June 25, 2014

On Turning Four, Granita, and Using up a lot of Watermelon

This wildflower-picking, fun-loving, sweet child is growing up!

He is nearly four years old, so we recently had a birthday party for him. It was neat to see him having so much fun running around with a mob of little friends from various pockets of his young life. Running, literally, seemed to largely be the activity of choice, whether it was running after bubbles, running in and out of the kiddie pool (because it was too cool to actually swim in), running through the sprinkler, or just running laps for the sake of running and laughing. Here are a couple photos that attempt to capture all the movement.
I couldn't mention the party without including a photo of this year's cake, created by my talented sister-- a farm, per Willem's request:
Other than cake, we had lunch that included a lot of watermelon at this party, and then had a lot of watermelon leftover afterward (a big melon and a half plus some that had been sliced. I estimated pretty well on all the other dishes. But apparently not everyone eats this iconic summer fruit in the same quantities that our favorite almost-four-year-old does). Gordie had the bright idea of trying to make something with it to preserve it rather than simply trying to eat record amounts of it in record time before it rotted. 

So I thought of trying a watermelon granita. 

Granita is so pure and refreshing, and I've liked it whenever I've had it. Last winter, I had fun making an Alice Waters recipe for citrus granita with grapefruit, then later with Cara Cara oranges-- both versions we tried as she suggested, served on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream, for a fun texture combination and a creamsicle effect. 

I've also had granita made with coffee. I was excited when I saw this Smitten Kitchen post last summer on granita di caffe con panna, coffee granita with whipped cream, inspired by the coffee granita at the same coffee shop in Rome where we ordered it when we were there a few years ago. The cold, caffeinated cups of it were the perfect pick-me-up on the hot, hot July afternoon we ate it while we sat on a stoop on a narrow street in view of the Pantheon, a stone's throw away. 

Granita is easy and basic (just crushed ice). I'm a big fan of most frozen and/or fruity desserts. It doesn't have to be rich or involve cream. As luck would have it, Willem is on the same page as me on this. He will just as happily accept this icy fruit juice served as dessert as he will something heavier. And it seems like the perfect thing for summer. It's just juiced fruit, usually with a little lemon or lime juice, and a little sugar. So, I looked up quantities I ought to use for a watermelon version and went to it. 

After chunking up the watermelon and blending it with the lime juice and sugar, you pour it into a pan then fork it occasionally over the next few hours as ice crystals form throughout. A fork works fine, but I like the Alice Waters tip of using a pastry blender to do the job, especially when big chunks start to form.
Are you impressed by my available freezer space? Last weekend we dragged the freezer outside, and hosed and thawed the thing out, a fun task we'd been talking about doing for some time. We gained a ridiculous amount of freezer space back as a result, and this picture was taken before we moved most things back into it from the other freezer.
Garnished with some of the first fruits from our strawberry patch
While this made quite a good amount of granita (nearly two full 6-cup containers of it), it only used up the watermelon that had been already sliced for the party. So, I decided to use up most of the remaining watermelon I had sitting around by making it into juice which it seemed, after poking around online for a bit, could be used for several fun summery beverages-- plain watermelon juice, which Willem happily sampled two cups of straight off ("Oh Mommy, I will like you more if you make this juice again"), or watermelon margaritas, or sangria... So I chopped and blended the watermelons then strained the puree to get a beautiful red juice. A small pitcherful I put in the fridge; the rest I froze in cubes, which I later dumped into freezer bags, to thaw and use for various delicious beverages as the mood strikes...  

And here's a couple pictures of the delicious pink grapefruit granita I made back in February:
Watermelon Granita

about 8 C watermelon chunks (no rinds)
1/3 C sugar
2 limes, juiced

Put half the watermelon, half the lime juice, and half the sugar in a blender. Blend until smooth, then pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish. Repeat with the other half of ingredients, and pour that in the pan as well.

Freeze for a couple hours, then fork it or use a pastry blender to scrape up the frozen bits and stir it occasionally until the whole pan is granulated ice. Store in a freezer-safe container. It will then stay crystallized in the freezer for as long as you want it. Just scoop out and enjoy. For fun, garnish with strawberries, blueberries, mint, or other summer fruit. 

Grapefruit/Citrus Granita
from Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food II

2 1/2 lbs. red grapefruit or other citrus
1/4 C sugar
tiny pinch of salt
2 T lemon juice (juice from about 1/2 a lemon*)

*We found fresh lemon juice really mattered here. The bottled juice left too strong of a taste in the finished granita. 

Juice the grapefruit for about 2 cups of juice. Pour 1/2 cup of the juice into a saucepan with the sugar and salt. Heat, stirring, until the sugar is just dissolved. Pour into the remaining juice. Stir in lemon juice.**

Pour into a 9 x 13 pan and freeze. Stir every hour or so as it develops ice crystals and becomes slushy. Chop or scrape when solid. Transfer to a container and keep frozen. 

Enjoy by itself or sprinkled over vanilla ice cream for a creamsicle flavor. 

**Alice also suggests as a variation stirring in 1/4 C of Campari at this point before freezing, which I am sure based on my experience with these cocktails, would be delicious and make the granita an even more beautiful color. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Willem getting big. The cakes, as ever, amazing!