Menu

A taste of la dolce granita from Sicily

For Sicilian father and son ice-cream artisans Orazio and Dario Condorelli, the semi-frozen granita is not simply a sweet treat, but a local ritual which sets their home island apart from the rest of Italy. Exotic, eastern flavours meet citrus scents and refreshing tropical fruits in a slow blend of creamy confectionery that is unmistakably Sicilian, an ancient tradition which originated with the grating of snow gathered from the mountains and mixed with fragrant syrups. Here, we get the scoop on Sicily’s most famous dessert from a second generation family-run café.

Putting the coastal city of Acireale on the map for visiting and just-down-the-street sweet seekers alike, the Condorellis have been in the ice-cream making business since 1980 and have most recently opened Nevaroli, an award-winning gelateria specialising in handcrafted and seasonal produce. The classic granita flavours of pistachio, coffee, and chocolate are served up all year round, while the summer months bring figs, mulberries, peaches, lemons, strawberries, and cantaloupe to the table. Ever the experimentalists, the Condorellis have also dabbled in novelty combinations like salted peanuts and prickly pears, for those in search of an alternative to the tried-and-tested ingredients. Whatever the time of day or year, granita is best consumed in copious amounts with a slice (or two) of brioche while soaking up the Sicilian sunshine.

What makes the perfect Sicilian granita?

To understand the perfect Sicilian granita, you need to understand the story behind the Sicilian. I am from Acireale, born and raised here. In Acireale, and throughout the whole Catania province, the granita of today is a real ritual and if there is a Sicilian granita, for me there is a granita processing technique that is Acese (from Acireale). The original Sicilian granita is a blend of three ingredients: the first is water, the second is sugar, imported here during the Arab conquest about 1,200 years ago, and finally, the third ingredient is the product that will give the final taste. Given these three ingredients, each province and city in Sicily has its own very personal processing method which differs in quantity in the recipe of the three ingredients mentioned above.

To make a musical comparison, here in Sicily we have three notes for the granita that we play with different traditions. Mixed together, the three ingredients will then be whipped. Freezing is the process by which the liquid mixture, through contact with the cold walls of a machine and subjected to stirring, becomes this quintessentially Sicilian product. To make a good Sicilian granita you need an excellent characterising product, which could be the Avola almond (the traditional nut that is usually served with liquid coffee), the Sicilian pistachio, the Etna mulberry, lemon, strawberry, figs or peaches. But that’s not enough because then the work of the craftsman takes over, the musician who knows how to make the three notes sound.

Where is the best place in Sicily to eat ice-cream with a view?

This is very difficult to answer! Frederick II of Swabia said, “I do not envy God in heaven because I am happy to live in Sicily” – to give you an insight into how many places I could mention. I therefore remain in my hometown Acireale, where you can enjoy a good ice-cream cone while admiring the Ionian Sea and the black lava cliff from the view of Villa Belvedere. The view is about 160 metres above sea level and you can see the seaside village of Santa Maria La Scala and Santa Tecla further down. Sometimes on clear days you can see the promontory of Taormina or the Calabrian mountains in the distance.

Alternatively, I would recommend the Chiazzette path for a stroll surrounded by nature with an ice-cream in hand. Acireale is located on a lava promontory, the Timpa. In the 17th century a characteristic path was built which zigzags through the Mediterranean vegetation of the Timpa which connects Acireale to the sea. You can also admire the Calabrian coast, as if it was just a short swim away, from the I would add from the hilltops of Taormina, Erice, and Punta Faro in Messinia.

What are your must-try local dishes?

One of the advantages of living in Sicily is the great variety of agricultural and livestock products, and that among these some are considered the best in the world for organoleptic quality. With these first quality ingredients as the base and often within an almost zero kilometre radius, there are so many products that would be worth tasting. The cassata, the cannolo, the almond pastes, the royal pasta, the almond granite, panelle from Palermo, and the typical arancino are among the very best local specialities.

Which local markets would you recommend?

There are many markets where you can breathe a bit of “Sicilianity” – the Catania fish market for instance. Then in some periods of the year local fairs are organised where handicraft products linked to the territory are sold. For example, in Zafferana on the slopes of Etna there is the Ottobrata, offered every Sunday in October. Honey, wines, mushrooms are some of the products to taste together with the world famous “Pistacchio di Bronte” available in many varieties (pistachio on its own, pistachio sweet cream, pistachio pesto, sausage with pistachio, arancini with pistachio). In Acireale, artisans who work iron, lava stone or papier-mâché come together for the Jonio Fair – another wonderfully unique reason to visit my city.

When is the best time to visit Sicily?

The best time to visit Sicily is…always! The climate is always mild, the artistic and monumental beauties are always here ready and waiting to welcome all visitors. Etna could make a show at any time with lava fountains that light up the night, even now. If you are looking for a place to admire culture and works of art it is time to come to Sicily, if you are looking for breathtaking landscapes and beaches it is time to come to Sicily, if you are looking for adventure, snow, sea and fire it is time to come to Sicily, if you are looking for contrasts of flavours, voices and cultures, it is time to come to Sicily. And if you are looking for granita it is time to come to Sicily – and in this case, I say it with pride, in Acireale you can always find it, even in the middle of winter.

Start planning your visit with our Sicilian-inspired itinerary, taking you from Taormina and Etna to the undiscovered island of Pantelleria.