I’ve been back from Sicily for less than a week. My days go like this. What time is it? 3:30 a.m.? Noooo! Go back to sleep, go back to sleep, pleeeease go back to sleep. Later, or not, it’s coffee, maybe yoga, and then, “WHERE is my almond granita and warm, lightly toasted brioche for dipping?”
Along with climbing Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world (and I got caught in a rainstorm of black volcanic ash), my best souvenir of Sicily was this very simple thing – a dessert to some, breakfast to many Sicilians, and to me, something that I’ll always remember the place by.
Oh I’ve had granitas before. My first was in Rome, nearly 20 years ago. It was a layered affair, with strong icy coffee and sweetened whipped cream. Completely swept off my feet, I fell hard for the granita di café con panna, then went home and started making my own.
I don’t know what happened. We just drifted apart, I guess.
But last week, when I first tasted a toasted almond granita at a tiny cafe in San Leonardello, not far from Riposto, it was big granita love all over again. Brownish in color and more caramelly than the almond one made with skinned almonds, I knew this was something special. I had another one in Catania, served with a warm brioche on the side, which like the Sicilians I was with, I tore off in pieces and used for dipping. Then another in Modica, where the brioche wasn’t warm, but dusted with sugar. It worked just fine.
But everything started to unravel when I arrived at Fiumicino in Rome, when, for breakfast, all that was available was some form of coffee and bread (cappuccino and cornetto stuffed with Nutella seemed to be the favorite of both American tourists and traveling Italians). There wasn’t an almond granita – or any other flavor – or fluffy, yellowy brioche to be found.
So after I unpacked my bags, I made my own – and just like that, I was back at Prestopino Café in Catania.
Makes 2 to 4 servings
No dairy, no added sugar, but all of the fun. Di niente.
1 cup almonds, not salted but with skins on
10 to 12 Medjool dates
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 brioche buns
1. Put the almonds in a bowl with 4 cups of water and let them soak overnight. The next day, pour out the water and put the almonds in your blender.
2. Remove the seeds from the dates and soak them in warm water for 5 minutes or so, or until soft. Roughly chop them and add to the blender with the almonds. Pour in 4 cups of fresh, filtered water and blend. Add the vanilla and taste. Continue to blend until mixture is as smooth as possible — there will be a slight graininess to this because we’re not discarding the almond pulp.
3. Pour into a shallow dish and freeze. Every 30 minutes or so, gently scrape the icy particles that’ll form on the sides with your fork, bringing the icy part to the middle. After a couple of hours, you should have a slushy, semi-firm granita. Right before serving, warm the brioche buns in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes. Serve right away with your granita. (Note: If your granita freezes completely, just pull it out of the freezer and let it slowly warm up, using your fork to make it fluffy again.)