Granita: Sicily's Slushy Treat

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Photo by Corrado Assenza


Granita is one of the greatest gastronomic joys of Sicily, a tradition dating from Arab dominion and the nevari snow dealers, who hauled blocks of snow to the city from the slopes of Mount Etna. The translation "ices" is inadequate, as it sounds so insignificant for such an incredible treat.

There are different styles--more or less granular, more or less slushy, that depend on location and whim, but most experts agree that granita is at its best on the eastern part of the island. Almond and coffee granita are found all year, and they're often served together, usually in a glass, along with an eggy brioche bun, meant to scoop up the granita. It's the Sicilian take on a cappuccino, icy but not frozen, the most perfect warm-weather breakfast, and, like cappuccino, served in the morning.

There are many contenders for the greatest granita in Sicily.

Other flavors are consumed the rest of the day, although there are no hard and fast rules. After all, this is Sicily. After 26 centuries of history, what's a rule? Lemon granita is available all year long, but other fruit flavors are seasonal.

There are many contenders for the greatest granita in Sicily. Alfredo on the Aeolian island of Salina is amazing, outdoor tables in a wide piazza, special pulpy almond granita, powerful coffee granita with a jolt, seasonal fruit flavors. Their website, www.daalfredo.com should be up by August.

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Photo by Corrado Assenza

Bar Roma in Sciacca, on the southern coast, is a local hangout in the harbor--fishermen stop off for a lemon granita before heading out in the early morning, and although there's a bin of strawberry, it's only for tourists--everyone else has the superb, slushy, tart lemon granita. Owner "Zio" Aurelio, who prepares and serves his granita seven days a week, enhances the experience. (Note: visitors to Sciacca shouldn't miss the Castello Incantato Bentivenga outside town). Don't bother with the brioche in either place.

For me, the greatest granita experience in Sicily is at Caffe Sicilia, in Noto, worth a pilgrimage not only for lovers of Sicilian Baroque. Corrado Assenza, assisted by his brother Carlo, makes fantastic torrone, infused honey, Sicilian fruit preserves and traditional pastries including the island's best brioche (the downfall of most places). I focus on the granita, simply divine, the finest I've ever encountered, silky, with intense, true flavors.

Look for Noto almond, fantastic coffee, chocolate and seasonal specials Noto wild strawberry, black mulberry, peach, blood orange, sour cherry, mandarin orange, moscato grape and even new-wave spicy fig. All served in individual white porcelain bowls, never a glass. The only flavors that can be combined in a bowl are almond and coffee. Corrado is a purist.

Da Alfredo, Lingua, Salina, tel. 090-984-3075

Bar Roma, piazza Dogana 12, Sciacca, tel 0925-21239

Caffe Sicilia, corso Vittorio Emanuele 125, Noto, tel. 0931-835-013

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.
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