Our summertime preferences for sweets run to the light and refreshing, as versus the dense and sensual. I want to rise from the table and feel as though I’ve beaten the heat and humidity, not stoked the furnace, which makes Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios the ideal dessert after a meal of grilled lamb and eggplant, or just a treat to dull the edge of a blistering afternoon.
If you’re unfamiliar with granita, think of it as the crunchy version of sorbet. Granita’s gravelly texture would seem to make it the coarse country cousin of sorbet, yet somehow it manages a rude elegance, like handmade orecchiette, that sorbet can’t quite touch. Aside from the fact that sorbet often contains egg white, and granita does not, the primary distinction between the two is that sorbet is made in an ice cream machine. The machine churns as the sorbet mixture freezes, breaking the ice crystals into smaller and smaller pieces, resulting in a dense, even texture. Granita predates the ice cream machine. The basic method begins with a frozen block of fruit flavored ice, then scraping it apart with a fork. Surprisingly, this is quite easy. A subtler approach is to stir up the granita a few times during the process of freezing, then scraping this somewhat looser product after it has frozen completely. We tried both. Both work. The freezer interruptus method results in finer crystals.* Your call.
In the ingredients photo you’ll notice the tiny red scimitar of a Thai bird pepper. If you layer the dessert as we did there’s an interesting effect as you begin at the top and work your way down to the bottom of the glass–things get progressively colder on the tongue and hotter on the palate, especially in the aftertaste. We loved it. Nuts and watermelon do modulate the heat, but if you prefer your frozen desserts with a cooler culinary profile, omit the bird pepper, in which case it becomes a Ginger-Lime Granita. You could even throw a little chopped cilantro into the mix. Either way will be refreshing and you’ll find yourself trying to spoon up (or just slurping) what’s left in the bottom of the glass. The recipe makes more granita than you need to serve four, so you can increase the watermelon and serve more, use leftover granita with honeydew the next night, or integrate it into a killer frozen cocktail with tequila or rum. Whichever method you choose, if you do make it this weekend, give a thought to all the bikers riding out to the tip of Provincetown in the PanMass Challenge. It begins tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. Enjoy. Ken
*The photographer likes chunkier, bigger crystals.
Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios
Makes 4 servings, with lots of leftover granita
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups water
- 2 tablespoons, chopped fresh ginger
- 1 chili pepper, finely chopped, optional
- Grated zest of 1 lime
- ¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, (about 4 large limes)
- 2-pound wedge watermelon (4 cups diced)
- 2 tablespoons torn mint leaves + additional for garnish
- 4 teaspoons finely chopped toasted pistachios
- Combine the sugar, water, chili and ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer 5 minutes, remove from the heat. Cool. Strain into a bowl. Stir in the lime zest and juice. Pour into a flat container that will hold the mixture 1-inch high and fit into your freezer. I had to use 2 containers. Freeze for 2 hours. Stir every 30 minutes to form a slush.
- Cut the melon into ¾-inch cubes. Put in a bowl and toss with the mint. You should have 4 cups.
- To serve, put a half cup of granita in a glass, add a cup of watermelon, sprinke with a teaspoon of pistachios and top with a small spoonful of granita.
I asked our pastry chef, Jonathan Posiko, to duplicate an intermezzo dish for our wine BBQ this year that we enjoyed many times in Puglia last summer – large pieces of watermelon in a bowl of ice cubes. He took it up a notch and served a tiny dice of watermelon on top of a prosecco granita. I stole his idea for this post.
This granita is very intense. I wanted it that way to dance well with the watery watermelon. If you want it to be a little lighter, just add a half a cup of water.
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