It was too cloudy to go the beach so I decided to make a recipe I'd been wanting to try, an Italian watermelon pudding called Gelo di Melone from Anissa Helou's Mediterranean Street Food.
Step 1 was to find a ripe watermelon. There were none at the Saybrook farmers' market, but there was a perfect one at Walt's Market around the corner. Reportedly Saybrook resident Katharine Hepburn shopped at Walt's. It's the sort of market anyone would be lucky to have nearby, with fresh produce out front, a good-smelling meat counter running the length of the back of the store, and a small stash of Ciao Bella sorbet in the freezer case.
We didn't pick up anything besides the melon because we had reservations at Café Routier for dinner.
Step 2 was to remove the seeds from the melon. A time-consuming task, but not an unpleasant one.
After that the pudding comes together very quickly: Put about a quart of strained watermelon juice (a 5- to 6-pound melon will give you the right amount) in a pan and whisk in 1/3 cup of sugar and 2/3 cup cornstarch. When there are no lumps remaining, turn the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Let it boil, whisking continuously, "for a couple of minutes." (I let it boil for about 4 minutes).
Take the pan off the heat and add some jasmine water (the recipe calls for three tablespoons, to be prepared by soaking jasmine flowers in water for a few hours) or rose water (which is what I had; I used two teaspoons). Don't worry if the pudding looks thin, it will thicken as it cools. You don't want to let it cool in the pan entirely, though, because you need to be able to pour it into eight serving bowls or cups.
I didn't pour the pudding directly into serving bowls because I planned to leave half of it in Connecticut and take the other half home in my little cooler; I poured it into a couple of tupperware-type containers, and headed off to liberate a private beach from Whitey.
1-2-3-4 — mighty clever if you're one of the gin-and-tonic-addled locals.
It wasn't until Tiny Banquet got back to Manhattan and spooned some of the pudding into a dish that I realized what a mistake I'd made: If the pudding isn't poured into its serving dish before it sets, it will never be pretty. I tried to get rid of the lumps with the tiny whisk I usually use for salad dressing, but it only made the pudding lumpy + fluffy.
I used only chopped pistachios.
On Monday night I decided that if the rest of the pudding was to be eaten, it would have to first be made liquid again and poured into serving dishes. I put the remaining pudding into a small saucepan and heated it over a low flame, stirring with a fork every minute or so. Gradually it melted to a semi-liquid state; I took it off the heat before it was completely liquified because I didn't want it to be overcooked. This time I poured it into serving dishes while still hot. Voila! After cooling to room temperature and then spending some time in the refrigerator, the pudding was much more presentable.
The pistachios really complement the delicate flavor of the pudding; I'm not sure how else to describe it other than to say that it tastes summery and pink. Both the watermelon and rose water flavors come through clearly, and the taste and texture are refreshing. It was fun to make and I don't dislike it, but I can't imagine I'll ever have a craving for it in the future.