Straight Outta Sicily: Shannon's Strawberry and Lemon Granita

Written by Katie Parla on May 17, 2012

This week’s guest post comes from deep in the Italian south where Shannon Stecher, my friend, marathon training pal and former AAR resident is spending some quality time getting close to nature in my ancestral homeland of Sicily. Here’s what’s going down:

“I am writing this blog for Katie Parla because I love food. I was lucky enough to meet her through one of my trinity of lifelines, Erica. When Katie asked me to write about my time working at a cooking school in Sicily, I took her up on the offer.

I am currently working at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, which is located in a sublime landscape, an hour and a half south of Palermo, just a few kilometers from the hill town village of Vallelunga. Ok, here are the coordinates if you want them: (37.705322,13.850243).

Fields of green blanket the countryside in the spring. Indigo blue stars of borage with their furry, prickly stems line the roads, competing with thyme, oregano, fennel, to burst through cracks in the asphalt; red swaths of sulla find a home in seemingly random locations among the vineyards; and yellow daisies pop open every morning with the sun. And then. There is the food. Any person with active taste buds will rave about food in Sicily- rightly so, because everything grown here is exploding with flavor. There is something magical in the earth here that produces unbelievable nourishment.

I have found myself in this little slice of heaven for a preciously short amount of time, and luckily I am among a swat team of culinary experts. From earth to mouth, whatever stage you need to inquire about as far as food is concerned, no fear, ecco li qua. They’re here.

Back to this story, which is making me hungry: in this entry, Episode I of the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School experience, (I hope to write a couple more while I am here), I am going to introduce Giovanna, Cooking Ninja #1. She has been here for twelve years, cutting, mixing, baking, and creating fantastic gustatory experiences with mother and daughter, Anna and Fabrizia*.

During my time here working with Giovanna, I have witnessed kilos of fennel strewn across the kitchen, awaiting their marriage with sardines to make one of the most explosive unions of flavor (pasta con le sarde) I have had the pleasure of experiencing; artichokes from the garden which have been nurtured by the Sicilian sun, quartered, steamed, awaiting the jars that lucky purchasers will be able to take away with them as souvenirs; and then, the Capolavoro, the experimental masterpiece of this past week, Granita di fragole e limone. That is, Strawberry and Lemon Granita.

I think the reason I am so taken by this granita is that it uses the entire lemon. I like lemons, in dainty, restrained, measured doses. I like paper-thin slices, adding a delicate little piece to a glass of water, sparkling water, or tea. However, this granita is not delicate or precious. You chop up the entire lemon and throw it in. Pith, skin, seeds and all. I hate citrus seeds. They kind of make me gag- don’t you dare leave one in a salad, or a glass of water, or whatever you’re putting in front of me. So, when something makes me double-back on a previously known truth (DO NOT EAT LEMON SEEDS!), I have to reflect.

Disclosure: while I do truly love some purist experiences, such as pistacchio gelato, for the most part I am seeking something with bite. So maybe that is why I like Giovanna’s granita so much- I can use my molars to enjoy it. Everything in the granita is frozen- and gives it substance, something to roll around and experience in your mouth. And again, I love creamy, fluffy, melting gelato; but if you are like a friend of mine who can’t indulge in ice cream because of dairy allergies, then this is the jackpot.

We know the citrus in Sicily is to die for. And yes, the strawberries had something to do with it, too. I also haven’t mentioned the shot of whiskey (well, it even does well without the whiskey- there were two batches! depends on how you’re feeling)…so, without further adieu: here is the recipe.

4 kg chopped whole lemon (you could put in a food processor)
1 litre fresh lemon juice
5 kg sugar
1 kg strawberries + 1 kg sugar
1 shotglass 125 proof whiskey

Use a giant silver mixing bowl to let all the flavors swim together for a couple hours. Throw them all into a gelato maker. Serve and enjoy.

I hope to write a couple more guest blogs for Katie. The next one might be about failure and redemption involving goat’s milk yogurt. But, I know how much she loves accessory/organ meats (you show me another website that mentions stigghiola more times than this one!!!) so an entry about the culinary skills of Fabrizia Lanza, who runs the school, and who has turned me into a fegato (liver) aficionado, could be in line. There is also an unbelievable pastry shop in Vallelunga…it will be hard to decide what to focus on, with so many options.

I started this blog by saying that I love food. Well, I do. But I also love Sicily. So hopefully I can continue this love affair for a bit longer.”

*Anna, whom the school is named after, unfortunately passed away in 2010. However, her daughter, Fabrizia, has passionately carried on the culinary trade that her mother began, and is helping to invigorate the local economy with fantastic people such as Giovanna.

Photo credit: Shannon Stecher

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