I travelled to Europe earlier this year. Most of our time was spent in Italy, headed-up with a week in Spain and Southern France, and capped-off with a jaunt in Malta. For today’s purposes, just know that it was July and, it was hot. Really hot. The mercury rose as we trailed down towards the sun-drenched beaches of Calabria collaged with bronze Europeans, and drove around the dry, sun-blasted terrain of Sicily. It was that type of heat that engulfs you, pummels your head, and makes human contact repulsive. I loved it.
I was never partial to a granita – perhaps because I am yet to have a good one in Melbourne. I find that they tend to be artificially flavoured and bland. However, granita is a specialty of Sicily, and that is where you’ll find the best of them, made with typical flavours of the region, like sherbetty Sicilian lemon, deep purple mulberry speckled with flecks of seed, icy slushes of fresh espresso, and vivid flavours of sweet almond with tiny pithy bits of almond meal. The texture is velvety and soothing.
My granita ‘epiphany’ was over an almond granita in in Noto – an attractive town with a manicured historic centre that extended elegantly from the rustic Sicilian landscape, and dramatic baroque architecture that glowed in the late afternoon sun. I was charmed by the dedication to almonds around Noto and Avola, from the almond paste used to create chewy biscotti, blitzed in pesto, studded in juicy meat balls, and used in the life-like marzipan creations that make you do a double-take. And if you need an almond fix on route to your next almond destination, you can glance out the car window to the almond trees along the roadside.
Those almonds, Noto
The almonds in Noto are the most almondy almonds I’ve tasted. So aromatic, with an assertive flavour like almond essence, and a flat, irregular shape. Unfortunately, I can’t find Noto almonds in Melbourne, but please use the best ones you can find for this recipe (not the cardboard pellets you gnaw on begrudgingly in place of your 3pm sugar hit). It will make a world of difference.
This granita could be served as a refreshing dessert or palate cleanser. You could even spike it with Amaretto for a thirst quenching summer afternoon tipple. In Italy, you will commonly find people eating them for breakfast at bustling pasticherias in the peak of summer, served with lashings of cream and soft rich brioche. In this recipe, the fragrant vanilla-orange wafer is a lighter substitute for the brioche and is the perfect vessel for scooping-up the granita.
For the granita
- 200 grams raw almond kernels
- 4 cups boiling water (plus extra water for blanching the almonds)
- ¼ cup caster sugar
For the vanilla-orange wafer
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup caster sugar
- ½ cup honey
- 1 teaspoon of finely grated orange zest
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
- 75 grams butter, melted and cooled
- 2 egg whites
For the granita
- Dissolve the sugar in the water.
- Cover the almonds with water in a saucepan. Bring the water to the boil for a minute, and then remove from the heat. Almond skins will now easily slip-off. Remove all the skins and allow to cool. Once cooled, grind the almonds with a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor (either is completely fine).
- Add the ground almonds to the sugar/ water mixture and leave overnight (or at least four hours).
- Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, or a cheesecloth. It is fine if some almond meal falls into the almond milk – I actually prefer it. Taste it, and if necessary extra sugar or a squeeze of lemon to your taste.
- Pour the almond milk into a dish and place in the freezer, removing every hour and whisking vigorously, so that the mixture is as smooth and creamy as possible.
For the vanilla-orange wafters
- Preheat a conventional oven to 150 degrees (130 degrees if using a fan-forced oven).
- Line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.
- Pour a thin layer of the mixture on to the baking tray and cook in the oven for 30 minutes or until dark golden brown. (Use two baking trays if necessary, but make sure the mixture is poured thinly).
- Remove from oven and allow to cool. Break or cut into pieces.