A recent road trip to Portland was like shopping in a candy store for me. This is the time of year when Maine farm stands and farmer’s markets are bursting with the harvest; bright orange and yellow squashes, bouquets of delicate, delicious greens and herbs, new potatoes, spicy green onions and leeks, and the last of summer tomatoes and melons. Even though my own garden needs fall tending, who can resist the temptation of so much beautiful food?
A perfectly ripe cantaloupe from Bahner Farm in Belfast, a bunch of arugula and some local goat cheese was the inspiration for the recipe for Savory Melon Salad.
Melons belong to the gourd family, as do squash and pumpkin. There are two broad categories: the muskmelon and the watermelon, of which there are several varieties. These juicy fruits have been cultivated for thousands of years by the Chinese, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. When ripe, most melons are slightly soft at the blossom end and give off a sweet, perfumy odor. Those picked before maturity (like the ones in the supermarket), will never reach their delectably sweet and flavorful potential.
This cantaloupe was an impeccable specimen of ripeness. Fondling the fruit in my hand, I could feel that it was perfectly ready to eat. I could almost taste the sweet, sensuous flavor of the bright orange flesh; a work of art waiting to be transformed.
Savory Melon Salad is very simple and elegant fare, gleaned from the writings of Lynee Rossetto Kasper in her book, “The Italian Country Table.” In this exuberant book, Kasper takes you into farmhouse kitchens and a landscape vibrant with rural life. Simple ingredients, home cooking from the land, a place to linger where life changes slowly, and deeply, personal family meals are her themes.
This savory salad is an unusual departure from the ordinary; lovely to look at, light, and unexpected flavors that depend entirely upon the ripeness of the melon.
Perfect for the start of a festive meal, or as a dessert course, this salad has lots of options for creativity. Have a special fruit vinegar? Try dressing the salad with that and your favorite olive oil.
Ready to sample some of Maine’s artisan cheeses? Serve Savory Melon Salad as part of an imaginative cheese course. Perhaps like me, after the first bite, you’ll declare this better than candy!
SAVORY MELON SALAD
- 1 – 1½ pounds ripe melon
- 2+ cups bunch assertive or baby greens
- 1 tablespoon fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or chives
- Sea salt
- fresh pepper
- 2 ounces fresh Maine goat cheese
- Assemble ingredients and tools.
- Line a serving platter with the greens.
- Slice the melon in half and remove the seeds.
- Using a melon baller, scoop out 1-inch balls from the melon into a medium bowl. You should have about 2 – 3 cups of melon.
- Sprinkle the melon with the sea salt and fresh pepper. Add the olive oil and vinegar to the bowl and gently toss with the melon.
- Spoon the melon onto the greens.
- Sprinkle the chopped scallions over the top of the salad, and then crumble the cheese over the top. If desired, garnish the salad with edible flowers like nasturtiums or pansies.