Granita and Brioche for Breakfast
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Granita for Breakfast

As our time here in Sicily is coming closer to an end, I find myself reflecting a lot on what I will miss most about living here. Of course I will miss the food, but I’ll be taking with me a whole new way of looking at food and cooking and will be able to continue eating in the Sicilian style wherever we end up in the world. But some things I will not be able to recreate. Some experiences cannot be reproduced in other parts of the world. One of the things I will most is sitting outside our favorite cafe on a warm summer morning, eating brioche and pistachio and/or almond granita for breakfast.

What is granita exactly? I could tell you that it is a frozen mixture of water, sugar, and a flavoring such as lemon, strawberry, mulberry, coffee, pistachio, almond, or in Catania, even chocolate. I could tell you that it’s sort of like a semi-frozen sorbet. I could send you to the wikipedia explanation, I could point you to other web sites that have tried to explain what it is that makes Sicilian granita different than anything else you will find in other parts of the world. But you just won’t understand until you sit down with that glass cup and spoon, warm, buttery brioche close at hand, and try it for yourself.

I have three favorite flavors of granita: lemon (limone), pistachio (pistacchio), and almond (mandorla). The lemon I always order by itself as its tartness doesn’t combine well with the other flavors. But the pistachio and almond are both so good that I usually have to order them together rather than try to choose between them. I’ve also been known to order a combination of pistachio and chocolate. The consistency of the granita here in Catania is hard to describe. It’s not slushy but it’s not solid. A spoonful holds together long enough to get into your mouth but then it melts instantly. It’s not icy or grainy but it’s not exactly smooth. It’s perfect. But the best part is the flavor. Because of the simple ingredients and the way that it’s made, the flavors are pure and intense, not watered down like typical Italian ices.

Don’t ask me how they make it. I’ve read the explanations, I understand that it is made from the simplest of ingredients and stirred and frozen to just the right consistency, but there has to be some magic involved. I just don’t understand how water, sugar, and pistachios can turn into something that tastes so creamy but at the same time is so light and refreshing. It has to be magic, there’s no other explanation. How else do you explain the fact that you can’t get anything like this anywhere else in the world?

So maybe you’re wondering why the granita is eaten with brioche. Here, brioche is not only eaten with granita, it’s also a standard accompaniment to gelato. Gelato is Italy’s version of ice cream (creamier and better than American ice cream in every way) and it is really the only other good breakfast choice during the sweltering summers here. That’s right, when they aren’t eating granita, Sicilians eat ice cream for breakfast during the summer. But, back to the brioche. The sweet bread is literally eaten together with the granita and gelato. You can dip the bread into your granita, you can scoop the granita onto a piece of the bread (my preferred method) or you can just eat them side by side. Gelato, on the other hand, is often served right inside the brioche. The bread is split and the ice cream scoop is placed inside. Mmmmmmmm. But back to the original question. Why? It’s best not to question these things. You have to try it, to understand it.

So this is just one of the many many things I will miss about Sicily when we leave here in November. You will be seeing more posts like this as I spend the next few months organizing my photos and memories, trying once and for all to capture the spirit of this island that has changed me so deeply.

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28 Comments
  1. annie

    What a lovely, evocative post. I have spent (not nearly enough) time in Italy, and of all the places in the world I have been, its always my choice in answer to the “if you could live anywhere in the world” or “if you had only six weeks to live” questions. Everything is different, and food is sort of vested with magical qualities. Granita is high on the list of magical foods (along with melon gelato). I can make my own brioche, but I think I’d have to go back to Italy for Granita. Thanks for a great read.

    12:50 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  2. Coleen Balent

    There’s nothing like a granita and brioche for breakfast! It’s the best way to start the day. Yum!

    2:08 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  3. Ruby Berry

    It was a pleasure reading this post especially as you have successfully summarized your palette’s experience in one simple yet enjoyable post! I know you will savor your last days in Sicily, I’m so glad you had the opportunity. The granita and brioche look delicious!
    :)

    3:02 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  4. Jason

    Do you think it would be possible to make granitas in CA? Why was it we didn’t get any? We ate just about everything else.

    4:01 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  5. Katiez

    I have no problem with ice cream and brioche for breakfast… a most excellent idea!
    Must be kind of bittersweet, knowing you are leaving – where to next?

    4:02 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  6. Kathy

    How quickly you brought back my experiences in Catania. I could taste the granita, brioche and the atmosphere. Thanks for sharing.

