Cold summer sweets. Cool down with granita, semifreddo and sorbetto
Italians have enjoyed the lazy, hazy days of summer with cool and refreshing treats that are a welcome tradition from the heat. During the summer months, enjoying a gelato is the thing to do in Italy. Gelato shops (gelaterie) stay open until 1 a.m. or even later.
Granita is a classic dessert. This slushy water ice dolce is refreshing and light. It's often served as a palate cleanser between courses or as a complement to a main dish or refreshment at any time. Classic Italian granita is something that needs to be made by hand, which is why you won't find it at your local ice cream shop. It uses the actual fruit or other ingredients in highly concentrated form. And then there's the matter of texture. The ice in granita must be "raked," which means it has to be partially frozen, raked with a fork and then frozen some more and re-raked to get the ideal form.
In Italy, coffee granita is one of the most popular flavours around. It's essentially sweetened coffee frozen into thin flakes of ice. It's often served in tall glasses filled halfway with granita and topped with whipped cream. Granita di limone (lemon ice) is the other standard flavour.
Semifreddo (half cold) is created from the same base as gelato (generally whole milk, eggs, sugar and natural flavouring) but includes whipped cream and resembles a mousse. The definition can also extend to mean any half cold or partially frozen dessert, which includes cakes and custards.
Fruit sorbet (sorbetto) is a fruit-flavoured frozen dessert that is very similar to granita but sorbetto is prepared in an ice cream or sorbet machine, which gives the dessert a smooth, almost creamy texture. It is often served in Italy at the finale of a meal. During the Arab invasion of Sicily, the Arabs brought the sizzling island a gift in the form of sarbat, which later become known as sorbetto. In the 1500s it was regularly served in Catherine de Medici's Florentine court. In 1533, she wed the King of France and introduced the dessert to the country.
Then of course there's gelato, which means "ice cream" in Italian, but there's a great divide between North American ice cream and the Italian version. Gelato is generally made from whole milk, eggs, sugar and natural flavouring. Gelato is also lower in fat than the version you buy in your grocery store. Depending on the flavour, gelato has about 1 - 6 per cent fat, while North American ice cream has about 10 - 18 per cent. It also has less air content than North American ice cream, and it's made at a higher temperature, making it softer and smoother. Gelato recipes usually require milk rather than cream and often use egg yolks to create a creamier texture.