Turn Your Watermelon into Pudding with Only 3 Ingredients

September  4, 2017

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. 

Watermelon Pudding (Gelo d'Anguria)

Serves 6 to 8

4 cups (1 liter) watermelon juice
2/3 cup (100 grams) cornstarch (cornflour)
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
Optional flavors: jasmine extract or ground cinnamon
Optional garnishes: chopped dark chocolate or chopped unsalted pistachios

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.


This article was originally published in 2015.

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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


stgeorgeschapel August 5, 2016
I was stunned at the aside, "not to mention, gluten-free and vegan," as if those who read this column are assumed to be dimwitted. (I doubt those who don't know what gluten means, are even reading YOUR recipes.)

Also, there is a difference between doing things because you can, and doing things that make sense. Currently, we cook out of necessity to have the quality of meals we desire. My spouse’s father was sous chef at a world famous hotel; we are familiar with excellently prepared food. However, we also share a theory that some things don't need to be improved upon, such as: lobster, tree ripened peaches, tree ripened pears, blueberries, raspberries , filet mignon, homemade ice cream, and WATERMELON.

The notion of making "pudding" out of watermelon is simply silly. The flavor is SO delicate, and SO refreshing, that it NEEDS no other life. Nothing says "summer" like watermelon. Yes, other backyard favorites are summery; grilled chicken, 7 layer salad, homemade lemonade, potato salad, cucumber salad, taking turns cranking the ice cream churn (and licking the paddle) are all "sounds, smells, and flavors of summer," but watermelon IS summer. It needs no other role, application, or treatment. Your desire to transform watermelon seems bizarre. There are people who don't know how to make a reliable pot roast, a passable corn bread, or a decent apple pie, and who need GOOD AND SIMPLE recipes (with accurate directions) to have an easier time feeding their families, yet you are spending your time deconstructing watermelon.

Simplicity seems to be lesson that has to be learned, generationally. Back in the 70s, there were countless recipes for "plugging" watermelon with instructions to fill them with red or white wine, vodka, gin ‘n tonic, mint leaves, or brandy; the net result was the ruination of many a watermelon. The lesson then was, if you want a drink, mix it in a glass; do not try to be “cute” by disguising it in a watermelon. Why do have to learn those lesson again? DO NOTHING to watermelon, past cooling and sharing. We are all happy children with a slice of watermelon.
Newsmike July 30, 2015
Sarah, I'm not sure that the type of watermelon matters much as long as it is sweet and delicious. The problem with this recipe is that the amount of corn starch and sugar completely obliterate the taste of the watermelon. I am currently developing a recipe that is somewhat similar but made with peaches and after that I would be happy to develop and fix this recipe for you if you so desire. Initially, I think that cutting the corn starch and sugar way back would be the starting place. If the reduced amount of cornstarch is a problem, a small addition of gelatin along with the cornstarch might prove a solution. As to juice vs puree, my instinct is that juice is correct, but that can also be tested.

Newsmike July 27, 2015
Emiko, I am sorry that you were offended by a simple question. There are many examples of cookbook authors/bloggers who are so incredibly prolific that we sometimes find recipes that don't work simply because the author could not possibly had time to cook all 1,000 recipes in their book in the 6 months that it too to write. There is a difference between compiling recipes and developing them. As to your comment "this is the same recipe that Sicilians have been making for ages. The same. They can't all be wrong, can they?" is quite interesting. This assumes that you have gotten the recipe correctly and have given proper instructions for making it. I suppose I could defend any flawed recipe by saying "Hey, lots of folks in Italy eat pasta, can they all be wrong? I know you are new to Italy but I would remind you that there are many who are not. My family started a Pastificio on the via Roma in Gragnano 150 years ago which is still in operation and importing pasta to places such as Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich's, Eataly in New York, Chicago and Rome. So, I would not be so quick to raise the "This is what they do in Italy" argument. All that aside I leave you with two thoughts. I believe that you did indeed test the recipe, however I wonder why you would have gone ahead and published a recipe that tastes like simple syrup. Frankly, were I you, I would rather have readers question whether I actually tested a recipe as opposed to wondering whether I was able to recognize a bad recipe when I tasted one. Secondly, if you were 'offended" by my moderate comments, I suggest you brace yourself for the comments section on Amazon.com when your book publishes.

