• Brioche with gelato (Bonacini's Italy)Source: Bonacini's Italy
Sicily's 'ice-cream burger' tradition is a very sweet idea.
Kylie Walker

6 Apr 2020 - 1:26 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2020 - 1:26 PM

“Granita without good brioche, it’s incomplete. And brioche without granita is incomplete!” says Sydney chef Paolo Gatto of Sicily’s breakfast tradition of eating a buttery brioche with a cup of cool sweet granita, or stuffed with balls of creamy gelato.

“It is basically something that we are living on in Sicily, as a breakfast, lunch or after dinner,” says Gatto, who grew in a little town called Calatabiano, near Taormina on the Italian island’s east coast, before moving to Australia in 2007.

Gatto, the chef behind Sydney’s Sud restaurant and Pari Pasticceria, explains there are two traditional ways to embrace this delicious combination.

Gelato with brioche and granita with brioche are like two faces of the same coin, he says.

“If you go in south Italy you can always find a good granita and brioche and a good brioche and gelato, almost everywhere. It is our tradition.

"The granita is best known in two different cities of Sicily, Catania and Messina, and there is a lot of tradition there about who makes the best. They have two different cultures of making granita. Messina, it is a little bit more runny, watery, very sweet, and Catania more a sorbet style, a little thicker.

"The granita is best known in two different cities of Sicily, Catania and Messina, and there is a lot of tradition there about who makes the best."

“But the brioche, you can find a good brioche everywhere. Every city has a little different ingredient that makes the brioche known for the area, for example Messina, they put a little bit of saffron, some places use different flour … Catania, the brioche is a little bit more white, the dough is a little bit firmer.

“And where I come from, we take a little bit of both. Calatabiano is right in the middle, between Catania and Messina, and we have a bit of both influences.”

All of that history comes together in the gelato con brioche and granita con brioche served at Pari (the pasticceria, which takes its name from the first two letters of Gatto’s first name and that of his wife Rita, is currently still operating according to government COVID-19 regulations, selling cakes, gelato, granita and gelato; Sud, too is doing delivery pizzas, pasta and arancini).

Pari's granita is usually served in a glass, with a golden brioche on the side.

“That’s the religious way to serve a granita! It’s very traditional,” says Gatto. “When you get the brioche, the thing that you do, you have to pull the ‘tuppo’, the hat, the ball on top of the brioche, and squeeze it a little bit, and then dip it in  …You get a little bit each time, slowly slowly tasting the flavour.”

Using the top as an edible spoon was an idea that delighted Elise Strachan when Gatto joined her to make traditional Sicilian brioche in the new SBS Show, The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan. “Wow! I’d never thought to do that. I’ve had brioche, I’ve had gelato, but never thought to eat them in that way,” she says. 

As for gelato, Gatto tells us, “the brioche bun is cut in the middle then we scoop it up, one, two, three scoops, then you can eat it like a burger.” It makes sense – granita is an icier, often looser, confection, gelato usually creamier.

Given the proximity of Calabria – the tip of Italy’s boot, sitting right beside Sicily – it’s not surprising that it, too, embraces this combination.

“On summer mornings in coastal towns, Calabrians can sometimes be found eating a brioche ice-cream sandwich for breakfast. And I can’t think of a better way to start the day,” says chef and TV host Michael Bonacini, who shares his own recipe for brioche and gelato ini Bonacini’s Italy. His favourite filling? “Gotta have a little chocolate and a little pistachio.”

Gatto says pistachio is the most popular flavour at Pari, too.

And if you can’t decide what flavour you want, perhaps the answer is a giant brioche, like the one Gatto makes in The Sweet Life. You can stuff a LOT of ice-cream in this creation!

See Paulo Gatto making Sicilian Brioche in episode 2 of The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan at 8:30pm 9 April on SBS Food. Episode one is now available at SBS On Demand. Watch Bonacini's Italy season 2 at 7pm Sundays from 12 April on SBS Food, then on SBS On Demand. 

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