Basil-lemon granita is probably the ultimate light and easy-to-make dessert. It makes the perfect cooler on a warm day. It is made out of fresh lemon and lime juice mixed with basil- infused simple syrup.
Granita is a childhood summer treat associated with my hometown, Alexandria, Egypt.
Egypt started to receive Italians by the end of 18th century. According to sources, the size of the Italian community gradually increased since then until it reached 55,000 by the beginning of the Second World War. For what is worth, Dalida, the world-famous Italian singer, was born in Cairo and won the title of Miss. Egypt in 1951. Shortly after, she immigrated to France where she embarked on her journey to stardom.
The strong presence of Italians infused Egyptian cuisine with its best flavors. In return, Egyptians cuisine openly embraced la cucina de la mama with its simplicity and freshness. A number of traditional Egyptian dishes (more on this later in the blog) is a sign of a wonderful fusion that took place over centuries of sharing the same land.
Many Italians started to leave Egypt by the end of the Second World War. Given the rivalry with Italy, they felt threatened by the British occupation of Egypt. The number of Italians kept dwindling since the ascension of Nasser to power. Yet, the big expat exodus happened when he vigorously applied his nationalization policy of foreign companies . Unfortunately, many Italians left, yet luckily the granita stayed!
Growing up in cosmopolitan Alexandria, I noticed granita kiosks were all over the place. My parents who were overly sceptical about the hygiene of street food, allowed me to have our granita with not too much give and take. According to them, lemons kill viruses anyway!
A recent trip to Rome evoked many distant memories of a place (Alexandria) that was quite different from what it looks like now!
Coming back from my trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find my basil pot beautifully blossoming and the leaves abundantly growing. I seriously started a thread of basil-infused dishes. Of course, most of them are Italians. Granita was on the top of my to-cook list. Adding a splash of limoncello takes this straightforward and simple dessert to a fun yet sophisticated adult cooler.
Inspired by a childhood memory from my hometown Alexandria, Egypt
1 cup juice of 4 to 5 lemons and 1 lime
Zest of one lemon and one lime
For The Simple Syrup
1 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups of water
Pinch of salt
A strip of lemon rind
5 basil leaves
2 tablespoon of Limoncello (optional)
- Make the simple Syrup. Add one cup of sugar, pinch of salt, and two cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar. Let it simmer for 5 to 7 minutes and turn off the heat. Add the basil and the limoncello to impart their flavors in the syrup. Let it cool completely. When it is room temperature, keep it in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove the basil leaves.
- Chill a nonreactive shallow pan (13×9 inch) in the freezer.
- Add the lemon juice, zest to the cold simple syrup. Mix well and pour it into the shallow chilled dish. Keep it in the freezer for one hour.
- Scrap with a fork every 30 minutes for about two and half hours until the mixture is crystallised.
- Serve it immediately in dessert glasses.
- For a kid friendly version of granita, disregard the addition of limoncello and continue with the recipe as directed.