Cantaloupe: Perfection With A Rind

Ah, the melon: A fruit so perfect that author Alexandre Dumas (pere) traded copies of his entire works for a yearly consignment of 12 of them. And since Dumas wrote something like 400 books, this was no trivial offering. (It's not like me trading my entire works.)

More specifically, Dumas traded his works for Cavaillon melons, a close relative of the cantaloupe. In fact, all melons are close relatives, so close that they're the same species: Cucumis melo.

Melons are notoriously promiscuous and will cross-pollinate with anything from gourds to cucumbers. This is one of the reasons there are so many different types of melons, and so many variations within varieties. What we call the cantaloupe is different from its namesake, from Cantalupo, Italy.

But who cares what it's called? "A rose by any other name..." Our cantaloupe (like most other melons) is blissfully low in calories - half of a 5-inch melon has about 95 of them. And for those 95 calories, you get a full day's quota of vitamins A and C, as well as, if you're lucky, The Count of Monte Cristo.

Choose melons that give a little when pressed at the stem end and that have a sweet, musky smell.

  • Pair thinly sliced cantaloupe in a sandwich with a salty meat, such as bacon, or smoked ones, such as chicken or ham. Come on, it's not so weird - just think of it as an update of the classic dish, prosciutto and melon. Add a pungent green, like watercress or arugula.
  • Try making a cold cantaloupe soup with a little coconut milk and some chopped mint. If you're really ambitious, serve it in the hollowed-out melon halves.
  • Soak cantaloupe cubes - or balls, if you have the patience to use one of those little gizmos - in a little Port wine for an hour or two. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
  • Give one of the usual fruit suspects a twist - try a melon sorbet with an herb (rosemary, maybe) or a smoothie with almond extract.

When you get a really good, sweet, fragrant melon, just eat it plain. Traditional accompaniments include ginger, pepper, and salt; I like mine with just a spritz of lime juice.

Cherry Tomato and Melon Salad

2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 honeydew melon
1 cantaloupe
1/4 cup apple or red currant jelly
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
fresh spinach

1. In a 5-quart saucepot over high heat, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Cut a small "x" in the stem end of each cherry tomato. Add tomatoes to boiling water; cook 5 seconds. Drain; cool under running cold water.

2. Using your fingers, remove the skins from the cherry tomatoes. Allow to rest in a colander so any excess liquid drains off.

3. Slice each melon in two and scoop out the seeds. Use a melon baller to scoop out bite size pieces and place in a bowl with the tomatoes.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together the apple or red currant jelly, salt and pepper until the mixture is smooth.

5. Mince the spinach until it reaches 1/4 cup. Drain excess liquid from the melon and tomatoes and add, with the spinach, to the jelly dressing. Toss until evenly coated. Serve on a bed of fresh spinach leaves.

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