Perhaps due to Italy’s hot summers, Italian cuisine, especially southern Italian cuisine, offers a dazzling variety of frozen desserts. Gelato is probably the most popular type, but then there’s also sorbetto and granita as well. And each type comes in a wide variety of flavors. We’ve covered many of these desserts on Memorie di Angelina at one point or another over the years. But we haven’t yet covered a lesser known but equally delicious frozen dessert, the cremolata.
Often compared to and sometimes confused with granita—more about this in the Notes below—cremolata has a smoother, creamier texture, as its name implies. You make it with fruit pulp blended together with sugar, water and lemon juice to make a kind of pourable “smoothie”, which you then freeze. To achieve its characteristic texture, you shave the frozen mixture little by little, then stir the shavings into a creamy mass. Or, if you’re lazy like me, you can make short work of the process in an ice cream maker set to a soft-serve consistency.
Using this basic recipe, you can make a cremolata with a variety of seasonal fruits. The peach cremolata featured in this post is wonderful at this time of year. But you can also make cremolate with strawberries in the spring, melons at the height of the summer and figs in the late summer and early autumn. And so on…
Cremolata deserves to be better known. It’s as full of flavor and as smooth and creamy as gelato and yet lighter on the tongue. And, of course, since it lacks any dairy, it’s vegan as well. And if you have a blender and ice cream maker at home, it’s really simple to make. Well worth adding to your repertoire.
- 350g (12 oz) yellow or white peaches, peeled
- 350ml (1-1/2 cups) water
- 350g (12 oz) sugar
- Juice of one lemon
For the macerated peach:
- 1 small peach
- Sugar, q.b.
Peel and pit the peach, then slice it into bite-sized chunks or thin wedges, as you prefer. Cover it with sugar and let it macerate at least one hour.
Meanwhile, place the rest of the peaches in a blender along with the sugar, water and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.
Transfer the peach purée to an ice cream maker and freeze until the purée reaches a soft-serve consistency. Just before it’s ready, add in the macerated peach and continue until the peach bits have chilled. Take care that they don’t actually freeze.
Serve right away.
Notes on Cremolata
Cremolata can be found throughout southern Italy. It is perhaps most closely associated with Sicily. But Puglia is also renowned for its exquisite fig cremolata, and this particular recipe appears in Jeanne Caròla Francesconi’s classic, La Cucina Napoletana. She attributes the recipe to a Neapolitan gelatiere, or ice cream maker, named Umberto Bartoli. (Sadly, I haven’t been able to find anything about him online or otherwise.)
Cremolata vs other frozen desserts
Despite its name, you don’t make cremolata with cream or any other dairy. That distinguishes it, along with granita and sorbetto, from gelato. And what then makes cremolata different from granita and sorbetto? The differences can be subtle, but most sources agree that a cremolata has more fruit pulp (never juice). And, as in this recipe, cremolata often has bits of fruit rather than a pure fruit purée. By contrast, you typically make granita with liquids like coffee or lemon or other fruit juice. Like a cremolata, you can make sorbetto with fruit pulp, but less: only 50% as compared with 80% or more for a typical cremolata.
Of course, this cremolata, with its ratio of equal parts fruit, water and sugar by weight, it doesn’t conform perfectly to this typology. And just to confuse things even more, the most famous sorbetto, sorbetto di limone, is made with lemon juice. All of which goes to show how—in striking constrast to classical French cookery—Italian cookery tends to defy clear categorization.
And then there’s technique. You stir granita by hand from time to time while it freezes, which gives it its characteristic grainy texture. In contrast, you shave a cremolata after freezing and stir the shavings together, creating a more finely grained and creamier texture. You typically make sorbetto in a machine rather than mixing it by hand.
This article from Gambero Rosso provides an excellent overview of the history and distinctions. It also discusses yet another frozen dessert we haven’t yet covered on the blog, the grattachecca, Rome’s iconic shaved ice. As a former resident of the Eternal City, it holds a special place in my heart, and I’ll get around to blogging about it one of these days.
Cremolata di pesche
- 350g 12 oz peaches
- 350ml 1-1/2 cups water
- 350g 12 oz granulated sugar
- 1 lemon, juice of
For the macerate fruit
- 1 small peach
- sugar q.b.
- Peel and pit the peach, then slice it into bite-sized chunks or thin wedges, as you prefer. Cover it with sugar and let it macerate at least one hour.
- Meanwhile, place the rest of the peaches in a blender along with the sugar, water and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.
- Transfer the peach purée to an ice cream maker and freeze until the purée reaches a soft-serve consistency. Just before it's ready, add in the macerated peach and continue until the peach bits have chilled. Take care that they don't actually freeze.
- Serve right away