Why you should care
Because granita isn’t dessert. It’s lunch.
Who says snow is just for skiing or sledding thrills? And that it’s typical of cold, northern areas?
Sultry-hot Sicily has its fair share. Take the Etna volcano: A sort of white cap surrounds the fertile black soil fields, where red burning lava regularly flows each time the many little craters erupt (almost on a daily basis, but no worries — that’s a good sign it won’t totally blow off!).
The peak was one of the hottest spots in the past, luring old grannies and grandpas from nearby Randazzo village. What the hell did a bunch of bone-aching elders do there? They hiked to the summit not just to soothe their arthritis, but also to fetch the precious snow (there were no freezers back then), bring it back downhill as fast as possible and mix it with the seasonal fruit that grew in their plots to make a unique kind of ice cream called granita.
Actually, it’s something halfway between a simple gelato and a slushie.
But forget about finding granita elsewhere, and forget the slushies (and ice creams) you’ve tasted before: Randazzo’s special one has no match in the world. It’s a dense mix of crunchy pistachio frozen bits and almonds. No leaking, watery ice. It’s almost an ice cream, but it’s still a slushie! A perfect hybrid that clings to the spoon until your tongue snatches it.
That’s why to taste this, you need to pack your bag and travel all the way to this tiny village in the heart of the real Sicilian wilderness.
The first time I had it, I couldn’t believe my taste buds. I had four servings: with mandarin, coffee, figs and nuts and of course pistachio. Simply divine. I can’t describe it — you must try it. “No way, man; no other places in Sicily make it like we do. Anything else that is sold as granita is counterfeit,” says Salvatore Farina, head of Ducezio, Sicily’s pastry chefs’ lobby. Sicilians can be quite jealous of their own things, so better believe them.
Now we all know that Sicilian gelato rules, that it was (probably) imported by the Arabs when they colonized Sicily, but granita is a purebred delicacy locally born on the flanks of Europe’s largest volcano. The art of making it has been passed across generations, from elders to the young ice cream makers. What makes it even more special is the way you eat it. It’s served together with a cake bun called brioscia col tuppo, which is shaped like a lady’s chignon. The roundish bun has a second tiny ball at the top, resembling a woman’s head when her hair is tied. Imaginations run wild, and Italians have a knack for inventing the weirdest names when food is involved.
The waiter will bring you the granita together with the brioscia (on the same plate, but separated), and then comes the fun part. You have two choices: Either stuff the granita inside the bun and scarf it all down like a McDonald’s cheeseburger, or copy what the locals do. They tear bits and pieces of the bun off and use each one as a spoon to scoop up the granita and pop it in their mouths, cleaning the cup until it shines.
I don’t mean to sound petty, but granita is best savored on its own — not for dessert, but as a straight lunch. Locals turn their noses up when they spot tourists gulping the stuffed bun down in one big bite, without letting the granita melt in their mouths.
But then again, do as you wish. I saw one excited kid poke his nose inside the cup and slurp it up. He just couldn’t resist the pull of the granita. So beware: Who knows what effect it might have on you.