The Joy of Granita

I am fortunate enough to be on the East Coast of Sicily in a little town called Furci Siculo, not far from Taormina. This is the town my partner grew up in; his parents still live here and every summer, their home draws the rest of the family from all directions to share stories, laughs, and time together. Much of this time spent together, as you might imagine, is at the table.

Sicily is known for its food: for fresh tomatoes and basil and eggplants, fish caught that morning, fruit just-picked. Some of the foods I’ve had here simply cannot be found anywhere else. One such food is the granita, a semi-frozen “dessert” made from fruit (or coffee or pistachio or almond), sugar, and water. In the summer, especially, granita is often eaten for breakfast and is either served alone or topped with panna (a sort of sweetened whipped cream) and with a side of brioche.

The thing I find fascinating about the granita is how everyone seems to have a different approach to eating it. Some use a spoon to mix together the panna and the granita to create a creamy consistency; others keep the panna and the granita separate and dip the spoon vertically to capture the perfect bite each time. Some dip just the tip of the brioche into the granita, while others tear off a piece of brioche and submerge it completely so that they can spoon out the granita-soaked morsel. My strategy is to tear off pieces of brioche and use them to deliver perfect peaks of panna, until I run out of brioche. Then I mix together any remaining panna and granita and slurp it to within an inch of its life.

One thing that all people seem to have in common when it comes to the granita, however, is the sheer joy in eating it. The granita is all about joy.

Tucking into one of these miraculous granitas the other day, I was also struck by the fact that it is the perfect union of all that we consider nutritionally unholy in the US: sugar, saturated fat, and gluten gluten gluten.

Not that we avoid these things, but when we eat them, it is usually with a sense of guilt, anxiety, and even shame. And as a result, we miss out on something. We don’t experience the same sense of joy and therefore satisfaction. We may even find ourselves eating more than we need in an attempt to chase the sensation we are after, that sense of joy we might remember from childhood, or a time before food became threatening and potentially dangerous.

I am not suggesting we all make a habit out of combining the trifecta of sugar, saturated fat, and gluten for our daily breakfasts. But when we do eat, might we choose foods that we love, foods that nourish our hearts and minds as well as our bodies, foods that make us feel good and give us that satisfying sense of JOY?