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Summers in Boise inevitably follow a cycle wherein June is pleasantly warm, July is insufferable with endless strings of 105+ days in a row, and August finally becomes more tolerable as the evenings grow cooler and longer.  But August always gives us one last heat wave before summer can come to a close.  We’re in the midst of that August warm-up right now.

My tomatoes love it.  But me, not so much.

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I’ve always found icy treats to be the only way to cool off on sweltering summer days.  This goes back to my childhood in Hawaii, where my grandma took me to get shaved ice after school once a week.  But when I spent a summer in Pittsburgh a dozen years ago, I fell in love with Italian water ice.  The S.O. and I had “our” Italian ice stand that served the most velvety smooth watermelon ice.  It came in waxy little cups with a wooden tongue depressor to use as a spoon.  Small chunks of watermelon were embedded throughout, like buried jewels.

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Here in the West, though, it’s hard to find Italian water ice.  Fortunately, d.i.y. Italian ice is surprisingly easy to make, and the texture is just right!  You’ll get a fine powder of ice and beads of fruit, suspended in a light, sweet juice.

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I made two varieties.  First, I wanted to replicate my favorite Pittsburgh watermelon ice.  I added Earl Grey tea for an earthiness that helps subdue the sweetness.  The second version I made was a prickly pear ice — our grocery stores are overflowing with gorgeous magenta prickly pear fruit this time of year.  I paired it with a creamy horchata.

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But this recipe is endlessly alterable.  The basic formula is 3 C of ice to 3 C of fruit pulp, with lemon juice and sugar to taste.

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Italian Ice Two Ways

Each makes 8-10 servings | Start at least 8 hours ahead | Adapted from Food 52

For the Prickly Pear + Horchata

  • 5 C water
  • 1 C long-grain rice
  • 3/4 C milk (fat content doesn’t matter)
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 C prickly pear pulp (about 6-8 fruits)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  1. Place 3 C of the water into a blender.  Add rice, and pulse until rice has broken up into a coarse powder.  Pour contents of blender into a large mixing bowl, and add remaining 2 C of water.  Let the rice soak for 2-4 hours.
  2. After rice has soaked and softened, place rice and some of its water back into blender, and pulse until rice is broken up into a very fine crumb.  Return blender contents to mixing bowl, and continue to soak rice 4 hours or overnight.
  3. Strain rice water through a sieve, collecting the water and discarding the rice.  Press rice into sieve with back of spoon to remove as much water as possible.
  4. Add milk and sugar to water, and stir until dissolved.  You now have about 5-6 cups of horchata.  Set 3 C aside to use in the remainder of this recipe.  The rest can be drank chilled after infusing or sprinkling with cinnamon.
  5. Pour your 3 C of horchata into ice cube trays (to make the requisite 3 C of ice for this recipe, you’ll need about 2 standard ice cube trays).  Place trays into freezer, and let the horchata freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  6. Peel prickly pear and roughly chop the fruit.  Pass fruit through a food mill to remove seeds.  Set ~1/3 C of fruit aside, finely crushed/chopped; place the rest in the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender.
  7. Add lemon juice and 2 C of horchata ice cubes into the bowl of the food processor or high-speed blender.  Process on high until chunky.
  8. Add another 1 C of horchata ice cubes, and process on high until mixture is smooth.
  9. Pour mixture into 9″ x 13″ baking tin, mix in the ~1/3 C chopped prickly pear, then place baking tin into freezer.
  10. After 30 minutes, remove from freezer and use a fork to break up the ice.  Place back into freezer another 2 hours before serving.
  11. To serve, you’ll again need to break up the ice into a slushy consistency using a fork.  If the ice is initially too firm, let it thaw for 5 minutes before attempting to break it up.

For the Watermelon + Earl Grey

  • 4 C water
  • 2 Tbsp loose leaf Earl Grey tea
  • 3 C watermelon pulp, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  1. Bring water to boil in large stockpot.  Once it reaches a steady boil, remove from heat and steep tea.
  2. Once tea has steeped, remove tea leaves, and let tea cool to room temperature (or at least lukewarm if you’re impatient).
  3. Pour the tea into ice cube trays (to make the requisite 3 C of ice for this recipe, you’ll need about 2 standard ice cube trays).  Place trays into freezer, and let the tea freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  4. Place 2 + 1/2 C of watermelon, lemon juice, sugar, and 2 C of tea ice cubes into the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender.  Process on high until chunky.
  5. Add remaining 1 C of tea ice cubes, and process on high until mixture is smooth.
  6. Pour mixture into 9″ x 13″ baking tin, mix in remaining 1/2 C of watermelon (finely chopped), then place baking tin into freezer.
  7. After 30 minutes, remove from freezer and use a fork to break up the ice.  Place back into freezer another 2 hours before serving.
  8. To serve, you’ll again need to break up the ice into a slushy consistency using a fork.  If the ice is initially too firm, let it thaw for 5 minutes before attempting to break it up.

Serving and Storage:  Serve immediately.  Ice will keep in the freezer for up to a week, but it will get rock-hard after a few hours.  If ice is too hard, let it thaw for a few minutes before trying to break it up.  Or, pulse in blender or food processor to get the consistency back.

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