    4:11 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  7. Terry B

    Another beautiful post, Nicole. And another example of how food is about so much more than food. You may never find that kind of granita anywhere else, but I’m sure a warm brioche will never fail to trigger wonderful memories of this place for you, wherever you are.

    4:55 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  8. Abby

    “That’s right, when they aren’t eating granita, Sicilians eat ice cream for breakfast during the summer.”

    I always KNEW I was supposed to have been Italian…

    5:45 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  9. Maureen

    My friend Coleen forwarded me your blog, as I am as crazy about granita as you are! With my time whittled down to 3 weeks here in Sicily, I venture out almost daily to find Arazio, with his Pardise truck (like the Good Humor man here!) who makes his homemade granita and brioche and delivers it to customers, like me, who pull off the road to get a little cup from him with a brioche on the side–all for 1 euro! My 23 month old likes to pull off the “button” from the top of the brioche! I must tell you that my favorite is the short-lived peach flavor–and it is wonderful “mezza limone, mezza pesche” (hope I got that right!) Peach and lemon are also wonderful shared with fragola, or strawberry! Tomorrow morning I hit the streets again early in search for Arazio–who has even “fronted” the granita to me when I am out strolling with baby senza eurocents because he knows me that well! Hey, I just remembered! I am invited to a granita afternoon party tomorrow! Ciao!

    7:26 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  10. Nicole

    Annie: Thanks for the nice comment! I know I’ll be back in Italy someday. I can’t imagine not returning!

    Coleen: Yep! I wish we had a granita/gelato guy here in Marinai :-(

    Ruby: Thanks! After I come back from the states, I will be running around like crazy trying to cram in as many last minute experiences as I can! I know, because I see people go through it all the time as they get ready to leave here!

    Jason: Did we really not have any granita when you were here? Oh yeah, it was the wrong time of year! If you follow one of the links from my post, you can read about how one guy tried his best to make Sicilian granita at home.

    Katiez: We’re heading to San Diego next. From one sunny place to another :-)

    Kathy: When I was writing it, I was thinking about our trips to Catania :-) I went by myself on Saturday, had a great time.

    Terry: Thanks! For me, food memories are always stronger than any other memories when I think back to the places I have lived or visited.

    Abby: hahaha…isn’t it a great way to live??

    Maureen: Thanks for sharing! I haven’t tried pesche granita but I’m sure it’s wonderful! I think I would like to try pesche and fragola together but I still prefer lemon by itself ;-) I think I’m gonna have to take myself out for some granita tomorrow morning too :-)

    7:55 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  11. Caty

    What a beautiful post! I spent my summer in Italy last year and fell truly, madly, deeply in love with lemon granita. I really should try to make some at home but it’s really not the same is it?

    Make sure to make the most of your last few months. And thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories.

    9:22 pm  Jul 5th, 2007
  12. Sandy

    I can’t believe you posted an answer to questions my husband asked me yesterday! I will send him here so he can find out exactly what gelato and granita are. He has been interested since you posted photos last summer.

    Enjoy your last months there, Nicole!

    11:31 am  Jul 8th, 2007
  13. Coleen Balent

    We went to a granita party on Friday and couldn’t help but to think of you! I put a link to your blog in my post about granita because you explain it so much better than me since I’m only 13 months and all. :)

    12:54 pm  Jul 8th, 2007
  14. Kristen

    I think I need to move. Gelato for breakfast? What could be better?

    1:47 pm  Jul 10th, 2007
  15. Karen

    I’ve not been to Sicliy (yet), but some of my favorite books mention this particular treat. The thought of eating brioche filled with gelato makes my mouth water!
    I suppose I could make a version of this, but somehow it wouldn’t have the romance of yours – at the source!

    9:58 pm  Jul 10th, 2007
  16. butters

    My father is from Sicily and I am sad to say that I have only been there once. I remember eating granita while I was there as a child and not particularly loving it. On the other hand, my sister was crazy about it! I guess I’ll have to go back and try it for myself again. I’m sure I would love it this time. Especially the lemon!

    1:30 am  Jul 12th, 2007
  17. Nanners

    That sounds exactly like my kind of breakfast! I very very much agree that gelato is “better than American ice cream in every way”. I recently saw little pints of gelato sitting next to the ice cream in my very conservative grocery store and got kind of excited. It’s great that gelato (and granita) are slowly making their way into American homes!

