There was a small gelateria around the corner from my aunts’ apartment in Rome. It was nothing fancy, no gilt mirrors or polished marble bar top. If it had a name, I never knew it. It was not the kind of place that would have made any Best Gelaterias in Rome list. The chairs were woven plastic and the bar top was stainless steel—though it was always kept nicely buffed and smudge-free. There may have been a pinball machine in a back corner.
Like the place itself, the selection of gelato flavors was standard—crema, gianduja (what is now often called ‘bacio’), nocciola, stracciatella, torroncino and so on, and a range of fruit flavors. Plus a small selection of granitas—coffee, lemon, strawberry. But it was all good, freshly made, and if you asked for your gelato “con panna” the clerk would dip his paddle into a stainless container of unsweetened whipped cream and frost all around your cone or cup, forming a peak of pure white.
My favorite was the strawberry granita. The flavor was so intensely strawberry that it tasted truer than the berries themselves. It had small chunks of mashed fruit and a few stray lemon seeds in it, and it was topped with that rich cap of cream.
It’s been years since I’ve been to that corner gelateria. I’m not even sure it still exists. But I think about it at the start of every summer, when strawberries are in season. The other day, driven in equal measure by curiosity and nostalgia, I tried making strawberry granita at home. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but it turned out just the way I hoped it would, pink ruby in color, fragrant, tart and sweet. It was easy, too; no fancy equipment needed. So pull up a plastic woven chair and grab a spoon. It’s time to dig into summer.
Granita di Fragole
Making homemade granita is easier than making ice cream. There’s no custard to prepare and no special equipment required. Simply pour the mixture into a pan and freeze it, scraping down the sides with a fork at 30-minute intervals until it is completely frozen. Lemon, orange, coffee, and melon all make refreshing granitas.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups)
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 pints ripe strawberries
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly whipped cream for serving
Place a 9- by 13- by 2-inch metal baking pan in the freezer.
Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is hot and sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour the syrup into a heat-proof container. Refrigerate until completely chilled.
Gently rinse the strawberries under running water. Slice off the tops. Place the strawberries in a blender and puree. Pour in the chilled sugar syrup and lemon juice and blend. Pour the strawberry mixture into the chilled metal baking pan and return it to the freezer. Freezer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the mixture has begun to harden around the inside perimeter of the pan. With a fork, scrape the crystals from the edge and stir them into the center of the mixture. Return the pan to the freezer for another 30 minutes. Continue to freeze and scrape the mixture with the fork at 30-minute intervals until it has all turned to ice crystals. Transfer the granita to a tightly lidded container and freeze until serving time. To serve, use an ice cream scoop to scrape out scoops of granita into bowls. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream on top, if you like.
(Copyright 2012 Domenica Marchetti)