Other people’s recipes: Rosetta Costantino’s Gelo di Mellone

For the second installment of this series about Rosetta Costantino’s watermelon pudding tart, today I’m looking at the watermelon-pudding filling, or gelo di mellone. If like me the pudding you grew up with was instant pudding, made in a blender from milk and the contents of a white paper packet of mystery ingredients, the very notion of a “pudding” made from fruit juice rather than milk may be a revelation; certainly I had never heard of such a thing before I bought a copy of Southern Italian Desserts. In the notes to another fruit pudding recipe, Costantino explains (p. 59):

In Sicily, you will find gelo—a chilled pudding thick enough to hold its shape—made using many of the area’s favorite flavors: watermelon, coffee, cinnamon, orange, lemon, and mandarin orange. The puddings are typically thickened with wheat starch, but cornstarch works just as well…. For the most refreshing dessert, the gelo should be only mildly sweet.

Functionally, these are the same as the “old-fashioned” cooked puddings we may have had once or twice as children, but of course made with fruit juice rather than milk. (I don’t know about you, but the only time I ever had a cooked pudding was when camping, because even energetic young Boy Scouts were not capable of generating enough agitation by hand to activate the modified starches in instant pudding.)

Another surprise, for me at least, was just the notion of doing anything with watermelon other than serving it in slices or chunks at a picnic.

Watermelon juice
This recipe starts by making four cups of watermelon juice (or a very thin watermelon purée). Costantino’s instructions are to do it with a blender and a sieve; I took the more old-fashioned route with my hand-cranked food mill — this ensures that no small bits of seed (even “seedless” watermelons have some seeds) make it into the final product. I used the finest plate of my food mill, and then strained the juice again prior to measuring out the four cups required for this recipe. It took about 3½ lb of pre-chunked, rind-off watermelon, although to make things a little bit easier I diced the watermelon chunks before milling. (Costantino’s recipe calls for 4 lb of watermelon, which I suspect must include waste from the rind; it being Memorial Day weekend, I had my pick of prepared watermelon, which was good because the whole watermelons I saw were much too large.)

Mise en place for gelo di mellone
Now the rest of the mise en place for the gelo — it’s about as simple as you can imagine, with nothing more than sugar (100 g), cornstarch (85 g), and a pinch of cinnamon. The sugar is first stirred into the juice until completely dissolved, so the sweetness can be adjusted to taste. When I did the nutrition data for this recipe, I put in 150 g of sugar, but I’m entirely unsure how much I actually used; it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll want that much sugar unless your watermelon is really underripe. (In which case, do something else with it!)

Gelo di mellone, before cooking
After adjusting the sugar content, the starch and cinnamon are whisked in, and the resulting liquid (too thin to call it a “slurry”) is cooked over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the desired consistency is reached.

Gelo di mellone, cooked
When fully cooked, the gelo looks like this. If you’re just making the pudding and not continuing on to the tart, this is the point at which you’d portion the gelo out into eight ramekins or molds, allowing it to cool completely to room temperature before covering and refrigerating for at least six hours. Costantino suggests garnishing with chopped chocolate (simulating watermelon seeds) and chopped pistachio; it can either be served in the ramekin or unmolded onto a plate.


As I mentioned above, the nutrition data below is calculated on the basis of using 150 grams of sugar (50% more than given in the recipe), which is probably more than you will use. For the recipe as written, subtract 6 grams of sugars (and total carbohydrates) and 25 calories per serving.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/8 recipe (about 5 oz)
Servings per recipe: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 149 Calories from fat 0
% Daily Value
Total Fat 0g 0%
 Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 2mg 0%
Potassium 134mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 37g 12%
 Dietary fiber <1g 2%
 Sugars 26g
Proteins <1g 1%
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 16%
Calcium 0%
Iron 0%
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