Sicily is famous for its luscious desserts. However, there are some surprisingly light recipes, which are perfect for hot summer days. One of my favourites is a typical Sicilian dessert called “gelo di anguria”, or watermelon pudding. In Palermo it is called “gelo di mellone”, or “gelu di mulini”. Sicilians know how to choose a good ripe watermelon without cutting it open. They use the method called “toccata del culo”, or “touching of the backside”. They slap a watermelon and listen to the sound it makes. Locals have different version of the dessert’s origin. Some of them say the recipe came from the arberesch people, who moved here many centuries ago and started cultivating watermelons. Others say that the dessert was born in the times of Arab rule on the island and that’s why more traditional versions call for cinnamon, jasmine or crushed pistachios.
In Palermo, many pasticcerie sell gelo di mellone in small metal or terracotta forms displayed in refrigirators.
When I make the watermelon pudding, I cut on sugar and instead add a few figs to make it slightly more dense and less wobbly than the ones I have tried in Sicily.
Makes six generous portions
1.5 kg ripe watermelon flesh, pitted and chopped
80 g caster sugar (or 100g if you’d like it a touch sweeter)
2 medium figs, peeled
100 g cornflour
A squeeze of lemon juice
A chunk of dark chocolate
Blend watermelon and figs in a food processor until smooth. Place about 100 g of the pulp, lemon juice, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan, stirring until the cornflour has dissolved. Add remaining watermelon pulp to pan and bring to the boil over medium heat, whisking constantly making sure that no lumps form. Continue to whisk until thick. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature and transfer to ramekins or small serving glass bowls. Chill for 3-4 hours or until set. Serve topped with chocolate flakes, cream, or crushed pistachios.