A fresh explosion of taste
Thirst-quenching, inviting, and colourful. The grattachecca is the ideal dessert for a refreshing break during the hot summer days spent discovering the beauties of the Eternal City or for an evening stroll, caressed by the characteristic Roman Ponentino.
Few ingredients for a real delicacy: syrups or juices, fresh fruit and, of course, ice, the main element from which this traditional speciality takes its name. Grattachecca derives, in fact, from the action with which the "ghiacciata" (ice) is produced: with a special tool, the ice is scraped off a block, called the "checca" in Roman dialect.
The cold pleasure with thousand-year origins
The grattachecca is an entirely Capitoline rite born in the early 20th century, even if cold drinking has much more ancient roots: already in ancient Rome, the patricians had refined tastes and were greedy for nivatae potiones, a snow-based dessert, with honey and fresh fruit; a sort of ancestor of the sorbet is also described by Pliny the Elder in his Historia Naturalis as "a drink consisting of finely crushed ice and honey with another portion of ice and fruit juice, in order to obtain an iced cream".
The passion for iced preparations was unstoppable: from "the sweet and perfumed water ice" by the poulterer Ruggeri, which bewitched the demanding palates of the 16th-century French court, to the 17th-century iced water by the Sicilian Procopio de' Coltelli.
The snow for the ice was collected in the mountains by the "nevaroli" (the snowmen), then packed in straw and transported on carts that had the right of way. When it arrived at its destination, it was pressed and stored in the special "neviere" - cool rooms, often underground, at low temperatures. Until the 19th century and the spread of modern refrigerators, it was still customary to see the ox carts going in the streets of Rome. Called barrozze, they travelled at night through the "ways of the snow" to deliver the large blocks of ice coming from Monti Lucretili around Tivoli and the Castelli Romani area.
New flavours and ancient crafts
For the Romans, the grattachecca is sacred, even if the uninitiated often associate it with granita (slush). The two products, however, are very different in preparation and tasting. In the granita, the water, juices and sugar are mixed, frozen and then crushed; therefore, every ice crystal contains all the flavour. In the grattachecca, the syrups and juices are added after the ice has been processed: the contrast between sweetness and icy snow crystals, "cracking" under the teeth, enhances the taste directly on the palate.
Over time, timeless flavours, such as almond milk with pieces of coconut, lemon, strawberry, peach, watermelon and melon, overflowing with fresh fruit, have been joined by real gourmet mixes: liquorice, lemon, kiwi and coconut, mango and papaya, green apple, lemon and cinnamon, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.
Even today, the grattachecca is strictly prepared by hand in the historical kiosks of the Rioni Trastevere, Testaccio and Prati, in the lively Ponte Milvio area and Trieste and Trionfale districts. Working as a "grattacheccaro" means to carry out a craft with passion in the name of tradition and Roman typicality, often handed down in the family from generation to generation.
Here is our recipe to make this simple summer delicacy at home, with some care to ensure that it retains its original flavour.
The recipe: grattachecca with seasonal fruit
• Syrup or fruit juice
Before starting the preparation, we suggest you take the ice out of the freezer and leave it at room temperature for a few minutes before starting. Once no longer rock hard, coarsely grate it with the special hand-crank tool or the mixer. Place it in large glasses, add a syrup - mint, barley, black cherry or almond milk, or a fresh fruit juice previously prepared according to your taste, lemon, tamarind, coconut, cedar, orange. Adding some fresh seasonal or dried fruit is optional. Important: To enjoy your grattachecca, don't let it melt so as not it loses its flavour and texture.