Prendiamo un caffe’

By Patrizia Cucca

While travelling through Italy our days were defined by mysterious laws or we risked being instantly labeled the tourists. These rituals are set in stone and they are not always easy for outsiders to understand. In fact, they are made deliberately hard to understand, so that the locals can recognize each other at the bar counter. Buongiorno! The morning begins with breakfast consisting of a pastry paired with a delicious, milky coffee. Let me begin sharing with you Il Culto del Caffè;
1. To-go cups are nonexistent in Italy; the coffee experience is to be enjoyed socially and in small doses.
2. Only drink cappuccino, caffe’ latte, latte macchiato or any milky form of coffee in the morning, and never after a meal. Italians cringe at the thought of all that milk hitting a full stomach. If you decide to break this rule at least apologize to the barman.
3. Never say ‘espresso’! This is a technical term in Italian, not an everyday one. Espresso is simply known as, un caffè.
4. Say it loud! It is common to order and drink your coffee first, then pay at the register. Head confidently for the bar, call out your order even if the barista has his back to you and pay afterwards.
5. Do not meech around with coffee! Requesting a Frappuccino in Italy is like asking for a fork in a Chinese restaurant.
There are one or two regional exceptions to this rule that have met with the general coffee blessings. In Naples, you can order un caffè alla nocciola, a frothy espresso with hazelnut cream. In Milan you can impress the locals by asking for un marocchino, a sort of upside-down cappuccino, served in a small glass which is first sprinkled with cocoa powder, then hit with a blob of frothed milk, then spiked with a shot of espresso.
6. Standing room only! In Italy, coffee is typically enjoyed al banco, or at the bar. You should not sit down unless you have a very good reason. Coffee is an essential element of my daily routine. As early as I can remember, waking up every morning to drink latte’s as a school aged child was part of our morning ritual. I still start every morning off with an extra hot caffe latte, while my better half has the complete opposite and sips on cold ones, all day long. As you may have gathered, we really do enjoy a good cup of coffee and although when in Italy our coffee is consumed and downed in one standing. What we really love more, is to enjoy the tasty beverage in our “take away” cups. Making espresso at home is a regular occurrence. I make espresso on the stove top with my Bialetti Moka and I always have refrigerated espresso on hand. One of my favorite desserts is affogato, which translates from Italian as drowned. Quite simply your Gelato is drowned in a single shot of freshly-pulled espresso. It is the ultimate grownup dessert you get the ice cream you’ve loved after dinner since you were three years old and you also get a hit of espresso to keep you up past your bed time. Of course, I am not going to talk about affogato, you already know how to make it now. Instead, I’m going to talk about the cups of granita di espresso that take me back to sizzling summer days in my childhood. If we didn’t have ice cream in the freezer, we had granita di espresso. Granita di Espresso is at the top of my list of things I want to cook, although to call this cooking is a stretch when all you’re going to do is stir some ice around and a little whip cream. In true Italian fashion, why make things complicated if you could keep them simple? There are three ingredients in this dessert, and you may wish to enhance it with vanilla extract or a glug of Kahlua, it truly needs nothing to work its magic.
Granita di Espresso con Panna
Serves 8
2 cups freshly-brewed espresso
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
When the espresso is still hot, stir in the sugar until it is well incorporated. Now chill your espresso in the fridge until it is completely cold. This will speed up the time it takes to freeze. Once cold, pour your espresso into a large, wide baking dish. I recommend using a ceramic or glass one. Place your baking dish in the freezer and freeze for one hour then remove and scrape the espresso mixture with two forks to break up the ice. Return the baking dish to your freezer and freeze until solid, about two to three hours, scraping it again with forks every 30 minutes or so. To serve, whip cream to soft peaks; estimate two tablespoons whipped cream per serving. Place one spoonful in the bottom of a small glass. Scoop granita on top. Top with a much larger tuft of cream and shavings of excellent quality dark chocolate or a sprinkle of crushed amaretto cookies. Now enjoy your granita di espresso with a spoon on a sweltering day.
Buon caffe;!

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