Cactus Pear Granita


Cactus pears are a popular fruit in Sicily.  These delicious and refreshing succulent fruits are called fichi d’india (Indian fig) or ficurinnia in the dialect.  Next to figs, it’s my second favorite fruit.  Granita is a Sicilian frozen ice dessert similar to sorbet or Italian ice, except the ice crystals are bigger.  Some popular flavors are coffee, jasmine, lemon, almond, and mulberry.  Cactus pear is not a traditional flavor but it’s one that I like to use.  The cactus pear is combined with orange for a winning flavor combination that’s as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate.  It’s a great way to end a summer meal.

Granita di Fichi d’India

Difficulty Rating:  Easy
Makes 6 servings.

4 to 5 large red prickly pears
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of 3 to 4 navel oranges (1 1/4 cups)
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Place the sugar and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan.  Place over medium heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook without stirring for 5 minutes.  Let cool.

Remove the skins of the cactus pears by first slicing about 1/2-inch off each end with a sharp knife.  Using a pair of disposable gloves is advisable so that you don’t get any residual spines in your fingers.  Make a vertical cut along the length of the fruit.  Remove the peel and discard.  Cut the pears into chunks and put several pieces at a time through a potato ricer.  Discard the seeds.  You should have approximately 1 cup of pulp.  Alternatively, you can press the cactus pear pieces through a large sieve of colander to remove the seeds.

Combine the sugar water, cactus pear pulp, orange juice, lemon juice, and zest in a large bowl.  Place into a 9-inch by 13-inch metal pan.  Freeze for about 40 minutes.  Stir frozen particles along the sides and bottom with a fork and return to freezer.  Repeat every 30 minutes until mixture is frozen through, about 4 hours.  Fluff with a fork just before serving.

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