Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MELONS! Who wants some juicy melons?!?!

What with the rocky start to summer and all, it completely slipped my mind: melons are in! And they are sweet!!!! I haven't yet had any watermelons -it so completely slipped my mind, that I did not buy one during our brief heat wave... How ridiculous of me: melons are, like, 90% water, and when chilled are the most effective way to quench your thirst. And if the cantaloupes and the muskmelons are any indication, the watermelons are sure to be juicy, and sticky sweet! No joke, the other day at work, I bit into a slice of cantaloupe that was so sweet that my back teeth hurt!

Melons are close cousins to cucumbers and squashes, which is why cuke-haters like my brother also dislike melons: apparently they taste cucumber-y and the sugar does not mask it. Oh well, their loss! There are so many delightful ways to have melons that it boggles the mind!

Looking at all the young 'ens going back to school makes me think of the very collegiate vodka-watermelon. It's not actually the most tasty recipe, but it was a a good way to ingest way too much alcohol! A more adult version of this concoction is the French "melon et ratafia": Ratafia is a sweet alcohol made from wine... I don't think I've ever seen any outside of France, but it is not all that important. Any sweet, amber-coloured alcohol will do just as well: ice wine, ice cider, amaretto, dark rum or brandy with a little added sugar... Ideally, you will have found cute as a button miniature cantaloupes (cut in half, deseeded, alcohol in the centre, serve with a spoon... dig in!) But any melon of any size will do: basically, you are making an adult melon -only fruit salad. Chop the melon in bite-sized chunks, toss with the beverage of your choice, keep chilled until you are ready to serve. A few chopped mint leaves will add some colour and emphasize freshness.

Melon soup is also a luscious way to cool off in the summer heat, and nothing can be easier. Cut melon into wedges, remove seeds and peel, chop roughly. If you have a blender, place in the jug and blitz away, otherwise you will need to proceed in batches in a food processor. When the soup is nice and smooth, check the flavour and consistency: if it is too thick, you can thin it with white grape or cranberry juice, water, or even a splash of white wine. If your melons were very watery and you feel the need to thicken it, you can put the whole thing in a very fine sieve or in a cheesecloth and let it sit until you've extracted enough liquid. Or you can add a banana to the mix, but it will taste banana-y. Personally, I'd rather have a thin soup... If you are serving as a starter, add a pinch of salt and garnish with thin slices of prosciutto or smoked duck. This soup can also be served as a light dessert, in which case I would use a garnish of any seasonal berries: raspberries, strawberries or redcurrants.

Who can forget the classic Italian appetizer of melons and Parma ham? Sweet and salty: you can't beat that! If you aren't too keen on melons, and are lucky enough to live in a warmer clime, figs are also coming into season (I LOVE figs, unfortunately, really good ones are hard to come by around here, they're never sweet nor ripe enough), and they are also lovely with slivers of prosciutto... Anyone know a veggie alternative to cured hams?

While melons are slow in coming up at this latitude, other cucurbits fare better, even when summer is practically non-existent. Zucchini are everywhere, as are patty-pan squashes and cucumbers. The first winter squashes (spaghetti, butternut, acorn) are also hitting the stands, but these are for eating now: if you want keepers for you pantry, you should wait for the later harvests.

Bon app'!


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