Don’t Just Call it Granita

| Wed, 07/24/2019 - 00:00
Granita and brioche at Cafe Prestipino in Catania

For Sicilians, granita isn’t just a refreshing treat – it’s a ritual, as coffee is for many.

Brought to the island by the Arabs, Sicilian granita has evolved into an exquisite product that is different from anywhere else in Italy, something halfway between the creaminess of gelato and the granularity of sorbet. 

Made with water, sugar and fruit, Sicilian granita is frozen slowly but never completely, and stirred throughout, so as to form a sort of thick and creamy mixture, which is what differentiates it from all others.

Granita is generally enjoyed at breakfast or as a snack. Not at the end of a meal.

The origins of granita date back to the Arab domination of Sicily, when the Arabs brought over the recipe of sherbet: a drink made with fruit juice flavored with rose water and then iced. Main ingredients included roses, sandalwood, lemon, orange and pineapple.

Popular flavors today include pistachio, almond, coffee, mulberry, lemon.

Even within the island there are variations on the way granita is made, and the best kind is said to be found in Catania, as I discovered while on a recent visit.

I stopped mid-morning at Caffè Prestipino on Via Etnea in the heart of the historic district. Since I had breakfast just a couple of hours earlier, I thought I’d only have the granita.

But the waiter wouldn’t see to that.

“There’s no granita without brioche,” he told me. The ritual indeed prescribes that you enjoy granita with brioche, a soft and fragrant pastry, also known as brioche col tuppo, which you must dip into it, starting right from the tuppo (the bulge). “Granita and brioche were invented at the same time,” he joked. “You can’t have one without the other.”

The waiter proceeded to explain the best combinations of flavors, and I went for gelsi (mulberries) and mandorla (almond) – the creamier mandorla would dilute the granular texture of the gelsi, he explained.

He was so right; and the combination of the warm, freshly made brioche with the deliciously sweet and fresh almond/mulberry granita was so pleasant that it made me forget the 4 am wake up to catch my early morning flight to Sicily. 

The waiter may have been biased, but he also proudly stated that the best granita is made in Catania, just as the locals accompanying me on a tour of the city had said to me. Actually, he said the best granita in the world is made in Catania.

I shall concur.