It's been wonderfully warm in the Bay Area the past two weeks and getting a feel for summer in April is an exciting new event for me. I've found myself craving the foods of summer and even though I can get pretty much anything year-round in California, it's best to still try to eat "in season". Rhubarb is one of the first crops of Spring in much of North America and it's out in full force these days. I tire, however, of the typical rhubarb dishes. There is nothing wrong with them and I love that classic pie myself, but this week I was inspired to experiment beyond strawberries and rhubarb. My fabulously light and refreshing result is simple and so awesome it's a new favorite. Meet my "Watermelon-Rhubarb Granita".
I fell in love with granita while traveling in Sicily, and the variations are limited only by your preferences and ideas! It's a perfect treat after an afternoon outdoors, when you come inside feeling the sun has been seeping into your winter skin and you're thirsty and parched but somehow water or juice won't quench the craving. This is perfect and the flavors together are simply incredible! With the naturally sweet and delicate watermelon and the tartness of the rhubarb the granita becomes subtly flavored and softly cool. This recipe is best made using a proper juicer, but if you don't have one you could still do it with a blender. With a blender, you'd probably just want to make sure that you blend the rhubarb and watermelon in alternating portions since the rhubarb is fibrous and you'll want the juice of the watermelon to help make sure your blender doesn't get stuck with rhubarb strands.
Not only were the pairings of watermelon and rhubarb a perfect combination but I really loved my addition of Pernod. This sweet but anise-tasting liquor really hit a great harmonizing note in the dessert. Next time I'll use real fennel juice as well, and skip the liquor to compare results. I didn't use much sugar to sweeten the granita but let the watermelon do that job. I tasted during each step and adjusted the entire time. I suggest you do the same because your result will depend greatly on the ripeness of the fruit. The watermelon I had, in particular, was far from peak ripeness (it's best in July and August) so I know this will only be better with a sweeter watermelon. But then, I also would use more rhubarb to keep the sweet-tart scales evenly balanced. As mine turned out, one didn't dominate the other.
Nevertheless, this is awesome and I wanted to make it available now so that as you have the first days of Summer you can give it a try!
* seedless watermelon is really a misnomer. It does have seeds but they're small, soft and undeveloped. Easily ground or discarded.
2.5 lbs. small fresh seedless watermelon* (1 very small or 1/2 average sized), peeled and cut into chunks
3 large stalks rhubarb, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. Pernod or anise liquor
Maldon Sea Salt to garnish
1. Using a vegetable juicer if possible, or a blender, juice the rhubarb and watermelon. Skim off any bitter light-green froth and discard. Taste as you go along, adding more of either to suit your preference. My ratio was nearly 1:1 and it was perfect for me. It should yield about 4 cups of mixed juice, not much more.
2. In a small saucepan on low heat dissolve the sugar in the water to make a simple syrup. Stir in the Pernod, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
3. Pour the syrup into the juice and stir thoroughly. Pour it all into a freezer-safe 9"x13" pan so that the juice is just a thin layer. Put dish into the freezer.
4. Every 20-30 minutes, reach into the freezer with a regular kitchen fork and scrape or "rake" the granita, creating granules of ice. Let the granita freeze for about 3-4 hours or until slushy but still quite firm, raking at the given intervals.
5. Serve in pretty glasses and garnish with a few flakes of Maldon sea salt. Trust me, this is INCREDIBLE and the final result isn't the same without it. Watermelon and minerally sea salt work extremely well together. Another acceptable substitute is Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt.