Every Tuesday, Italian local Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: One taste of this three-ingredient Sicilian summer pudding and you'll wonder why you haven't been cooking—yes, cooking—watermelon for years.
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It may seem counterintuitive to cook watermelon and make a pudding out of it, but once it's the middle of summer and watermelons are tumbling out of their crates at the markets—and once you've tasted this bright, refreshing Sicilian dessert—you'll wonder why you never tried it before.
There are really only three main ingredients at work here: fresh watermelon juice, cornstarch, and sugar. The result is a slightly wobbly pudding that's quite similar to lemon curd or panna cotta in consistency, but very fresh and delicate (and, not to mention, gluten-free and vegan).
If you want to add more ingredients, the individual puddings can be made all the more exotic with the addition of flavors like cinnamon or jasmine extract (make it by steeping white jasmine flowers in hot water, or simply use bottled essence) and a garnish of either chopped pistachios or dark chocolate. Sometimes even candied pumpkin, a traditional sweetener used in Sicilian pastry making, makes an appearance. And, if you have a lot left over, the mixture can be used to fill pie bases for baking crostata—think a watermelon version of lemon curd tarts.
In Palermo, the capital of Sicily, the pudding is prepared for the mid-July celebrations of Santa Rosalia, the city's patron saint. You'll find it's also the island's preferred dessert for Ferragosto, the main summer holiday celebrated by all Italians on August 15. This dish is a part of summer holidays because it's such a good summery dessert (palate cleansing, light, and refreshing—something that everyone will enjoy on a hot day after a big meal)—or perhaps because it makes good use of the season's ripe, juicy watermelons. Either way, it's superb.