    2:29 am  Jul 22nd, 2007
  18. Linda

    We just returned from Messina and had 3 breakfasts straight of granita and brioche…2 chocolate with whipped cream and the last (and soo awesome) was strawberry on top and lemon on the bottom. The brioche was warm..it’s a mystery and totally unknown even in Sorrento. It is a completely Sicilian thing..glad I’m Sicilian~breakfast in Rome/Sorrento is excellent, but not as special as granita/brioche.

    12:42 am  Aug 26th, 2007
  19. Geri

    Thank you for your story on granita. It is truly magical and it’s hard to explain. It’s just simply perfect in everyway. I remember being speechless when I tasted my first in downtown old Catania – just in shock that something could be that good. Then I had if everyday from a sweet shop in Nicolosi. We were staying with relatives in Pedara. Good luck in your new location. I did bring alot of the mandorla pasta and pistacchio pasta back home to replicate the ones we tasted ~ almost but not quite.

    3:48 am  Aug 27th, 2007
  20. Nicole

    Linda: Chocolate with whipped cream is very popular in Catania too! And strawberry and lemon really is a great combination. I will really miss those breakfasts when I leave Sicily!

    Geri: Thanks for the stopping by! There really is something magical about Sicilian granita!

    5:02 pm  Aug 27th, 2007
  21. Italia Fredda: Gelato in Southern Italy : A Life Worth Eating

    [...] I began my first walk in the city the same way I always do, in search of some food. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon Antica Gelateria Lucchese, Piazza San Domenico 11. As you will soon see, pistacchio is the base flavor on which I rate a given gelateria (not unlike ordering pizza margherita to evaluate a pizzeria). This first cup of gelato in Italy certainly did not disappoint. Very creamy, and served neither too cold nor too warm, there was just the right amount of resistance as swept my small gelato spoon across the top to scoop up each delicious bite. This was a great introduction to real Italian gelato. I liked it so much, in fact, that I returned the next day before a lunch of pane cu’ meusa (no trip to Palermo is complete without one) to sample another distinctly Sicilian specialty, granita alle mandorle, or almond granita. While the consistency of this frozen treat varies from place to place, Italian granita is a far cry from the rock-hard snow-cone-like impostors I’d had before. If you have never been to Italy, you have never had granita. Period. One taste of this wonderful treat and you will quickly understand why the combination of granita and brioche is the Sicilian breakfast of champions. [...]

    12:22 am  Oct 22nd, 2007
  22. dd

    I’m a sicilian,but I live in another country…I’m dying looking at this pic :-) After 30 years…my mother learned how to make it…=) Thanks for your “story”…it’s like u write: YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND UNTIL U SIT IN CATANIA AND TASTE IT…:-) (sorry for my bad english!)

    7:37 am  Jul 30th, 2008
  23. Marisa

    I have just returned from a 10 day visit to Catania. My family lives there, and I was born there, so I’m very familiar with Granita’s & Brioche. I actually came across your blog by googling “brioche”. Thanks for making me crave them even more. I think I had Granita and Brioche almost every day that I was there. It is so delicious. I hope you enjoyed your stay in Catania.

    5:10 pm  Aug 13th, 2008
  24. Simple Lemon Granita Recipe — Pinch My Salt

    [...] only fresh fruit, water and sugar, Sicilian granita is one of the simplest frozen desserts breakfasts you can [...]

    8:16 am  Jun 19th, 2009
  25. sofia

    does anyone have the recipe on how to make almond granita–i would so appreciate

    it thank you sofia

    11:03 am  Sep 9th, 2010
  26. Beach Holidays in Sicily: Giardini Naxos | Traveleurope Blog | Travel tips, advices and useful info

    [...] the lidos have toilets, showers, restaurants and ice-cream kiosks, where you can also try a “Granita” a frozen mixture of water, sugar, and a flavoring such as lemon, strawberry, coffee, pistachio, [...]

    4:49 am  May 8th, 2012
  27. Three Ways to Eat Ice | Food & Think

    [...] consistency is somewhere between a drink and a frozen treat. Flavored with fruit or coffee, granita is eaten at breakfast during the summer months, accompanied by a brioche, which the diner can use to sop up the slowly melting [...]

    8:31 am  Jun 19th, 2012
  28. Lina Calleri

    My background is Sicilian. I was born in Toronto, Canada. I speak it since my parents were immigrants here.

    I love Sicily and have been there 3 times. I love to see pictures from there. Where can i view your fotos?

    10:29 am  Aug 2nd, 2012
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