Icing Up on Salina: All about granita and granita at Bar Alfredo in Salina.
Ancient Greeks and Romans in Sicily chilled their wine and mixed their fruit with snow from Mt. Etna. And Arabs, ruling for 200 years of torrid Sicilian summers, refreshed themselves with sharbat, a snow-cooled blend of sweetened fruit juice and water. Stories abound about who brought the art of making frozen desserts to Italy. Although the agent may have been Nero, Richard the Lionhearted or Marco Polo, I prefer the legend that it was some distracted Sicilian cook who over-iced the sharbat and, making the best of his mistake, became Italy's first granita-maker.
Granita is a mixture of ice, flavoring and sugar. For centuries, nobles in Naples and Sicily marketed snow that was collected from the mountains, compacted into large blocks, wrapped in straw and stored in special caves (called neviere, from the word neve, snow) on drained, stone shelves. Blocks of the snow were transported to the city, sold by nevari "snow vendors" and used to chill drinks and prepare frozen desserts. With the advent of refrigeration, the nevaro profession disappeared.
Bar Alfredo in the town of Lingua on the Aeolian Island of Salina, off the northeast coast of Sicily, makes some of the best granita in Italy. It boasts no sign, but everyone around knows where to go. The Bar Alfredo has one room, containing the granita machine and a case displaying take-out food (a new addition), but all the eating takes place outside, at tables in the piazza.
The granita is served neat in stubby, stemmed glasses. Only the coffee flavor comes topped with whipped cream, but it's better without, because the only cream on Salina is "long-life," not fresh. Varieties are strictly seasonal and contain the finest fruit Alfredo can buy. Almond, peach, watermelon, strawberry, kiwi, lemon, fig and mulberry are among the more memorable flavors, made entirely with fruit, water and sugar.
The basic ingredients can be found almost anywhere in the summertime, so if you can't cool yourself at Bar Alfredo this year, try making Gourmet's Grapefruit and Campari Granita at home.
Bar Alfredo, piazzetta Marina Garibaldi, Lingua, Salina, Aeolian Islands, Sicily, tel. 39-090-984-3050.
June 10, 1996