Lest I be accused of being a big baby, I will not go on (and endlessly on) about how hot and humid this summer has been. Suffice it to say itâ€™s all this Cream Puff can do to keep her pÃ¢te Ã choux from deflating and her pastry cream filling from just melting away. Sarah of The Delicious Life could not possibly have made a better choice for theme for this monthâ€™s edition of Sugar High Friday. â€œIce ice babyâ€ indeed!
While I initially thought about making an ice cream dish so that I could use my brand spanking new ice cream maker, circumstances ruled in favour of a dish that required no stove or small appliances. Even the slight noise from an ice cream maker is enough to put us all on edge in this weather. Instead, I opted for the simplest and perhaps most refreshing of sweets: the granita.
Granita is an Italian concoction that is traditionally associated with Sicily, but that can be found throughout Italy. While slightly more complicated recipes for granita can call for the use of an ice cream maker, the homiest version involves some water, some sugar, the flavour of your choice and your kitchen freezer. I must admit though that while my thoughts had been traveling in the general direction of a granita for this round of SHF, I did not fully make this decision until I happened to come across a recipe for a Meyer Lemon Granita in Viana La Placeâ€™s La Cucina Bella.
A delightful book, La Cucina Bella is a volume that has come to represent all of what I love best in my favourite cookbooks. Itâ€™s part cookbook, part memoir, part social commentary, part travel book and as the title would suggest, it has its eye on the beautiful cuisine of Italy.
La Place includes a recipe for a granita made with Meyer Lemons, which she says more closely mimic the taste of Italian lemons than your average, humble supermarket variety. While I could have gone out in search of Meyer Lemons as I do know a few places in Toronto that sell them, excuse my ineloquence, but itâ€™s just too freakinâ€™ hot. Instead, I followed La Placeâ€™s recommendation, used regular lemons and increased the sugar slightly to accommodate for the more tarty flavour.
The key to a successful granita is to ensure that before you start, your sugar is fully dissolved in the water. If it isnâ€™t, the flavour of the granita will be uneven. Also, you must stir the granita as directed by the recipe. I stirred mine every half hour on the half hour! Of course part of this diligence was likely due to the fact that I enjoyed standing with the freezer door open and the cold air hitting my face but thatâ€™s neither here nor there.
La Place mentions in her book that granita is traditionally eaten with brioche and can even be enjoyed for breakfast on particularly hot mornings. While I am always interested in the practice of consuming brioche, regardless of time of day, I wanted something a bit more splashy so that I could serve my granita for dessert. I resorted to an old standby: strawberries stuffed with sweetened mascarpone.
Basically you take the best strawberries you can find, wash them and dry them and carefully split them open, being sure not to cut them all the way through. In a small bowl, whip together some mascarpone (at room temperature) with a bit of sugar (to taste) and lemon zest. Because I look for every opportunity to practice my piping skills, I piped the mascarpone filling into the strawberries. But you can just as easily spoon it in. For added effect, dip your strawberries in sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it) just before stuffing them.
Okay. You know what. I have to go now. I seem to have developed a massive craving for granita al limone with mascarpone-stuffed strawberries.
Stay cool, people. Stay cool.
Granita al Limone con Fragole Ripiene di Mascarpone (Lemon Granita with Mascarpone-Stuffed Strawberries)
Adapted from La Cucina Bella by Viana La Place.
For the granita:
- 3 cups spring water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- In a measuring cup, combine 1 cup of water with the sugar. Stir to dissolve.
- In a metal pan large enough to accommodate the liquid, combine the sugar water with the remaining two cups of water and the lemon juice. Mix well and put in the freezer.
- Every 30 minutes, stir the mixture with a fork. As the ice crystals form, you will have to use the fork to break up the granita.
- Once it is completely frozen and you have a pan full of ice crystals, spoon the granita into a container with a tight fitting lid. This will keep in the freezer for several days.
For the strawberries:
- 1 cup mascarpone, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 6 to 8 strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and split crosswise (not all the way through)
- In a bowl, combine the mascarpone, vanilla sugar and lemon zest until smooth.
- Place the mascarpone cream in a piping bag fitted with a star tip, or use a spoon to fill the strawberries.
- Dip each strawberry in extra vanilla sugar.
- Gently open each strawberry and either pipe or spoon in the cream.
- Serve with the lemon granita.