanne and Jack

    Another terrific article Anne. We haven’t been to Sicily but your descriptions are so good I can just imagine walking through the streets.
    I have to say that you helped ‘make’ out Italian tour in 2011.
    Can’t imagine going to Italy without consulting you or without taking one of your fabulous tours.

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  21. Anne Robichaud

    Chris, Suzanne and Jack, mille grazie for your notes!
    Dreaming of a Sicilian granita now as we bake in Umbria: 107 F at 8 pm last night in nearby Bastia.
    Yikes
    Mamma mia
    O dio mio

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  22. Karen Kotoske

    Ciao Annie! We’re sending you cooling breezes from N. California, hoping you soon get a break in your temperatures. I LOVED your article Granita: Sicilian Thirst-Quencher, which sent me to the Internet to look for a granita limone recipe, (and by the way, your article came up second on Google search!) I make frozen sorbets and yoghurts all the time, but hadn’t tried a granita. But from the recipt I found, it looks like it would not be best to use an ice cream making machine to make granita because it would make the crystals too smooth and small (though I’s sure it would still be delicious.) Thanks for this yummy cooling story, Annie, love to Pino and the kids. Karen

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  23. Anne Robichaud

    Karen, just noted your note and thanks so much!
    Less heat now…so fewer granite!
    All the heat this summer = disaster for grapes.
    Production way down and some of the best vineyards not even picking as too small, too few!s
    Yikes, mamma mia

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  24. Rachel

    I’ve been making the granita in Camilleri’s book “The Terracotta Dog” for years now — best ever. One part lemon juice, combined with simple syrup made from 2 parts sugar and 4 parts water. I actually put the lemon zest in the syrup mixture as it heats and cools. Brings me right back to Sicily!

    Hope all is well, Anne! Always fun to read your posts!

    Reply
  25. CalCat52

    I lived in Motta Sant’ Anastasia during the ’90’s. Just across the road from my apartment was a pasticcieria that also made the black mulberry granita. Now I’m home in Michigan and I have a mulberry tree – so every spring I make the granita! :) Now, to find a decent recipe for Sicilian brioche that doesn’t involve hard red wheat! Any help would be appreciated!

    Reply

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