easy desserts & recipes: lemon sorbet & italian lemon ice
I grew up in New Jersery, a mere 8 miles from my Nonna (grandmother), but as anyone from the metropolitan area understands, 8 miles is a world away. And, a summer evening spent at Nonna’s was indeed a different world. I lived in the suburbs. Nonna lived in a city, in a neighborhood that was primarily populated by Italian immigrants and their families. I loved the brownstone homes, some of them attached, some divided ever so slightly by a narrow alley, but all with their windows open, hoping the evening breeze would blow through the lace curtains.
In the summer most of the Italian families in the neighborhood transformed their small postage stamp backyards into vegetable garden jungles. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, basil, parsley were planted and tended to with care. I can still recall the scent of the garden on a hot, humid evening, crickets chirping, lightening bugs glowing. During those magical twilight hours the adults sat in the yard, on old kitchen chairs, sipping a cool drink of water, discussing, in Italian, the best way to grow tomatoes. The laundry hung from the second floor window on a line tied to the cherry tree that stood like a giant in the middle of the yard. The neighborhood would be abuzz with the sounds of conversations, kids playing and faint music coming from a few houses over. The kids, well we sat on the front stoop, after playing hop scotch on the sidewalk or jumping rope, too hot to do anything more than talk as we savored a lemon ice purchased at Grillo’s.
Grillo’s was a family run lemon ice stand that resided in a small, gray shack of a building on the corner of a street that was a dead end. The building was closed up during the winter, but when it opened it nothing less than a declaration of summer arrival. The Grillo family made lemon ice, pure and simple. It was fresh, homemade and when it was sold out it was out until the next batch was ready. It was heavenly on a hot summer’s night. When we visited Nonna my father first stopped at Grillo’s just 2 blocks away from Nonna’s home and picked up the largest container (or two) of lemon ice. Sitting on Nonna’s front stoop, eating homemade lemon ice from Grillo’s, hearing the sounds of a city summer night…ahhh those were the days.
Here are two recipes: One is for lemon ice and the other is for lemon sorbet. I love them both!
- 12 lemons (I like to use Meyer lemons)
- Lemon zest from 6 lemons, reserve the other 6 lemons for the cups
- 1 cup lemon juice, strained
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 cups water
- Cut off the top 1/3 of the lemons that you are using for the cups. Save the tops for the caps of the cups. Slightly cut the botton to create a flat surface so that the lemons will stand (do not cut deeply)
- Hollow out each lemon, reserve the juice, discard the flesh. Place the cups in the freezer.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water until sugar dissolves. Stir in the lemon zest and bring to a boil. Let boil for a few minutes.
- Add the lemon juice and stir to combine well.
- Remove from heat and let cool before pouring into a bowl in which you can freeze. Let the mixture become semi-frozen. Do not freeze through.
- Place frozen mixture into food processor and and blend until smooth. Spoon mixture into lemon cups and refreeze.
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- Combine 2 cups of the water with the sugar in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer.
- Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Stir in the remaining water and let cool to room temperature.
- Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, place a shallow metal container in the freezer to chill.
- Add the lemon juice, lemon peel, and extract to the chilled sugar mixture; stir until well blended.
- Pour into the chilled metal pan.
- Place the pan in the freezer for 30-60 minutes, or until ice crystals form around the edges.
- Stir the ice crystals into the center of the pan and return to the freezer.
- Repeat every 30 minutes, or until all the liquid is crystallized but not frozen solid.