Friday, August 22, 2008

My Sicilian Crush

Granita is one of the reasons why I look forward to summer in Sicily. When the night train touched the city of Messina, the conversation amongst the others in the compartment turned to their want of the flavored crushed ice. Eaten for breakfast, it usually served in a tall glass with a sweet brioche on the side. Some people like to put cream in between and on top. It is a cool way to begin a dry sun drenched day on the island.

I wanted to see how granita was made. I asked Nunziatina Galati if I could see how they made theirs. She, her husband and family own and operate Bar Destro, located in Maniace’s main piazza. Their granita is the best in town and one of the best I have ever eaten.

It took a couple of weeks and conversations between her and, my aunt and my cousin until I finally got a sneak peak of the bar’s kitchen. It seems that some bakers in Italy may be protective of their recipes for competitive reasons. I did not get that feeling from Galati. I think she had never come across such a request, especially from an outsider.

I arrived on time at 10 a.m. even though I had returned home from an all night festival at 6 a.m. I do not know how I did it. Sometimes the town of Maniace pulls me back to the person I would like to leave behind.

Before the interview began she offered me granita. I chose my favorite, limone, which unfortunately was not being prepared at the moment. In the kitchen Nino Russo, the pasticcerre (pastry chef), was hand rolling freshly made pasta for the brioche while Galati prepared batches of almond, strawberry and peach for the next day’s sale.

Patting down the dough.

Rolling the top.

Cutting the dough into a circle.

Little tops perfectly placed.

It seemed easy. She scooped out almond paste from a container and hand mixed with water in a basket until the paste completely melted. She tasted the mixture for sweetness and then added the right amount of sugar. “The right amount of sugar,” she learned from Russo. He had been making pastries for thirty years, since he was 15-years-old.

Almond paste made from whole almonds at Bar Destro.

After the sugar was hand mixed and melted in, she poured the liquid into a sieve to capture any remnants of almond skin. The mixture was placed in a steel basket and refrigerated overnight before pouring into the machine that turns the liquid into slush.

Sifting out the almond particles.

Next she prepared fragola. Made using fragoline from the town of Maletto, known for their strawberries, the mini berries are a sweeter and juicier than a strawberry. The mixture was made in the same manner as the almond flavor; however she added a pour of aroma di fragola, strawberry flavoring, before mixing in the berries with water. This is when I discovered the secret.

Fragoline added to water flavored with arome di fragole.

The berry mix.

“We make the almond and strawberry pastes ourselves. We have a machine downstairs which cleans and crushes the almonds. We only add sugar as a natural preservative,” she said.

Whole almonds used to make the paste.

After she finished making their two most popular flavors, she grabbed several peaches. She cleaned, skinned and cut the fruit, grown in Maniace, for the pesca flavor. Sugar was added before she hand crushed the peaches and added water. Does it get any fresher than this?

Just picked peaches.

Stirring the peach mix, making sure the sugar dissolves.

After the mixes were made she recounted stories of her and my mother when they were children. When she and my mother were little the people of the town were closer. Everyone would get together to eat and dance. Also the owner of the restaurant Il Casolare delle Balze, she spoke of how restaurants operated when she was younger.

“Everything was fresh. The restaurants would kill and clean the chickens right before serving, because there was no refrigeration. They would place bottles of soda and drinks in the river to keep cool,” she said.

Judging from my mother’s age, this had to be around the late 1950’s and 1960’s. It is hard to believe that when America was experiencing an economic boom, areas of Sicily did not even have common amenities like electricity and refrigeration.

1 comment:

Stine Eckert said...

Great photo essay. Your photos turned out very well to tell your story in great detail. Thanks for the sneak peak!