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The summer fruit that plays well with others

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Great news: Melon season is in full swing. The list of melon varieties I encountered during recent visits to the Arcata farmers market and the North Coast Co-op is 16 names long, some lovely, like Swan Lake or Snow Leopard, others intriguing, like Toad Skin. We are fortunate a number of farmers grow melons in Humboldt County.

Let the name or shape entice you to try a variety. When in doubt ask the farmers who have selected, grown and harvested their melons. Neukom Family Farm post labels on their boxes of melons that provide brief descriptions of each variety. For example, the Haogen melon is an "Israeli dessert melon with fragrant, light green flesh. A farm favorite!" (Mine too.) The orange-flesh honeydew, on the other hand, is "Sweet and juicy, perfect for picnics!"

You can certainly choose to trust the stars and pick the one that's winking at you from the box, whether it's a Goddess or a charming Charentais. Once your dream of melon has come true and you get home with a precious purchase or two, what to do? A ripe, sweet, juicy melon can certainly be enjoyed as is (minus rind and seeds).

In Italy, the classic pairing of prosciutto e melone graced many of my family's dinners in the summer, especially in August, when we spent three weeks in my father's village in the countryside north of Rome. Salty prosciutto and sweet melon offer a flavor and texture combination that never grows old. On the other hand, that was the only way we ate melon, which is rather limiting for a fruit that marries well with a variety of other ingredients.

A summer salad of roasted corn and cherry tomatoes originally included cucumber. One day, out of cucumbers, I wondered how it would work with melon — perfectly. Inspired, I continued on the same path, adding melon to other dishes I thought could benefit from it. A mixed green salad with arugula and/or radicchio? Add melon. Fresh fromage blanc? Add melon. Leftover kohlrabi slaw ("Meet Kohlrabi," Aug. 2, 2018)? Add melon.

Melon plays well with other types of fruit for a refreshing breakfast or light dessert — try blueberries or Italian plums — and it does well in fruit salads. And since we are talking about dessert, I am reminding you of the recipe Amy and Jacques Neukom once contributed to a famers' favorite recipe article ("Beautiful Beans," Sept. 15, 2016): "Half a small melon, the seeds scooped out, becomes an edible bowl to fill with ice cream. Cantaloupe and Swan Lake are the varieties of choice."

Roasted Corn, Cherry Tomato, Melon and Avocado Salad

Serves 2-3 as a side dish.

This can easily be doubled since you're already roasting twice the corn needed and using only half an avocado.

Ingredients:

2 fresh ears of corn, still in their husks and with silks attached (otherwise wrap them in foil before roasting)

2 dozen cherry tomatoes (count large ones twice)

½ small melon

½ ripe medium avocado

1 tablespoon mayonnaise, preferably homemade

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon sherry vinegar

3-4 leaves of fresh basil, rolled and cut thinly

Heat the oven to 450 F. Place the corn on a baking sheet leaving a bit of space between the ears and roast for 20 minutes. Let the ears cool briefly, then remove the husks and silks.

Working in a shallow bowl or dish, stand the corn vertically and use a knife to cut the kernels and scrapings from the cob. (Save the empty cobs to make stock or broth.)

Scoop the avocado meat into a salad bowl. Add the mayonnaise and salt, and mash. Add half of the corn and toss. Store the other half in a covered container in the refrigerator for the next batch of the salad.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (in quarters if large) and add them to the bowl.

Scrape the seeds from the melon. If you have a melon baller, cut domes of melon, otherwise cut the melon into wedges, slice away the rind and cut each wedge into bite-sized pieces. Add the melon to the bowl.

Sprinkle the sherry vinegar over the bowl and toss gently. Sprinkle the basil and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve and enjoy.

Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com.

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Simona Carini

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