A dessert from Palermo

When it comes time to prepare the sicilian dessert called gelu I always have two images in mind. The first one is tied to that pot full of pink liquid that begins to change becoming more and more intense and starts to boil. At this point my mother, with the wooden spoon, takes a bit of gelu and pours it into a thick coffee cup, a thermal shock useful to ensure that the density is the right one. Then he removes it from the fire. The same gesture for forty years. I wait it for all year. Perfect.

The second image is that of a watermelon with the cap open, emptied and with the edge carved like a crown, filled with fragrant gelu of a unique rose, with the surface covered with chocolate flakes, pistachios and jasmine flowers. The scene that I have in mind has not been repeted over the years, probably too tiring to realize it. When I remember it, it recalls the magnificence of certain sumptuous lunches, such as the Renaissance ones described in ancient documents, or those immortalized by paintings or literature pages. How much I admired, that day, the watermelon filled with gelu, how proud I was! I will never forget the scent of that precious cup. The author was my mother. A teacher when it comes to sweets, worthy heir of the grandmother.

She makes a pure gelu (as our cousin says, who is a great admirer of it) or as a spoon dessert, o with a crust… and what a crust! A delicious shortcrust, enhanced by the brushing of dark chocolate.

U gelu li muluni: a dessert for celebrating Saint Rosalia

For us it was typical especially of the month of August that coincides with my brother’s birthday. When it was gelu hour we start eating like there’s no tomorrow!

Any woman from Palermo who is pretty good in the kitchen will tell you that her gelu is a masterpiece. And it’s probably true. Each has its own variants, which have been handed down for generations, giving even more value to our tradition.

And, of course, we scrupulously follow the recipe.


  • 1 l of watermelon juice
  • 130 g of granulated sugar (you can add less or more depending on how sweet is the watermelon)
  • 80 g of sifted corn starch
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • ½ pod of vanilla
  • A handful of untreated jasmine flowers
  • Chopped local pistachios
  • Dark chocolate chips


To get watermelon juice you have to remove the seeds and put the pulp in the vegetable mill. It’s a bit boring, sometimes tiring work, but it will be worth it. The watermelon must be sweet and tasty.

Once this is done, soak some jasmine blossom and cinnamon in the juice and store in the fridge for at least one hour (if you like even more, don’t be afraid to overdo it). Then, filter into a saucepan and add the seeds extracted from the vanilla pod, soaked for half an hour.

At this point, dilute the starch. Take a couple of ladles of juice and pour them slowly over the starch, stirring with a fork until creating a batter well smooth, totally free of lumps. Remember that each starch has its characteristics, so if you opt for that of corn or rice the appearance and texture will be different. Add the batter and sugar to the juice, start mixing with a wooden spoon and transfer to the fire over low heat. Never stop stirring. At the beginning you will see that the liquid will be of a “strawberry flower” pink.

Gradually the rose will turn to fuchsia, ruby… an intense and unique color! And the joy of the eyes will go hand in hand with that of the sense of smell that emanates this masterpiece. Of course it will change the texture, it will get thicker and thicker. Let it boil for a few minutes. To find out if it is ready or not, you can test it with the spoon: if it remains veiled and the gelu comes down like a strip, then it is ready. Another trick is what my mom did with the coffee cup, as described above.

Now it is ready. Wait a few minutes, and pour it into the cups or moulds that you have previously prepared moistened with water. Wait until it cools a little bit and store everything in the fridge, after having slightly sunk the stems of the flowers that remain from the gelu, this will give it even more aroma.

You will have to wait half a day before enjoying this dessert. Decorate with chocolate and pistachios, just before serving.

If you have chosen pudding shapes, I recommend you remove it after a day’s rest. Another version also includes pumpkin, to be added when the gelu is still warm.

In general, if it is kept, gelu can be kept in the fridge for 5 days thanks to the concentration of sugars.

Buon appetito in the sign of ancient tradition and family warmth.

Donna Nuzza&Ddia's gelu ri muluni served as a tart