With its delicate pink colour and fragile ice-shards, this granita's appearance belies its powerful and unusually contrasting flavours. The combination of rhubarb, rosemary and pepper delivers so much more than its more conventional cousin, the strawberry and black pepper sorbet. It is light, feminine and a wee bit romantic, perfect for spring, when tender shoots of rosemary are waxy with their aromatic oils and new season rhubarb is yet to coarsen. The "numbing" effect of Sichuan pepper adds another dimension to the mouthfeel of the granita as well as contributing to its complex range of flavours.
Finding the right balance (sweet, sour, spicy, herby) is very much a matter of personal taste, so make small batches initially; for some, a good pepper hit is the key (you can add some finely ground black peppercorns for even more confrontational spicy notes), while others prefer a sweeter or a more fragrant version. Remember, though, that freezing dulls all flavours, so don't underplay any of the ingredients.
This recipe makes enough for two; you can bulk up the quantities later after fine-tuning the balance of ingredients to suit your palate.
2 sticks rhubarb (approx 500g), removing the tougher, greener ends
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
sugar (approx 200g)
juice of half a lemon
2 tsp finely crushed pink peppercorns
1 tsp finely crushed sichuan peppercorns
(1 tsp finely crushed black peppercorns - optional).
Chop the rhubarb into smallish chunks and place them in a saucepan with the rosemary, sugar and lemon juice. Heat slowly until the rhubarb juices run (don't add water, it's all about intensifying the flavours not diluting them), then increase the heat and simmer until everything is soft.
Remove the rosemary sprigs and blitz the pulp in a blender. Sieve to remove any remaining rhubarb strings or bits of rosemary. Add the peppercorns, stir well and leave to cool.
After three hours, fluff up the reddish ice with a fork until it turns pink. Squash any solid lumps until the texture is light: darker colours are a sign of under-forked ice (subsequent stirrings will increase the lightness of texture). Return the granita to the freezer until you wish to eat.
As it softens quickly, serve at the last minute straight from the freezer.