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Oh, my darlin' clementine

Clementine Granita can shake up a brunch or be the perfect ending to a heavy holiday meal. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
Easy-to-peel clementines are juicy and sweet and loaded with vitamin C. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

I caught a glimpse of myself in my rearview mirror the other morning and saw that I was laughing. It wasn't brought on by something I heard on the radio. I was chuckling at my crazy self as I drove 10 miles to the grocery store in town. It was 8 o'clock in the morning and the thermometer at my house read 2 below zero. All I needed: clementines. You see, I wanted to make granita.

I'd been reading about how to make granita, a frozen dessert popular in Italy. In the past, I've made sorbet, a frozen treat with a much smoother texture than granita. I like the look of granita, though, with its crunchy frozen flakes. I knew there would be a time during the holiday party season when guests would appreciate a light, refreshing dessert, offering reprieve from the more traditional heavy and calorie-laden holiday treats.

The time was right for granita on this cold winter day. My husband had come down with a bad sore throat. He needed vitamin C and something that would soothe his throat. Sweet and juicy clementines could do both. He would become the logical taste-tester for Clementine Granita and would determine whether it was worthy of sharing with holiday guests.

When I first started buying easy-to-peel clementines, about 10 years ago, only those grown in Spain were available in the stores. Now, as America has fallen in love with the darling little clementine, farmers in California have started growing this fruit that looks like a miniature orange. Along with the Satsuma and tangerine, clementines are members of the mandarin family. When you are lucky, the clementines you bring home from the store will have a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity and will be brimming with juice, not a seed in sight.

I juiced the clementines by hand, using my citrus juicer. I whisked the orange-colored clementine juice with some quick dissolving superfine sugar, a splash of lemon juice and a little bit of rum.

Taking full advantage of the frigid temperature, I placed the liquid mixture outside on the deck to begin the freezing process. Every 20 minutes or so, I went outside with a fork to pull the crystallized juice from the edges of the pan into the middle. In about 2 hours, I had perfect granita.

Clementine Granita is as light as fresh-fallen snow, with flavor as magical as a snowy night. We discovered it can, indeed, soothe a sore throat. It does a fine job of cleansing the palate. Clementine Granita can shake up a brunch or be the perfect ending to a heavy holiday meal. Make it without the rum and surprise your children with a scoop of Clementine Granita in a juice glass for breakfast.

That very cold early-morning trip to town must have energized me. I came home with 10 pounds of clementines. I'm using the juice to make cookies, marinate chicken, and splash into sparkling punch. My under-the-weather patient is eating them for their vitamin C.

Before the clementine season is over, I'm going to squeeze some juice and freeze it. That way I can make some granita to serve with a spring brunch. And how refreshing some of this granita will be on a hot evening in July.

Such a darling little fruit. Well worth a special trip to the store.

Clementine Granita

2 1/2 cups fresh clementine juice (it will take about 14 clementines)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1 tablespoon rum, optional

Pomegranate seeds, for garnish

In a bowl, combine juices, sugar and rum, if using. Whisk mixture until sugar is dissolved. Taste and add more sugar if needed. Carefully pour into shallow metal pan. A 9-inch round or 9- x 9-inch square metal cake pan works well. Place in freezer. In about 30 minutes, check for ice crystals forming around the edge of the pan. Once the crystals have formed about an inch or two from the edge toward the middle of the pan, gently pull them with a fork into the not-so-frozen liquid in the center. Return to the freezer. Check again in another 20 minutes and repeat the procedure of moving the ice crystals toward the center of the pan with a fork. Continue this process until all the mixture has formed crystals. It could take up to two hours. Once fully crystallized, transfer the granita to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the freezer until ready to use. The granita should keep its granular texture for a few days. After that, it will start to firm up into a block.

Serve the granita in dessert cups, cordial glasses, or cups made of hollowed-out Clementine halves. Garnish with pomegranate seeds for a festive touch.

Tips from the cook

--Place metal pan in freezer to chill while preparing granita mixture.

--Wash clementines before juicing. Cut each clementine in half. Press and squeeze each half of fruit onto a citrus juicer and turn left and right until all the juice and pulp has been squeezed out. Discard pulp and seeds or add to compost container.

--Although clementines look beautiful on the table, they keep best in the refrigerator. Take out a few at a time to top off the fruit bowl so they are at room temperature when you eat them.