It's officially summer when car windows eagerly start to drop, a sign of our once-again, long-awaited liberation from long sleeves: Elbows inch out over the window rim and say, "Bring on driver's tan!" It's officially summer when strawberries come home in tiny wooden crates. How will you know they're ripe? Red juice will stain the crates and drip down to your elbows; you'll drink as much as you eat, barely biting the tender fruit all the way to their flowered green tails.
Another sign of summer: renewed ambition. Long past winter soups and scraping for roots, now on the breach of four months of agricultural menagerie, we are again excited to play with our food. I get happy; I get giddy; I may even subject my loved ones to a verse of "Wild Horses" as I get high off basil leaf. As blueberries plump up bigger than I can remember, after snubbing lame grocery store buds all year, I start thinking: Oozy, blue-bled pancakes. And when mint starts piquing my senses, I want something with ice. Which brings me to this bunch of lemons that have been sitting in my fridge. When life gives you a bunch of neglected lemons, and it's officially summer, buy fresh mint and make granita.
Somewhere between an ice-pop and a slushy, this elegantly light shaved ice employs your abundance of seasonal fruit, serving as a relief well into the days when that enthused driver's tan meets hazy, in-your-face humidity and you begin to regret the summer. The Italians have served this warm-weather antidote for centuries, varying from a cappuccino substitute for hot mornings (yes, frozen coffee with thick whipped cream), to a liquored up, late-night cool-down. But like most Italians, I've simply decided to use it as a way to use up my crop.
Honey lemon granita
- Lemons, freshly juiced
- Water, 2-3 times the amount of lemon juice, to taste
- Honey, to taste
- Sugar, to taste (or dissolved in warm water to make syrup)
- Whole mint leaves
- Fruit preserves (optional)
- Though it's open to many interpretations, I add a little sugar, a few whole mint leaves, honey and some fruit preserves (I have blackberry) to a shallow Pyrex, filled with one part fresh lemon juice to two, three or more parts water, directly proportional to how awkwardly lemon makes your face squint.
- Swoosh it all around, plastic-wrap it, and set it in the freezer -- but don't forget it! Every half-hour or so, bring it out and take a peek. If it's starting to freeze, even just with a thin layer of ice over the top, take a fork and do some more swooshing. Agitate it; don't let it rest. The idea of granita is to let it freeze gradually into large, mashed-up crystals, rather than being left with an impenetrable block of ice. (Though a thirsty hand and a metal ice cream scooper works just fine if you do happen to forget it.)
- By the end of a three- to four-hour period, or once your juice is good and chunky, it's time for a final scraping and a scooping. Then, take it in your hands (OK, in a bowl) and lap up the tart, sticky crystals and sweet clusters of honey and fresh fruit, letting it all melt and trickle its über-Vitamin C goodness down your throat.
- Some like to top it off with ricotta, cream, more fresh fruit and/or something fizzy (I drizzle more honey), but whatever your preferred fixing -- or crop abundance -- a good scoop of ol' granita will keep you sated and inspired through the hazy days ahead.