Welcome our Guest Blogger, Jane!
Jane was a Select Study Abroad student this past summer and one of the most enthusiastic people we have every met. Before we arrived to a new city she had already picked three places she wanted to eat and had convinced several others to join her. No one was EVER disappointed with a Jane “selection.” She has excellent taste and is an avid researcher. At Select Study Abroad we feel similarly – NEVER waste a trip or a meal. There are too many amazing things and too little time to waste not doing (and eating!) the very best. So when her enthusiasm turned to a little something we call a granita well…she could not be stopped. Not even, apparently, when she returned home! Thanks to her unquenchable thirst for life and delicious icy watermelon she came up with this easily reproducible recipe you can use at home. Granita party anyone? I think we all owe her big time. Thank you Jane!!
As a kid, my dad would take me on gelato adventures before my ballet classes. I loved the delicate flavors and mouth-feel of the gelato – creamy, but not cloying. There was a little family run farm near my ballet studio in Natick, MA, and they made their own gelato from scratch. There were no glaring artificial colors, the labels were in Italian, and the stracciatella, or chocolate chip, had whole sheets of delectable chocolate tucked into the folds of vanilla. I collected the spoons, and a tower of plastic petaled dishes accumulated in the back of the pantry. When asked to choose between a true dedication to dance and my weekly habit, I promptly ended my dancing career.
Coming to Italy would mean endless samples (“Un assaggio, per favore?”), perfectly portioned scoops of creamy heaven, and flavors I’d never heard of. So when Carrie told me that the watermelon granita at Perchè no!… would “change my life,” I was skeptical. I’d already had the best textured gelato (pear, which is rather grainy, or riso, which has whole grains of rice in it, both from Vivali, Via Stinche), and the seasonal organic variety (from Grom, Via delle Oche 24). How could a mere slushie compare to all that? I’d even had granita – perfectly tasty granita. There was a little place I particularly liked near the Galleria dell’Accademia – they have really neat flavors, mostly exotic Brazillian fruits I never knew existed. When we went there, a number of us were feeling under the weather, and their truly scrumptious lemon-mint was the best sore throat relief imaginable. So what could possibly make a watermelon granita from Perchè no!… so much better? Besides, watermelon is perfect on its own – it doesn’t need any help.
But my mantra is try everything – twice. After all, the place is called “Why not!…” – and so without further ado, I marched up to the counter, and ordered. Skeptical as I was, I ordered only half watermelon, and the other half passion fruit.
That may or may not have been my biggest regret on the whole trip – losing that second half of watermelon granita to an admittedly tasty, but inferior passion fruit.
Since 1939, Perchè no!… has been serving homemade gelato and granita to locals and tourists alike. Or, according to their website, “since than it has become one of the Florence’s most refreshment spots.” Located on Via dei Tavolini 19, (not to be confused with the disco-lit gelateria one street over), it is also dangerously close to our beloved panino shop, Fratellini (see fellow Select Study Abroad Student Deb’s post about Fratellini) Perchè no!… is known for their brightly colored shop, hearty portions, scrumptious gelato (without any artificial flavoring) and their homemade granita. For granita, the homemade giveaway is when the granita is displayed in the metal tins from which the gelato is also served. It is merely injected with flavor if it comes in a freestanding rotating Slushie dispenser. At Perchè no!…, the granita flavors change daily (though thank heavens watermelon is a daily special), and the little shop is almost always packed with eager customers.
From that very first bite, I was transformed. And so began my affair with Perchè no!…. As the days grew oppressively hot, and gelato melted before it even made it out of the shop, I savored my icy, refreshing treat. I would sneak over between classes, coveting the secret moments with my special indulgence. I spent like, 20 (read: 75+) euro. I licked the sides of the cup like a fugitive, terrified of getting caught with my face buried in an empty cup like some feral dog. What was worse, I couldn’t stop. I was head over heels for, and thoroughly addicted to, the watermelon granita.
My experience in Florence was tinged pink, and laced with the subtle, sweet scent of watermelon. I didn’t realize how tightly the overall experience was bound with the granita until my plane touched down in Boston, and I found myself scribbling down a list of ways to head straight back to the airport in Rome – hiding in the overhead baggage compartment and praying the plane was heading in the right direction, sneaking into a suitcase, begging, bartering, selling my soul…nothing seemed quite feasible enough. Here I was in the bustle of Boston, stuck in the States with only the dregs of watermelon season left.
Luckily for me, my boyfriend came to pick me up at the airport, and had brought with him a homemade batch of…watermelon granita. That thermos-full was the only thing keeping me from swimming across the Atlantic. While nothing compares to Perchè no!…in all their watermelon glory, after many trials (and a few errors), we have developed a recipe that is pretty comparable. All it’s missing is the neon cup and matching spoon.
About 2/3 cup sugar, or less if the watermelon (or wine) is very sweet
1 cup rich white wine, like a Pinot Grigio. I also like using a sweet rose
1 small to medium ripe watermelon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. In a small saucepan, add sugar and wine, and heat gently to help the sugar dissolve. Stir gently, and dissolve the sugar completely. When there are no crystals on the bottom of the pan, and the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat and set aside to cool. (To quicken the dissolving process, you can also use Superfine sugar.)
2. Cut the watermelon in fat slices, remove the seeds, and cut the watermelon away from the rind into 2 inch chunks.
3. Add the watermelon, in batches if necessary, to the food processor, and pulse until the flesh is a uniform, grainy texture.
4. Add the lemon juice and cooled wine mixture to the watermelon, and stir (or pulse) to incorporate it.
5. Pour the watermelon mixture into a freezer-safe container. It is best if the container is big but shallow, as this allows for the most surface area. Ideally the pan is about 1 inch deep – you can use a cookie sheet with deep sides, if you have one. Freeze for about 2 hours.
6. Remove from the freezer, and using a fork, scrape the frozen watermelon all over. Flakes of light pink ice will form. Continue to scrape until the whole mixture looks like shaved ice. Refreeze.
7. Re-scrape after another 2 hours, and transfer the shaved ice mixture into a deeper container with a lid. Return it to the freezer.
8. In some parts of Italy this shaved ice-texture IS granita (or, “Italian Ice”). The tastiest granita we had, however, had a much slushier consistency. So, to serve, remove desired amount of shaved ice into either a large glass, or a bowl with high sides. Stir vigorously for about a minute, and the ice will melt just a little, and the color will darken to that bright, rich pink, and the granita will start to look and feel very slushy.
An alternative method is to freeze the initial mixture in ice cube trays, and then to pulverize in the food processor when ready to serve, but this only works if you have a small batch, or loads of ice cube trays (and freezer space).
The granita keeps very well in an airtight container in the freezer. Mine has never lasted more than a few weeks, but I’m sure it would keep well for at least a couple months. This version is a little (a lot) less sweet, and is pretty healthy (and extremely tasty) treat to have on hand. It is also lovely as an aperitivo, mixed with a little St. Germaine.
Thank you Jane! I don’t know how many batches you must have gone through to get that recipe to the state of perfection it is currently in, but we at Select Study Abroad salute you. And we would like to come over for dinner. Call us! Ti adoriamo!!
Want to know where Perche no!… is? See below:
View Gelateria Perche no!… in a larger map