Sicilian Granita: the Italian frozen dessert


One of the most typical Sicilian treats has in fact an Arabian origin. The granita derives from the sherbet introduced by the Moors during their invasions: water flavored with fruit juices or rose water, used to soak abundant amounts of snow gathered on the Etna volcano or the various mountains of Sicily.

The evolution came in the Sixteenth century, when the principle of modern refrigeration was discovered. The juice went in a thin metal container surrounded by snow mixed with salt: the heat exchange froze the juice, making an even tastier dessert. Shortly thereafter came another progress, in the form of a sort of spatula controlled by a crank, with which the juice could be stirred without opening the container. This kept the temperature low, yet prevented the formation of large ice crystals keeping the product as soft as snow. The granita was born!

If you visit Sicily, and Palermo in particular, you will surely notice how granita evolved into a delicious gastronomic ritual there. First of all, Sicilians tend to stick to a few traditional flavors: almond (with the addition of a little bitter almonds to make it more refreshing), local sweet lemons, watermelon, cinnamon and jasmine – the latter two sometimes combined in what is called scursunera.

Generally asking for a granite, however, will get you the most typical flavor of them all: coffee.

Coffee granita is traditionally taken with whipped cream and a freshly-baked pastry called brioscia.

Eating it quickly is frowned upon, as granita is considered a sort of food for meditation, to be savored while contemplating the world around you. This attitude (and this kind of granita) is rather difficult to find outside Sicily, but should you visit the island make sure to keep your eyes open for the rare bars that still serve the treat in a tall and narrow glass similar to champagne flutes.

This is how Sicilian granita was eaten until the 1970s, dunking a warm bread stick in it. You can’t get more traditional than that.
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