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Last summer, I was in New York, spending reckless amounts of money at the Union Square Greenmarket and coming home laden with plums and pears. I’d let them ripen, watching them impatiently as they sat on my kitchen counter and then, at that perfect moment of about-to-burst ripeness, I’d stick them in the fridge briefly. Then I would eat them, leaning over the kitchen sink, sinking my teeth into that luscious skin and feeling the skin burst, tasting the cold, sweet juice in my mouth and on my chin. There was no way to eat them elegantly. If there was, I didn’t care.

I mourned the end of summer before it came. How could I hold on to those bright colors, those intense, heady flavors? And then, an idea, sheer genius: granitas!

My first two granitas were Pear, pure, intense and fragrant, and Plum+Mint, a sexy dance between the rich, dark fruit and the bright, light herb. I needed little more than a blender, a saucepan, a plastic container and a freezer for really good results, and I was hooked. In the last week alone, I have made:

~ Plum + Thyme
~ Saffron + Cardamom
~ Pear + Crystallized Ginger
~ Lemon + Mint + Basil
~ Lavender + Honey

You can serve granitas as dessert, by themselves or accompanying something like a tart or a cookie. You can serve them in small quantities as palate-cleansers or inter-mezzos, between courses. You could even serve something like a roasted red pepper granita over a baby greens for a salad! Why not?

The important thing is to experiment and document. Try crazy flavors. You never know. Just keep track of what you do so you can avoid repeating mistakes, and so you can tweak promising recipes till they’re perfect.

Clockwise from top: Pear+Ginger; Lemon+Mint+Basil; Plum+Thyme

So what’s the technique? Easy. You have to (a) make the base and (b) freeze it to the right consistency.

Step 1: Make the base

Making the base requires little more than deciding on flavors. You can make granitas with one flavor – Pear, or Lemon, or even something savory like Roasted Red Pepper. Or you can pair flavors. Pears go beautifully with ginger. Lemon goes well with mint and basil. Right now, I have a Saffron+Cardamom granita chilling in my freezer. And of course, you can put alcohol into your base – just not too much, because it softens the consistency of the granita.

Sometimes, you need to sweeten the base. Use simple syrup (a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water, heated to a boil). Sometimes you want to soak the ingredients in the simple syrup to infuse the flavors. Sometimes you can just pour it into a blender with fruit and call it good.

Step 2: Freeze it!

It’s the same for any granita base. Pour the base into a shallow, wide container. Stick it in the freezer. Every 30 – 40 minutes, take it out and use a fork to scrape the frozen edges towards the center. Eventually, the whole thing will be a sparkly, icy mass of granita. Stick it into a cup or dessert glass, and eat it! If you’re feeling fancy, you can garnish it, or pour a little liqueur over the top as you serve it.

Recipe for Pear + Crystallized Ginger Granita

Ingredients

Ripe pears, about 3 or 4 (I like Bosc; use anything fragrant)
Ginger, regular or crystallized (to taste; I use about 2T for 4 pears)
Sugar, about a cup
Water, about a cup

Method

  1. Make simple syrup: combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and turn off the heat.
  2. If using regular ginger, peel and mince. Use as much as you like; ginger can be a bit spicy and some people find it very strong. I, personally, adore ginger.
  3. Core the pears. Peel them if you want to–I like bits of peel because it makes the granita seem “real” but for a smoother texture, peel the pears. Cut into quarters.
  4. Put pears and ginger in a blender. Pour in half of the syrup. Blend to a puree. Taste. Adjust–add more syrup for sweetness, more ginger for a kick, or more pears for a, well, “pear-ier” flavor. Keep in mind that the granita will be a tad less sweet frozen.
  5. Pour the base into a shallow container; put in freezer. Every 30 – 40 minutes, use a fork to scrape the frozen top and edges into a sort of snowy, icy pile in the center. Or, if you want to, let it freeze solid and then stick it in a blender; pulse to break it up. This will create a more slushie-like consistency.
  6. Serve in cups, or bowls, or brandy glasses. Garnish with a thin slice of pear, or a mint leaf, or a piece of crystallized ginger.

Questions? Ask in the Comments section and I’ll try to help out!

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