Although I’m definitely in possession of a serious sweet tooth, I’m generally not a big fan of fruit. Veggies fill my requirements for that slot on the ole food pyramid; give me a ruby red pepper or a fresh bunch of spinach any day.
But when you can get fresh fruit in the summer, it’s time to indulge. I usually make granita, which can be whipped up in a matter of minutes, with a minimum of ingredients, and needs only a blender or food processor and a metal baking dish. Granita is similar to Italian ice, but more intensely flavored. It is the essence of fruit.
But Tom gave me an ice cream maker for my birthday earlier this year. Granita processed in an ice cream maker becomes sorbet.
It was Strawberry Fest here this weekend. The local strawberries would really have preferred it if we’d waited a week or two; they’re still tiny green buds. Strawberries are best when they’re local and if possible, still warm from the field.
The lack of strawberries broke my resolve to buy local; I bought a couple of pints of seriously non-local blueberries. First on the agenda — the aptly named simple syrup: equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar is completely dissolved. That’s it. Pop it in the fridge and it’ll keep for many weeks. Simple syrup is the base for any granita or sorbet. You can add some fresh mint (or other herbs) or citrus zest as the syrup develops, for another layer of flavor, but the plain stuff is just fine too.
You’ll also need a bit of acid, which acts much as salt does to intensify the fruit flavor. Lemon juice is delicious, and works with most fruits. But other citrus works well; try oranges, limes, even tangerines. I used grapefruit juice and added a few strips of grapefruit zest as I made the simple syrup.
Now, as to the main event, you want to use the freshest, most flavorful fruit you can find. After all, granita and sorbet are constructed of not much more than fruit, so what you use needs to be the best you can get. One look at that garnet-colored sorbet tells you how richly flavored it is.
Purée the fruit, add a few tablespoons of citrus juice and some simple syrup. That’s it. For granita, pour the mixture into a metal baking pan and pop it into the freezer. Every half hour or so, stir it with a fork to break up the ice crystals. It’s done in a few hours. For sorbet, chill the mixture and use an ice cream maker. The texture’s a little creamier than the crystalline granita. You can also strain the purée before freezing, but I like the bits of fruit. For an even better texture, add a splash of rum for an adults-only dessert.
Blueberry Granita or Sorbet
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup fresh grapefruit juice (if using lemon or lime juice instead, use 2 tablespoons)
2 pints fresh blueberries
In a small saucepan, heat sugar and water over medium heat until the syrup is completely clear and the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool. This makes 1 ½ cups of simple syrup, enough for 2 or 3 batches of granita or sorbet. It keeps in the fridge for many weeks.
Once the simple syrup is cool, rinse and pick through the blueberries. Puree them in a food processor or blender. Add the grapefruit juice and half a cup of syrup. Give the food processor a whirl to blend everything, and taste. You want the mixture to be slightly too sweet, as the flavor will be a bit less strong once the mixture is frozen. Add more syrup if necessary.
For granita, pour the mixture into a metal baking pan large enough that the granita is 1½ to 2 ½ inches thick. Cover with plastic wrap and pop the pan into the freezer. Every half hour or so, take the pan out and give the granita a good stir with a fork, breaking up the ice crystals. It’ll be ready in a few hours, and will keep for a few days.
For sorbet, chill the puréed mixture and use an ice cream mixer and process away. Scrape the finished sorbet into covered containers and freeze.