Restaurateur-turned-produce-broker Andy Ayers is never hesitant to rhapsodize about his experiences with locally grown food. But his first fresh-from-the-farm cantaloupe was, well … a religious experience.
“I’ll never forget the first homegrown cantaloupe I ever ate,” Ayers said. “I was struck dumb like Saul on the road to Damascus.”
With sweet, fragrant cantaloupes and other melons becoming readily available at local farmers markets, Ayers’ epiphany is easy to picture. And we’ll forgive him for being blind to what actually happened to Saul, although anyone who knows Ayers probably can’t imagine him being struck dumb, no matter how heavenly the produce.
Like many fruits, freshly picked melons are frequently at their best unadorned. But they also have several simple affinities:
• Watermelon and balsamic vinegar.
• Cantaloupe or honeydew and salt and pepper.
• Cantaloupe and dates.
• All sweet melons and mint.
You can go a step further by using melons as a foundation for refreshing melon coolers.
Or you can layer flavors around melons. The saltiness of ham and the bite of arugula temper the sweetness of cantaloupe or honeydew in Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon Bites. Chiles, lime and mint make Melon Salsa an excellent complement for shrimp or chicken.
For a more adventurous approach, a variety of cultural influences — African hot peppers, briny capers and all-American watermelon — harmonize in Tomato-Watermelon Salad with Almond Vinaigrette.
If you buy your melons directly from the grower, ask how long they’ll last. Melons picked at the peak of freshness will have the most sweetness, but also the shortest shelf life — often only a day or two. Melons sold in the supermarket are meant to have a longer shelf life, but they’re picked before they’re completely ripe, often at the expense of optimal sweetness.
And even a melon purchased at a farmers market or a roadside stand will sometimes taste a little dull. To remedy this, try Fruit Rescue Glaze, a resuscitation trick from renowned vegetarian-cookbook author Mollie Katzen.
Yield: About 2¼ cups.
Adapted from “The Great Salsa Book,” by Mark Miller (Ten Speed Press, 1994)
¾ cup diced honeydew melon
¾ cup diced cantaloupe
¾ cup diced watermelon
1½ teaspoons minced serrano chile, with seeds
1½ teaspoons minced fresh mint
1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Thoroughly combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
Serve with shrimp or chicken.
Per (¼-cup) serving: 15 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 4g carbohydrate; 3.5g sugar; no fiber; 5mg sodium; 4mg calcium.