Sunday, August 12, 2012

Italian Cream Sodas with Homemade Berry Syrups



One of my first jobs in high school was at a coffee shop, and it was there that I really started to appreciate coffee.  In the summer, though, hot coffee was the last thing I wanted in the morning while I was working (this was before I developed my current morning caffeine addiction...)

A granita machine churned cappuccino granita, basically just a coffee slushy, which tempted me with its cold, creamy, iciness.

Between the granita or simple iced coffee with cream, I was more than satisfied, but then the owner, Pat, introduced me to a drink I'd never tasted before - the Italian soda.




Italian sodas actually originated in the US, not Italy, but may be called Italian sodas because of the association of flavored syrups, in particular the Torani brand of syrups which are so widely used in coffee drinks.  I actually saw a bacon-flavored syrup the other day at World Market, and while it was intriguing, it seemed like more of a novelty than something I'd actually want to taste in my drink.

There's such a wide variety of flavored syrups available, but it's so easy to make homemade simple syrup.  For an unflavored simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water are boiled until the sugar is dissolved.  And for fruit syrups, 1 part water, 1 part sugar and 2 parts berries are boiled then strained, leaving beautiful jewel-colored, fruity syrups.

An Italian soda is nothing more than ice, syrup and club soda, and can be topped off with a little cream to make them even better.  I made two flavored syrups, blackberry and strawberry.  No bacon, though!

As I thought about those days of serving coffee, muffins and bagels, I remembered my favorite way to eat a bagel with my coffee - toasted, then spread with cream cheese and strawberry jam.  The jam and cream cheese would get warm and melty, dripping out of the crispy bagel, and every bite burst with tangy sweetness.  So for a quick lunch with the strawberry soda, I made a grilled cheese sandwich, filled with cream cheese and fresh strawberries, then drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

That sandwich was like heaven on a plate, and almost made me feel 16 again, eating my favorite bagel with an icy cold Italian soda.








Homemade Berry Syrup
printable recipe

  • 1 part water
  • 1 part granulated sugar
  • 2 parts berries

Cook's Note: Although I've only made this with berries, I'm sure it would also work well with other fruits like peaches, mangoes and cherries.  If using fruit with a very high water content like watermelon, I would suggest adding less water.

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Add the berries, return to a boil, then reduce to medium heat.  Boil for 10 minutes.  Reduce to low and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Remove from the heat; pour through a mesh strainer, pressing the fruit with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid.  Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar until chilled and ready to use.

Yields 1 1/2 cups syrup (if using 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 2 cups berries)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen


Italian Cream Sodas
printable recipe
  • ice
  • 1-2 tablespoons syrup
  • club soda
  • splash of cream, half 'n' half or whole milk

Fill a tall glass halfway full of crushed ice.  Pour the syrup over the ice (start with less, then add more to adjust to as sweet as you like).  Add the club soda, filling an inch from the top of the glass.  Add the cream.

Garnish with berries and a tall straw for stirring.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen


Balsamic Strawberry and Cream Cheese Grilled Sandwich
printable recipe
  • 8 slices good bakery bread (I used Rosemary Bread)
  • butter-flavored baking spray
  • 6 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, cold (or Mascarpone)
  • 12 strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used a Strawberry Lemon finishing balsamic)

Preheat a griddle over medium heat.  Place the bread on a large cutting board.  Spray one side of the bread with the butter-flavored baking spray.  Turn bread over and spread all 8 pieces with the cream cheese (the bread I used was firm enough that the cold cream cheese didn't tear it; if your bread is softer, let the cream cheese sit out at room temperature to soften up a little first).  Place strawberries on 4 of the bread slices and top with the other 4 slices of bread.

Place sandwiches on the hot griddle and place a lid or bowl over them to contain the heat.  Grill until golden brown, then carefully flip over and grill until golden on the other side.

Just before serving, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and serve with fresh strawberries.

Yields 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen