It seems like every food blogger I read regularly is writing a post reluctantly celebrating the last edible remnants of summer--one last fat, juicy heirloom tomato here, a tragic ode to lobster over there. We're gobbling up the last of these goodies with careful relish just because we know we won't enjoy them at their succulent best again, until next year. Insert pouty cry here. Me? Well, I had an enormous watermelon in the fridge, that I just knew was ruby red inside and seeping with juice, but was saving it for something special.
It's just not appropriate to say goodbye to our summer loves by preparing them the same old way we've been doing all season. It took a while to think of how to use this mammoth of a melon occupying most of the bottom of my refrigerator. How to celebrate this last bit of summer? And then it came to me.
Watermelon granita just looks like a party. When piled in a chilled glass with an elegant stem, the glittering flakes of sweet, ambrosial ice are immediately ready for their close-up. Light, fruity granitas like this one are delicious as dessert, alone or with delicate crispy cookies, and are lovely as a palate cleanser between courses, if that's how you like to roll.
As far as granita flavors go, you are only limited by your imagination. There are recipes out there made from the sweet and traditional, like fruit and espresso flavors, and the just plain nose-wrinkling wacky, like vegetables and herbs. Whatever the flavor, all granitas contain some sugar, and I find that I like the texture of granitas made with simple syrup (a two to one ratio of sugar to water, boiled until clear) better than just stirring granulated sugar straight into the mix. For fruit flavors that are naturally sweet, like a perfect late summer watermelon, depending on the sweetness of the melon you've got your hands on (now, that sounds fantastically naughty in a summer love kind of way, doesn't it?), the amount of simple syrup may vary. I usually find that 1/2 cup of prepared simple syrup works well in most cases.
I also like to add some alcohol to the granita liquid for two reasons. First, candy is dandy but liquor is quicker, and second, it slows the freezing of the liquid so you get nice, fluffy flakes, not sharp, flat shards. I love to use infused vodkas for this, like a lovely herb-infused vodka I'd been saving for special things, much like the watermelon that inspired this post. As for the amount of alcohol to add, well, you can't get all college with granita. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to alcohol in a granita recipe--it won't freeze well if there's too much in the mix. Sorry.
6 cups of watermelon juice (made from about 4 pounds of ripe, seedless watermelon)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup of your favorite vodka
Start by making the watermelon juice: Remove the rind from a ripe watermelon and cut the fruit into chunks. In batches, puree the watermelon in a blender until smooth and pour the resulting puree through a fine-mesh sieve over a large mixing bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the puree in the sieve and encourage the juice to flow into the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds and repeat the process until you have about 6 cups of watermelon juice in the bowl. Set aside.
Next, make a simple syrup by placing the sugar and water in a small saucepan and boiling it over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear and just beginning to take on a golden cast. Pour the syrup into another container and set aside to cool.
Pour the lime juice and vodka into the watermelon juice and stir to combine. Begin adding the simple syrup, sweetening to taste. Pour the granita mixture equally into two 9x13 baking pans and put in the freezer (or use one big roasting pan if you are lucky enough to have the freezer space). After about an hour, begin breaking up any ice crystals that are forming with a fork, and return the pans to the freezer. Repeat this process of scraping and fluffing the granita every hour until the mixture is completely crystallized, but not frozen solid, about 4-5 hours.
Serve in chilled glasses. Frozen granita keeps well covered in an airtight container in the freezer for at least a month, but I really don't think you'll have any leftovers. Everyone wants just one more taste of summer.