“Sometimes people are surprised to hear that I’m a duchess, but I tell them that modern duchesses don’t have time to sit around painting their nails. My husband Duke Gioacchino Tomasi di Lampedusa has inherited the 18th-century palazzo of his adopted father and Italy’s most famed writer, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa—author of ‘Il Gattopardo’ [‘The Leopard’]. We must do all we can to maintain it and to keep his memory alive. The cooking workshops I run here are a part of that.
“I’ve always loved food as a very important cultural aspect of a country. Through food and the cuisine of a country, you understand its history and its culture. It’s exactly what I want to do in my cooking classes.
“I enjoy learning about the history of a dish. For example, this gelo di mellone I am cooking for you today would not exist were it not for the Arabs that came to Sicily over 1,000 years ago. Sicilian cuisine has been heavily influenced by the Arabs, who brought practically half of the ingredients that are now staples of the Sicilian kitchen. Jasmine, which features heavily in this dish, was introduced by the Arabs. Other staples, like almonds and pistachios, also came here with the Arabs.
“Feeding is an expression of love. It’s an Italian thing. Here, it’s important to feed. Did you know, for example, that one of the first symptoms of mental disorder is a bad relationship with food? How you approach food in life can say a lot about your mental state and your personality. Then, of course, there is the inescapable fact that we can’t live without food.”
—Nonna Nico, born in Venice, Italy, 1952, lives in Sicily
- 1 watermelon (5 1/2 to 6 1/2 pounds), flesh deseeded and roughly chopped
- 1 handful jasmine flowers, plus some for decoration (optional)
- 3/4 to 1 cup granulated sugar, depending on the sweetness of the watermelon
- Heaped 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate chips, or shards of finely chopped dark chocolate
Push your chopped watermelon flesh through a fine-mesh sieve or whizz in a blender until smooth and measure out 4 cups of juice. If you have extra, save it, chill it, and serve with mint for a refreshing drink.
Put the juice in a large bowl with the jasmine flowers and let steep for a few hours, then remove and discard the flowers.
Pour the juice into a saucepan, add the sugar to taste, and whisk in the cornstarch. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil and thickens. Time 1 minute and remove from the heat.
Pour into a large glass bowl or individual ramekins (or champagne saucers for glamorous presentation!) and let cool. Refrigerate until set and cold.
Before serving, garnish with chocolate chips (to imitate the watermelon seeds) and jasmine flowers.
Excerpted with recipes and images from “Grand Dishes: Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers of the World,” by Anastasia Miari and Iska Lupton, available now from Unbound. Excerpted with permission of the publisher.