Growing up one of my favorite dirty pleasures was the slush, or slurpy, or slush puppy. The names changed with the convenience store, but the recipe was always the same. Crushed ice was pumped into a cup and copious amounts of sweet, florescent dyes were squirted in. You drank this concoction until it gave you a dizzy headache, or you sucked all the syrup out of the ice. It didn’t matter that your tongue was green for the rest of the afternoon. Actually, it did matter –– it was a fringe benefit!
In Italy, they have a name for it: Granite. Anyone who has been to Italy is familiar with the machines swirling the already mixed ice and mystery liquid that are in every bar or gelato joint around the main tourist attractions. The flavors are often better than the convenience store variety of my youth, but not enough to take your mind off the fact that they are just slightly more liquid snow cones.
Only a traveler to Sicily, where they claim to have invented granita, will understand just how satisfying flavored ice can be. Although, it is possible to find standard, tourist-trap granite – those candy shop machines are everywhere–– I have yet to find a more sublime granita anywhere else in Italy. One of the best is at the Bar del Porto at the, well, at the bar at the port on the small island of Panarea in the Aeolian archipelago just north of Sicily. Here the granite is dished out of stainless-steel ice cream containers, like those at Giolitti in Rome or other historic Italian ice cream parlors. The choices may be few: lemon; coffee (great sandwiched into a brioche for breakfast); gelso (white mulberries and almond milk, but all are wonderful. The almond milk classic is my particular favorite.
Last year a friendly bartender (who sadly was not there this summer) suggested we try different combinations – gelso and almond, coffee and almond, etc. But, it was not until the third to last night of our vacation when he greeted us with cinnamon sticks and a hand grater and, before our eyes, created something we call “cinnamon summer” — thin layers of almond milk ice separated by freshly grated cinnamon dust. Summer may be over, but I can still taste that cinnamon summer.