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Gelato and Granita
Now is the time for gelato and granita. There is regular ice cream of course, but even the high-octane super-rich premiums like Ben & Jerry's or Haagen-Daz are meant to be eaten robustly. They are packed into cones, shakes, and sundaes. The bigger the pile, the greater the enjoyment. Or, at least that's the theory. Yet no matter how they are served, this is really American-style ice cream and it isn't meant to be savoured slowly. That is reserved for the European cousins: gelato and granita. They are indulgences meant for small bites. Their deep, rich flavours fill the mouth. They are Italy's gift to a hot summer day.

Gelato is a milk-based product. It uses the same ingredients as ice cream but tends to be creamier, not quite as cold, and richer. For example, compare chocolate ice, even a Baskin-Robbin's "world class chocolate" with a real Italian tartufo, a well-known dessert offered in many Italian restaurants. The best tartufos are intensely flavoured, almost like a frozen chocolate mousse.

Granita, likewise, could be tossed off as Italian sherbet or sorbet; but it is easy to stumble here. Sherbet is technically not the same as sorbet although the terms are often lumped together. A sherbet can contain milk; a sorbet never does. This leads us back to granita.

Good granitas are satiny and smooooth. In essence, they are ices, made from water, sugar and a flavouring. Fruit juices, cold espresso, and even wine can be used.

Both granitas and gelati should have strong, intense flavours. A lemon granita, for example, pairs unbelievably brilliantly with just a drop of very old balsamic vinegar. Nuts and fresh fruit are particularly popular with both kinds of these frozen delights. Torroncino (nugat), hazelnut, chocolate, and sweet liqueurs are common.

Montreal's large Italian community ensures that fresh gelati and granitas are made regularly in small quantities in many parts of the city. Small sports bars and espresso cafés in Little Italy (along Danté or Mozart streets) or in St. Leonard may serve them occasionally during the summer. Look for a sign in the window or ask when you drop in for an espresso.

La Roma, an excellent bakery at 6776 St-Laurent boulevard (phone 514-273-9357) makes great cold desserts. Their pistachio and vanilla gelati are particularly good. Roberto's at 2221 Belanger St. East (phone-514-374-9844), an institution among gelateria lovers, is famous for an almost endless variety of flavours.

© Barry Lazar 2002

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