26 June 2014

AUNTIE PASTA: The Color of Summer

CHIAVARI, Italy - Here’s a bit of early summer madness I picked up the other day. The word sorbet comes from the Arab word sharbet, which means sweet snow, which in turn comes from the Arabic verb sherber, meaning to sip. This interest in sorbet stems from a super easy recipe I found for lemon sorbet, my favorite, that I'd like to share with you today.

 The Appian Way to Rome

Sorbet, as you probably already know, is made from sugar, water and flavoring. It is easy to make so it is not surprising that it has been around much longer than ice cream. In the 1st century A.D. it’s said that the Roman Emperor Nero positioned his slaves along Rome's Appian Way  and they would pass  buckets of snow hand over hand from the mountains to his banquet hall where it was then mixed with honey and wine. 

That sounds a little farfetched to me as it’s a long way from the mountains to the center of Rome, which is very hot in the summer, and unless they could pass those buckets faster than the speed of sound, it's highly unlikely the snow would have arrived in any condition to be used for anything edible. But they do mention putting snow and ice in storage rooms below ground so that they could use it in the warmer months of the year, so maybe I'm wrong about that. 

Watermelon Granita

The Italians also came up with granita, which is sort of like sorbet but different. The difference is in how it is frozen and in the texture you end up with. In the recipe below it says to stir the sorbet with a hand whisk every 10 minutes or so if you are not using an ice cream machine, in order to avoid ice crystals from forming.  If you want to make granita instead of sorbet, stir the same mixture with a fork in order to get a more coarse texture – which for granita is the desired consistency.

Fluorescent Colored Water Ice

And then there is water ice or Italian ice which is basically the same thing but with a higher water content which results in a texture somewhere between sorbet and granita. If Italians spoke English instead of Italian they would all be called snow cones or shaved ices, which are basically cups of crushed ice topped with a flavored syrup, but since they don’t, every little change, no matter how inconsequential, in the texture of frozen water with added flavoring gets its own name.

 Lemon Sorbet



Serves 8

•    2 lb lemons (1 kilo)

•    2 cups water (1/2 liter)

•    ½ lb sugar (250 grams)

•    2 egg whites (optional)

Prepare a simple syrup with the water, sugar and thinly-sliced lemon peel, taking care to avoid the white part of the peel as it is very bitter.  Boil the water, sugar and lemon peel for 5-6 minutes, then cool completely. Strain the syrup into a bowl, using a thin mesh strainer. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add the strained juice to the simple syrup.

If you have a ice cream maker, add the sorbet base to the machine and run the machine until the sorbet has reached the desired consistency.

If not, put the mixture into a bowl and place it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Then remove the bowl, and use a whisk to break apart the ice crystals. Return to the freezer for 10 minutes and repeat the whisking process every ten minutes to avoid ice crystals forming, until you reach the desired consistency.

If you want a fluffier sorbet, you can add two egg whites, whipped to form stiff peaks, when the mixture begins to solidify. Fold in the egg whites carefully using the whisk from the bottom up.

I don’t know why but lemon sorbet makes me think of long, lazy lunches under leafy chestnut trees somewhere in the hills of Tuscany, sitting around the table, talking about the this and that of daily life, and enjoying a beautiful day in the country. Sigh.

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