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When temperatures climb, an ice-cold Sicilian classic comes to the rescue in Italy

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Now a postcard from Italy. Like many places across the world, this summer is a hot one in Sicily. Luckily for Sicilians, there's a long tradition of hot summers and a cool local treat to help deal with the heat. NPR's Adam Raney brings us this from Granelli in southern Sicily.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

ADAM RANEY, BYLINE: This is the sound of summer in a sleepy beach neighborhood in southern Sicily. The sound means one thing - ice-cold granita, a Sicilian classic that's not quite ice cream or even Italian ice. It's more of a creamy mix between gelato and a gourmet snow cone made with sugar, water and Sicily's stand-out produce - lemons, almonds, sometimes even mulberries. Behind the wheel of this minuscule delivery truck, 23-year-old Vincenzo Nastasi (ph).

VINCENZO NASTASI: (Through interpreter) I really like this job. I have a lot of contact with people. It's great. You make friends.

RANEY: Especially when you bring them relief from the heat. At the sound of the bell on her street, Angelina Gabeli (ph) comes out right away to greet Nastasi.

ANGELINA GABELI: (Speaking Italian).

RANEY: "This heat can kill you," she says, adding, "At least people can cool off with granita."

NASTASI: (Speaking Italian).

GABELI: (Speaking Italian).

RANEY: Gabeli and her husband buy a pint of strawberry granita to try and get ahead of the scorching temperatures, already approaching 90 degrees by mid-morning. Nastasi knows his customers well.

NASTASI: Buongiorno.

RANEY: Like Lena Aquilino (ph).

NASTASI: (Speaking Italian).

RANEY: "The usual?" he asks her. Yes, she says. And for her, that's roasted almond granita on a brioche. That's the way many Sicilians eat this sweet, cold classic for breakfast - served up on a soft, fluffy, sweet roll, sprinkled with sugar on top. Aquilino has been coming here for decades. The rest of the year, she lives in Torino, at the opposite end of Italy's boot in the far north. That's much closer to the Italian Riviera in Liguria. When asked why she travels here instead of spending summers there...

LENA AQUILINO: (Through interpreter) Because the sea is much prettier here. Liguria sucks.

RANEY: She may be joking, but fans of Cinque Terre in Liguria would still disagree. As much as Aquilino clearly loves the place, she says the local government has failed with its upkeep of Granelli.

AQUILINO: (Speaking Italian).

RANEY: She says they need more services like water and trash collection, both cut off in recent years. Garbage is often dumped on nearby streets. Sandwiched between wetlands and the crystal-clear Mediterranean, Granelli may be on the map, but even most Sicilians can't tell you where it is, which is why many who have discovered the place keep coming year after year, despite trash on the streets and half-finished homes dotting the landscape.

GIORGIO LANSAFAME: (Speaking Italian).

RANEY: Giorgio Lansafame (ph) is a bus driver from Catania, Sicily's second-largest city, about an hour away.

LANSAFAME: (Through interpreter) It's paradise here. Flamingos and migrating birds pass through here. I've been coming here for 20 years. It's a spectacular place.

RANEY: The clear and cool seawater is the big draw and the nearly empty beach a rarity in Italy. That's where I met Rossella Dugo (ph). She brought her own kids here every summer and now brings her grandchildren to the same beach.

ROSSELLA DUGO: (Through interpreter) For us, this is the Caribbean. I mean, I've never seen the Caribbean, but this is a really beautiful beach.

RANEY: Back on Nastasi's route, you see a lot of children making memories with their families, like 4-year-old Joelle (ph).

JOELLE: (Speaking Italian).

RANEY: He orders his usual, a strawberry granita with a brioche. He then asks his dad to pick him up and show him the back of the truck. His father tells him how the granita is stored in cold canisters so it won't melt. Populated over the years by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans, Sicily has dealt with heat for millennia, but nothing quite like the heat these days. Nastasi says that's why these traditions are still so important.

NASTASI: (Through interpreter) When people hear the little bell, they immediately get excited for ice cream and granita. Since it's so hot here, something wonderful and cold is what you need.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

RANEY: Adam Raney, NPR News, Granelli, Sicily. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adam Raney