Lovely Lisa, the neighborhood queen of zucchini and tomato cultivation, has diversified this season. She’s growing cantaloupes and I think she’s on to something. One plant is bearing enough sweet, juicy orbs to supply an entire block of freeloading friends.
I picked two cantaloupes and let them to ripen for several days in a cardboard box filled with tomatoes, peaches, and other fruit sitting on the kitchen counter. The rind beneath the webbing actually turned a lovely yellow, something I’ve never seen with store-bought melons. I could actually detect the scent of cantaloupe!
Lovely Lisa and her husband Dr. Bill host an annual pool party so the time seemed ripe to showcase her home-grown cantaloupe in my pot-luck dish. I wanted something more exciting than the classic prosciutto and melon (not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
I remembered a Southeast Asian mixed melon salad recipe from Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill fame. It’s a vivid mélange of lime juice, sugar, hot chiles, and mint.
Hmmm, how to Italianize it?
I conceptualized a melone alla moda Calabrese, melon in the style of Calabria, the toe of Italy where lemons and hot chile peppers flourish. Here’s the recipe.
In a large shallow glass baking dish, whisk the grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and at least 1 seeded, minced chile pepper. I used one red and one green from Walter’s pepper patch, but, of course, you need to gauge your eaters tolerance for heat.
Cut the melon in half, remove and discard the seeds and cut each half into thin wedges. Cut off the rind and cut the wedges into thin crosswise slices. You can also cut chunks or scoops balls if you prefer. Toss with the lemon juice mixture.
Grab a handful of fresh basil leaves. Stack the leaves and roll into a tube. Cut crosswise into strips. The basil won’t get bruised and the strips look festive. Toss with the cantaloupe mixture and refrigerate for a couple hours.
Before serving, sample the salad. Add more lemon juice, sugar, chilies or basil to taste.