You never forget your first granita. Mine was the classic granita al limone on the island of Favignana. Somewhere there’s a black and white snapshot of me, bent in full concentration, over this Mediterranean wonder of ice, lemon juice and sugar. I was new to Italy, and everything was part of a fairy tale in progress. Every taste. Every sight. Every new word. While citrusy crystals melted on my tongue, I practiced the word “gabbiano” (seagull), unwittingly binding the taste of frozen lemon and the urgent cry of the seagull together in my mind forever. But this post isn’t about the lemon variety. It’s about something a bit more decadent. And powerful. Granita al caffè.
This, I experienced for the first time on the Island of Elba at a fantastic gelateria called Zero Gradi (Zero Degrees). I blogged about it fleetingly a couple years ago, while trying to recap the magic of vacationing on that island. Granita al caffè is usually made with strong black coffee, which I no longer drink (god, do I miss my caffeine!); but when the heat rises and the energy flags, this is one orgasmic experience I choose not to do without. There’s a time for discipline. And there’s definitely a time for the lack thereof.
Fortunately, I discovered a simple recipe for making it at home, and it comes passably close to the gelateria version. So simple. So delicious. And I can slip in my decaffeinated coffee for good measure. When served con panna sotto e sopra (with whipped cream under and over) in the Sicilian way, it becomes a luscious little dessert that packs a refreshing punch, perhaps at the end a summer barbecue. But I like it best in that dead lull around 4:00 in the afternoon. Before or after a walk. Time for a me-party, no?
In a small pan, mix 2.5 dl (approx. 1 cup) of water with 70 grams (about ⅓ cup) of granulated sugar. Place the syrup over a medium flame and bring to the boil. Let it boil for one minute, then lower the flame and add 2.5 dl’s of already-made, strong coffee. (I make mine in a Moka. We’re talking espresso, here.) Add vanilla seeds to the coffee syrup you’ve made, then cut the flame entirely and let the mixture cool to tepid. At this point, the original recipe asks you to filter the mixture into a plastic or stainless steel container that goes comfortably in your freezer. (I never filter mine.) Leave it in the freezer for two hours or more, as necessary, mixing every half hour to avoid the granite becoming too compact. Before serving, whip cream and distribute under and over the granita according to your and your guests’ tastes.
A NOTE: We’ve noticed that once mixed and scraped to the perfect consistency, the granita has to be moved back and forth between the refrigerator and the freezer to somewhat maintain the balance between icy and liquidy. But don’t worry. You can simply chuck it back into the freezer, if there’s any left over, and remove it to the refrigerator about an hour before serving and remix it when it thaws ever so slightly.