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Recipe: Nonna’s Granita

Nonna’s Granita

Tour Leader Andrea Garreffa shares one nonna’s (grandma’s) granita recipe

When the heat of summer settles in, Italians reach for a refreshing glass of granita – the way nonna used to make it… literally.

On a recent tour in Sicily, tour leader Andrea Garreffa unearthed a traditional granita recipe from his friend’s grandmother, Vita, who is from Marsala. Granita – pronounced grah-nee-tuh – is a traditional frozen Sicilian dessert, the cool, crunchy cousin of sorbet and Italian ice. Although granita is firmly in the tan grasp of Sicilians, it is thought they were deeply influenced while under Arab rule (circa 1000 A.D.).  According to “The American” (a general interest magazine in Rome) the Arabs were the first to use crushed ice and flavor it with fruit juices or rose water, a la sorbet.

However the icy rule of the almighty “granita siciliana” really began centuries later with help from the nevaroli, or snow-harvesters. Nevaroli were charged with storing and managing snow from Mt. Etna stored in caves and grottoes. During the summer heat, ice was more sumptuous then than a cold drink aboard a luxury yacht now. In antiquity, gourmands added citrus to Mt. Etna ice and the rest, as they say, is history.

Pre-electricity, says Roberta Gangi (Best of Sicily Magazine), humans did the churning work machines do now to produce a top-notch granita. Previously, ice was shaved off large blocks into cold flakes. After sugar and flavoring (usually of fruit or coffee origin) was added, the mixture – then and now – must be constantly and slowly agitated to ensure it doesn’t lose its semi-frozen charm. Citrus – like lemon or orange – and strawberry or other berries are common flavors. Finding gelsi, known also as mulberries, while rare is a traditional delight.

Of course, a visit to Sicily in search of the perfect granita is the preferred way to taste this refreshing treat, but here’s a way to bring a little Sicily home with Vita’s recipe for delectable “granita siciliana”:


Serves 5-6

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup of lemon juice
  • 1-1 1/2 cups white sugar, to taste


1. Heat water in a small pot until warm.

2. Stir until all sugar is dissolved and water is clear.

3. Let water cool, add lemon juice, then put the mixture in the freezer.

4.  After 4-5 hours, stir and let rest for four to five more hours in the freezer before stirring again. At this point your granita is ready to serve, but can also be left in the freezer to be consumed later (thanks to the lemon juice and sugar it won’t become one block of ice).