It’s the eve of spring, and I am so ready to kick off these rainboots and flip-flop in the sun! As well as invite edible tokens of warmer days finally come into the kitchen — ramps, fiddleheads, spring onions, asparagus and sweet cherries. But though we’ve turned back the clocks for Daylight Savings, it’s still very much in-between seasons, at the Greenmarket. So instead, I’m stuck rummaging through yesterday’s winter harvest, like (yawn) apples and pears. Seems about time to give them a little warm-weather makeover, to depart from those tarts and pies. Here’s one way I discovered recently: as a refreshing, frosty treat.
A granita may sound like a fancy word for something obscure, but it’s really the lazy cook’s sorbet. It’s crushed, slushed, slurried, partially frozen ice with flavorings often involving fruit. If you’re a fan of shaved ice or sno-cones, this is more or less the same stuff, only you can make your own version with much better syrup and fresh fruit. Skip the high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavor — besides, these are much harder to find ingredients than a couple of good pears.
There’s good pears, and there’s bruised, soft, overripe pears, and the latter is actually better for almost anything you want to do with them besides eating them as is. It’s these pears that were my target at the Greenmarket, a barrel of slightly blemished Bartletts next to the crisp green version. Don’t go overboard and buy ones with deep, squishy craters on their sides, but choose ones that are fragrant, and yellow instead of green. These will have the most flavor, and since we won’t be cooking the pears in this recipe, you’ll want as much sweetness from the get-go. Bonus: these pears are usually sold at discount.
Call it what you will, granita, “Italian ice” or something simpler (my dad always threw overripe fruit with ice and sugar in the blender to make “slush”), but you won’t need any equipment other than a freezer to make it. It’ll take some patience and good timing, as you want to remove your mixture from the freezer every twenty minutes to stir. The resulting texture is grainy, with flaky bits of ice about. But you don’t need to worry about perfecting any texture — stir more frequently to make it smoother, less if you’re caught up doing something else.
I don’t know why, but I added vanilla simple syrup to this batch. Making simple syrup, and having it on hand whenever you want to flavor your iced coffee or whathaveyou is an easy fifteen minute’s chore. Simple syrup is just equal parts water and sugar, heated and stirred in a saucepan until dissolved. I split a vanilla bean and threw it into the mixture to make it vanilla — simple as that.
To retain the flavor of fresh pears, I just pulverized the peeled and cored pieces in a food processor. Cooking the pears down for a bit in a saucepan will increase the intensity of their flavor, of course, but rather than jammy-tasting, this granita is decidedly crisp. Once baby food-friendly, the pears were mixed with the cooled simple syrup, a squeeze of lemon, and chilled together. After following the rest of the directions below (and clearing away some hefty real estate in the freezer to do so), the dessert was ready to serve. Here’s to summertime, and the cooking easy.
Vanilla Pear Granita
(makes about 1 quart, or 6-8 servings)
3 large, very ripe Bartlett pears, peeled and cored
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Split the vanilla bean along its length. Heat the water, sugar and vanilla over medium-low in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until dissolved. Let cool completely. Remove vanilla bean.
Pulse the pears in a food processor a few minutes, scraping down the sides with a spatula occasionally, until smooth. Combine with the cooled simple syrup and lemon juice in an airtight container and chill in a refrigerator about 30 minutes.
Pour mixture into a large casserole or baking dish (9 x 9 or larger) and cover with plastic wrap. Place in freezer. Stir every 20 minutes until mixture is uniformly crumbly (about 3-4 intervals, depending on how cold your freezer is). Serve in individual glasses.
3 large pears (at $3/bag of about 10 from the Greenmarket): $0.90
vanilla bean: $.70
juice of half a lemon: $0.17
Three brownie points: Short of eating pears fresh, having them in frozen concoctions like this is a sweet alternative to heavier desserts, indeed. However, this has a lot of added sugar, which makes it decidedly decadent. You can eat just a scoopful and be sated, though, with its intense flavors.
Five maple leaves: When life gives you pears, make pear granita. This recipe is essentially local, seasonal fruit spruced up with a few foreign flavorings (vanilla, lemon). Surely, you could go without the latter and just have water and sugar suffice.