A grown-up dessert. How refreshing. That’s what Adán Medrano offers in this frosty raspa or sorbet, which mingles sweet watermelon with pleasantly bitter Campari. The San Antonio native includes the recipe in his “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes” (Texas Tech University Press, $29.95). Here’s the story of this treat:
This refreshing dessert is … an example of cooks constantly remaining current by carefully observing and relating to their local context. It has only (a few) ingredients and correct ratio/blending is the feat.
Although not native to the region, the sandia has become a Texas Mexican staple, as any Mexican American family will tell you. Watermelon (sandia) and Mexican lime are a natural blend in agua fresca, of course, but the addition of Italian Campari may give you pause. Fear not, for it harmonizes beautifully. How did I get the idea? By looking at our Texas cactus.
Italy’s Campari was already connected to Mexico and our Texas Mexican region because when it was first invented, and until 2006, its color used to come from the crushed cochineal beetle that lives in the nopal cactus of Texas and Mexico. The little insects are in those white powdery specks that you see on cactus paddles.
Our ancestors, the Texas Native Americans, had discovered and widely used the beautiful radiant red color. Until recently Starbucks used it to produce the hue in its strawberry frappucino.
The right proportions and blending make this a truly complex bitter-tart-sweet, grown-up dessert. Glazed spearmint adds contrast both in texture and color.
Raspa de Sandia y Campari (Watermelon and Campari Sorbet)
4 cups watermelon cubes
2 1/2 tablespoons Mexican lime juice
1 1/2 fluid ounces simple syrup (Make simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water and heating until fully dissolved. Cool to room temperature.)
3 ounces Campari
12 spearmint leaves
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
In a blender, blend the watermelon, lime juice, syrup and Campari until totally smooth.
Pour the watermelon puree into a 9-inch or larger baking dish and place it in the freezer. After 45 minutes, scrape the sides of the dish and push the frozen crystals to the center of the dish. Thereafter do that every 30 minutes, making sure that fine crystals form evenly with no big chunks. Total time will be about 3 hours.
To glaze the spearmint leaves, heat the sugar, water and corn syrup in a small pan. Heat gradually to the point where if you drop the syrup into a cup of cold water it forms a firm ball. The syrup temperature at this stage is 245 degrees. Remove from heat. After the syrup cools down, dip the mint leaves, shake off excess, and place them on a platter until you are ready to garnish. (I learned this candying technique from my mother because she was always making red candied apples on Sundays to help raise money for our Catholic parish church. The candy glaze was beautifully red, glass-like and delicious. Keep this glaze recipe for other uses.)
When ready to serve, scoop into sorbet dishes and garnish with the glazed spearmint. The spearmint adds a wonderful finishing taste to the sorbet. In Spanish we call it yerba buena, the good herb.
Makes 4 servings.
From “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes” by Adán Medrano