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Photographed by Scott Suchman
When it comes to creating recipes for melons, simplicity rules: you really can’t improve on the summer-fresh flavor of a perfectly ripe watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew. The best recipes only suggest additional flavors to complement or help bring out the melons’ natural goodness.
When purchasing melons, look for heavy fruit without soft spots. A good way to test a watermelon’s ripeness is to slap the side of it. It should give a good solid thump— like a stand-up bass. To test a honeydew or cantaloupe’s ripeness, take your fingernail and lightly scratch the melon’s belly button, where its stem was attached. Sniff it, and you should be able to smell the fruity aroma of the melon. The rind should be firm but yield to some pressure and have no soft spots. Cantaloupes have a raised netting on their rind when perfectly ripe. Remember: if it’s smooth you lose.
Bear in mind, the following recipes only work when the melon is perfectly ripe— no amount of seasoning will save the dish. The melon ball soup with lychee syrup is elegant, bright and sweet enough to serve as a dessert but mild enough to be an opening dinner or lunch course on a hot summer day. Asian-inspired pickled watermelon and rind is a perfect snack or side dish with something like five-spice grilled chicken or Asian-seasoned spareribs. The honeydew melon wrapped in Parma ham is a classic play on the contrast of sweet and salty. I pair it with a mozzarella cheese called Burrata, which has a soft creamy center— it’s unbelievably delicious just drizzled with olive oil, cracked pepper and a pinch of kosher salt. You can serve this dish either as an hors d’oeuvre or as an after-dinner treat.
One of my favorite preparations is to serve melon with an aged port wine, a pairing I was introduced to by an old school French maitre d’ when I worked at The Lodge at Pebble Beach early in my career. It was one of those perfect taste memories that has stayed with me, and remains a classy way to end a summer meal. In my recipe, I added a crumbly topping for texture and interest.
Try these very easy recipes with locally harvested melons, and watch family and friends bow to your culinary skills while the flavorful melons do all the work for you.