Welcome to Italy and enjoy your stay.
Sarah J. July 30, 2015
We appreciate constructive comments on Food52. The editors and our trusted contributors like Emiko test our recipes thoroughly, but we can always use your feedback to tweak and adjust! Do you think that the type of watermelon makes a difference? Or that it would help if the watermelon were puréed instead of juiced?
Newsmike July 26, 2015
Emiko, I am posting as the only comment who actually made the recipe so far. I love the idea of this recipe and followed it to the letter. I also made a version that is almost identical to yours on saveur.com with similar results. Problem is that of the 3 ingredients, the watermelon gets completely lost. Once made this dish tastes only of sweetened cornstarch. Perhaps a watermelon granita would be a nice alternative, but this one is most definitely a fail. Have you actually made this?

Emiko July 27, 2015
Hello Mike. I am so very sorry to see this comment, especially that you are questioning whether I have actually made this. Well, yes, I have, several times. One for the photographs, which I took to accompany the recipe and other times to actually test the recipe (in fact the first time I made this it didn't set so I had to retest a new batch). I test every single one of the over 100 recipes I have posted here. I'm no chef but I am a very good home cook, a serious food writer, cookbook author and food blogger and I take pride in being precise with my recipes. I work very, very hard on these recipes for my weekly Regional Italian Food column that you're reading right now (it's about to turn 2 years old!) and I make sure they are first and foremost authentic -- as in, what you would find in Italy. There is, I realise, a problem every now and then in translating recipes from Italian to US kitchens but because I live in Italy and in the US, it's hard for me to know exactly which ingredients aren't going to work the same. I accept full responsibility for this recipe working when I posted it and tested it with my Italian watermelon and my Italian cornstarch. I can tell you, this is the same recipe that Sicilians have been making for ages. The same. They can't all be wrong, can they? I would like to suggest that perhaps it is the fruit or the cornstarch that it is different. But that is just a guess as I have not personally been able to check and compare both. If you click on the recipe you will find that you are not actually the only commenter who has tried this recipe - there is more feedback there and another has had a similar problem to you. If you're looking for a granita recipe I have a lemon granita recipe a few posts back on the column already. If only you knew what work there is behind this recipe, and how offensive it is that you suggest that I haven't made this -- or tested it -- before putting it out there...
Sue July 9, 2015
Emiko - I can't wait to try this recipe! In fact, I'm going to try it this weekend as we are hosting a wine dinner. I'm not sure I have a good idea as to the consistency. I'm thinking of serving it as a side dish with our main meal of steak and grilled corn. Would it be reasonable as a side dish rather than dessert?
Emiko July 12, 2015
The consistency is a little wobblier than jello -- just like lemon curd. I don't think it would be suitable as a side dish -- but what about serving it as a sort of amuse bouche/palate cleanser in between courses? Put them in little glasses (like shot glasses) just as a taster?
Yasmeen July 8, 2015
What's the best/easiest way to extract watermelon juice?
Emiko July 9, 2015
If you have a food mill, this is what they use in Italy, otherwise just blend in a blender or food processor then strain through a fine sieve -- you want to get the smoothest result. A juicer also works, of course!
Stephanie July 7, 2015
@Nikund Haha, good question! It is important to class-up jello shots.

But this does look like a creative way to use watermelon. I never think of cooking it into a dessert!
Niknud July 7, 2015
Oooo, but can I add vodka to it? Like a classy jello-shot?
Emiko July 9, 2015
You probably could, though I'd experiment first, not sure if alcohol will affect the setting of the pudding!
AntoniaJames July 7, 2015
Eccellente! I'm always on the prowl for ways to use up leftover watermelon. Looking forward to trying this, soon! ;o)
Emiko July 9, 2015
Valhalla July 7, 2015
JOY! In May, I stayed at the most amazing b&b in Lecce, where the host (a gorgeous Tuscan who was the Italian Martha Stewart in all the best ways) delivered a daily breakfast of pastries and yogurt--my favorite was the yogurt topped with watermelon jam. I think I can play with the cornstarch amounts to get a more jam-like consistency.
btw, I made the pasta with zucchini last week, and it was fantastic!
Yasmeen July 8, 2015
Hi, I'm thinking of going to Puglia next visit to Italy. Do you have the name of the bed and breakfast in Lecce? Thanks!
Valhalla July 8, 2015
Absolutely--I would stay nowhere else!
Emiko July 9, 2015
Sounds fantastic - I love Lecce. This is used in place of jam for a watermelon tart too!
Caroline L. July 7, 2015
this is fascinating and wonderful. i am so excited to try it!