The fragrant French breakfast melons at the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market caught Crossroads reader Elizabeth’s eye. She wrote Fresh From the Farm, and inquired about non-traditional melon recipes – ones that treat melon as a vegetable or incorporate it into a main dish. I remember having had balls of honeydew melon incorporated in a stir-fry dish in Chinatown some years ago, but was unable to locate a recipe. But celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsey and Mark Bittman have used melon in unconventional ways: a sandwich ingredient, a main dish grilled skewers ingredient, and mixed with feta cheese in main dish salads.
The French breakfast melon Elizabeth found at our market is a modern cross between the familiar cantaloupe and the European favorite, the Charentais melon. If you’re in an experimental mood, you can also find Asian sweet desert melons for sale at the market. The ones I’ve purchased have reminded me of honeydew and Canary melons, with a subtle and sweet taste.
It is rare to find a recipe calling for cooked sweet melon. Asian food fans are familiar with winter melon and bitter melon. Both have firmer flesh which stands up to heat better than summer muskmelons. But if you read below you’ll see that at least one chef has discovered how to heat watermelon and retain its shape.
Minted melon, feta and fennel salad
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and tough outer leaves removed
1 French breakfast melon or Charentais (can substitute small honeydew or regular cantaloupe)
4 ounces green-leafed lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
8 ounces feta cheese
2 T white wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon (can substitute regular lemon juice)
1/3 c. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2-4 T. finely shredded fresh mint leaves
mint sprigs to garnish
Trim the fennel bulbs and remove the tough outer leaves. Slice them thinly with a sharp knife or mandolin. Place them in a bowl of cold water.
Whisk together the white wine vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Shred the fresh mint leaves and set aside. I’ve given an estimate for the amount of shredded mint A handful of whole leaves before they are shredded is sufficient.
Rinse the melon and cut it in half. Remove the seeds and membrane. Cut each half in two lengthwise, and then cut each piece into halves, thirds or quarters, depending upon the size of the melon. You’ll want to end up with pieces which are not too wide. Remove the rind from the melon wedges, and cut the wedges crosswise into _ inch wedges.
Drain the fennel. Pat it dry with a paper towel before placing it into a salad bowl. Add lettuce leaves and melon pieces. Crumble the feta over the salad. Add the shredded mint leaves to the dressing, stir well, and pour over salad. Toss well. Garnish with mint sprigs.
Prosciutto, melon and mozzarella focaccia sandwiches
4 large pieces of focaccia
1/4 cantaloupe or French breakfast melon, thinly sliced
fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced
6-8 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
optional: olive oil, pinch of salt.
Split the focaccia. Assemble the sandwiches by layering the ingredients in the following order: bottom of focaccia, sliced melon, sliced mozzarella, prosciutto, several basil leaves, top of focaccia. I find the prosciutto is salty enough, but some people might want to sprinkle a pinch of salt over the melon slices to bring out their sweetness. You can serve the sandwiches with a bottle of extra virgin olive oil on the side; some people enjoy their focaccia with a little drizzle of olive oil.
The two cantaloupe/French breakfast melon recipes are adopted from Gordon Ramsey’s Fast Food.
Chef Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express introduced me to uses for watermelon I had never imagined. I adopted his recipe for watermelon and feta salad and brought it with me to last Thursday’s Culver City Sunset Concerts. One of my friends was very skeptical about the entire concept, but ended up giving two thumbs up.
Watermelon and Feta Salad
(serves 4 as main dish or 8 as side salad)
1 large, round seedless watermelon, scooped into balls or cubes (about 5-6 cups)
four ounces feta cheese, crumbled
8 small or 6 large radishes, sliced
1 Japanese cucumber, sliced (if you are substituting a regular cucumber, cut it into quarters lengthwise and peel and seed it before slicing)
2 T. chopped fresh chives
1 T. olive oil
1/8 t. salt
1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped or sliced into wedges
Combine watermelon, feta cheese, sliced radishes, sliced cucumbers, and chopped chives in bowl. This salad makes a stunning presentation if the watermelon-cheese mixture is served on individual plates over lettuce wedges. However, I chopped the lettuce for our picnic dinner. It’s good either way. If you are going to mix chopped lettuce into the salad, do so here. Half a head of lettuce should be enough. Wisk 1/8 t. salt into 1 T. olive oil and drizzle it over the watermelon-cheese mixture. A pinch or so of salt will help bring out the sweetness of the watermelon, but if you are watching your salt intake you can omit it. If you are serving the salad over lettuce wedges, cut the iceberg head into as many wedges as you have diners. Place a wedge on each plate, and spoon the watermelon-cheese mixture, along with its juices, onto each wedge.
Grilled Watermelon and Shrimp Skewers
The amounts given below are for one serving. You can double, triple, etc. the amounts for the number of people you are serving.
6 large or jumbo fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 cubes of watermelon cut into pieces the size of the shrimp
If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water first. The skewers can be cooked over gas or charcoal grills. If using charcoal, light the charcoal and then start preparing the ingredients while the coals get ready. Starting with a chunk of watermelon, alternate watermelon and shrimp on the skewer. I prefer to make two skewers with 4 pieces of watermelon and 3 shrimp skewered lengthwise, but whether you use one or two skewers is optional. Brush each skewer with olive oil and sprinkle with ground ginger, curry powder, salt and pepper. Grill until shrimp is opaque, turning as necessary. Serve with a tablespoon or so of chopped scallions, a tablespoon or more of shredded coconut, and lime wedges so your guests can customize the skewers to their own taste. (Adopted from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.)
The Culver City Farmers Market is held each Tuesday from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Boulevards.
Katie Malich would love to find a recipe for the stir-fry with honeydew she enjoyed years ago. Honeydews have not been seen at the market this summer; come into season later than cantaloupe. Who knows, when they are available, maybe she’ll buy one and experiment.