MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS
Memories can be such nuggets of bliss! It’s funny how some of the little ones just stick with you. Many years ago, when I was very young, my mother and father (Loretta and Attilio) visited Italy for the first time after my father’s initial crossing to Ellis Island as a child. It was a huge event for them, and they returned home with so many stories of fabulous eating and sampling. The one that always jumps to my mind is Attilio’s account of his first encounter with GRANITA DI CAFFE CON PANNA – an icy form of espresso with cream. He talked about it longingly afterward. It always remained a part of the special memories of his return to Italy.
Years later, on a visit of my own, I arrived in Rome very late at night and hurried from Leonardo da Vinci Airport to a small pensione on the Via Porta Pinciana called the Bellavista Milton (probably long gone by now!) overlooking the gorgeous Villa Borghese Gardens. I dropped my bags and beat a hasty path around the corner to the Via Veneto and a sidewalk café – to do what? That’s right! The very first thing I did in Rome was to sample that special iced espresso treat that my father had talked about for all those years before. Was it really THAT special? Answer: to a coffee drinker – it was heaven! You can bet, I enjoyed several more before I left.
Whether you like coffee or espresso – you will love this – especially in the summertime. Using espresso, it has every bit of the “jolt” you’d expect, but tempered with a sweetness and the velvety smooth texture of whipped cream. Now, there is no reason why you can’t make this with regular coffee or even decaf. However, I will say that the espresso carries it to a height that coffee cannot reach and offers the sharpest contrast to the cream. So I’ll leave the choice to you! It is a wonderful summer pick-me-up on a hot afternoon or at the end of a beautiful evening or dinner whether in Roma, On the Patio, or anywhere.
Pronounce: To say Granita – think: Grah-nee-tah – with emphasis on the NEE.
What is it: Granita is just ice crystals made from any liquid. The liquid can be fruit as well as coffee or espresso. In this case, the coffee is frozen and scraped to form little ice crystals. The “edge” from the jolting caffeine is softened somewhat with a little sugar and whipped cream. Iced coffee it’s NOT! So, what’s the big deal? There is something wonderful about those cold slivers of coffee hitting your tongue on a hot day – followed by the smoothness of the whipped cream that sneaks into every mouthful.
When in Rome: Rome is perhaps the most famous city in Italy for Granita Di Caffe Con Panna. It can be found in many cafes and in almost any gelateria. However, the hunt for the very best narrows to two espresso bars: Sant ‘Eustachio and Tazza D’Oro near the Pantheon. There is a huge battle that rages between the two for the top spot. The rivalry extends even to how the sugar is combined with the espresso including the timing and temperature. The sugar is very important because it is said to be the key ingredient which produces the highly prized crema in the espresso. The baristas are secretive and even hide when they add the sugar so as not to release their technique. There is not a soul in Rome who is not familiar with it, and they all know where to get their favorite preparation.
How to serve: This “almost” espresso, “almost” ice, “almost” dessert find its perfect season in the summertime when it is sometimes just too hot to serve a heavy dessert. On a hot afternoon, it can be a great icy “pick-me-up” – perfect after a bike ride or a run. After dinner, it is a light and settling end to a great dinner when you don’t want a heavy course – yet you don’t want the meal to end just yet. Served outside – it can’t be beat!
Not what you expect: I recently served Granita di Café Con Panna to our good friends visiting from Maine, Tom and Kathy Byrnes. Tom Byrnes said he expected something heavy and strong from the espresso. They were not anticipating the light nature of the Granita , the brightness in flavor, and how much they enjoyed it over all. Surprise! Surprise!
Options: If you don’t care for espresso, you can use regular coffee. Just make sure it is fresh. I do recommend trying it with espresso first as it is amazing! The deep dark richness of the espresso is an experience you will not get with regular coffee. You can also add some flavoring to your coffee or use a flavored coffee, if you like. I like to serve it in glasses so that you can see the contrasts of light and dark in the ingredients. Wine glasses or “Old Fashion” (the drink) glasses are great for this. However, you certainly can offer it in espresso cups or coffee cups as well.
Here’s my take on it:
GRANITA DI CAFFE CON PANNA
2 Measuring cups of Fresh-Brewed Espresso (Substitute reg. coffee or decaf if preferred)
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1/2-3/4 cup Heavy Cream whipped to soft peaks with a little vanilla or cinnamon and 1/2 Tbsp sugar ( you may have some left over but this will give you plenty to work with)
Good dense dark chocolate – grated or shaved
Prepare your coffee or espresso for enough to fill 2 measuring cups full.
While still piping hot, add the sugar, stir, and dissolve completely. Let it completely cool.
When cool, pour into a pan and place in the freezer. When it starts to freeze, take a fork and scrape it, mix it to make crystals. Initially it will be wet as the crystals form.
Keep doing this every few minutes – repeat this step until you have a container of frozen ice crystals or slush which appears dry. It will set up fairly quickly. This slush is the Granita! See how it sets up in stages:
(If you want to make it a day ahead, you can use the above method. The Granita will harden - so just leave it out for about 5 minutes and loosen again with a fork. An alternative is to freeze the espresso or coffee in an ice cube tray. Just before you want to use it, pop the cubes of coffee into a food processor and pulse til you have slush or Granita. I personally prefer the scraping method as I feel like I have more control over the process.)
The frozen coffee crystals seem almost dry when ready to use.
You are now ready to create!
Begin by adding some Granita to your glass.
Then add some of the whipped cream.
Sprinkle on some of the dark chocolate.
Follow that with another layer of Granita.
Then one last dollop of the whipped cream, and top the whole thing off with some of the dark chocolate. DONE!
For Fun: Try adding some cocoa to the espresso powder when making the espresso for this. The result is a little added mocha flavor. Another nice touch is to drizzle a little liqueur over the crystals in each glass – perhaps Frangelico, Amaretto, Sambuca. You probably figured I might work my candied citrus peel in here somewhere, and you’d be right! Serve some chocolate dipped peel along with this icy wonder or even place one on the top. It pairs perfectly with the espresso.
More Fun: Try different types of shaved dark chocolate with this. Have fun with it and try some of these:
Lindt Smooth Dark 70%, Lindt Intense Orange Dark, Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate 70% or Green & Black’s Ginger Dark Chocolate
I hope Granita Di Caffe Con Panna becomes your go-to summer surprise for your family and guests. Coffee enthusiasts will love this. You won’t have to go all the way to Rome to get it – but then, that’s not a bad idea either! Til then – see you On the Patio!
PARLA COME MANGI!
Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography