Growing up, throughout other seasons, I yearned for summer. For bikini sashays along Brooklyn beaches, for poolside lolls at my own Dirty Dancing’s Spring Lake Hotel, for an atomic Catskill reunion with waiter Gary Alweiss. And always, for melon.
It was as if summer’s scented air breached my mother’s packaged-food confinement. Suddenly, fresh melons were everywhere, sprouting from our kitchen Formica like mushrooms in loam. Chunks of honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon replaced Del Monte canned peaches for dessert; longboat slices replaced Campbell’s tomato soup for first course. At backyard barbecues, cubes were stacked like a glistening pharaonic marvel.
These days, melons are stacked in my own kitchen, often with some cured ham, chopped mint, and citrus zest alongside. The Finger Lakes region is sending them south daily: rosy watermelons and orange-fleshed muskmelons like cantaloupe, Charantais, and honeydew’s cousin, honey orange, ready to launch soups, salsas, and sorbets to silky, aromatic heights. Choose muskmelons that have a sweet fragrance and slight softness at the blossom end, and be sure to wash them well before cutting. Watermelons should sound hollow when tapped and have a matte, not shiny, rind.
At the year-old Bistro Rollin (142 Fifth Ave, Pelham 914-633-0780; bistrorollin.com), Chef Manny Lozano exploits the melon bounty in a salad and dessert of riotous color and flavor. “Melon’s sweetness lends itself to many applications, particularly as a complement to salty
dishes like cured meats or seafood,” he says. So he pairs a French-pedigree Cavaillon muskmelon (it is a bistro, after all) with peekytoe crab and chives splashed with citrus vinaigrette and nestles them atop puréed fennel. His chilled dessert soup jolts cantaloupe’s perfume with ginger, star anise, and a whisper of orange blossom water. And for the ne plus ultra in melon seduction, Lozano suggests you do as they do in France and eat some plain, in blissful partnership with a glass of port wine. Even Gary Alweiss can’t compare to that.
CHILLED CANTALOUPE SOUP WITH ORANGE BLOSSOM WATER
Courtesy of Manny Lozano, Bistro Rollin
3 star anise
¼ cup chopped ginger
Zest of 1 medium orange
1 tsp coriander seeds
¼ cup sugar
2 quarts cantaloupe cubes (or any orange-fleshed muskmelon)
1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 Tbsp orange blossom water, available in Middle Eastern markets (6 Tbsp orange liqueur such as Triple Sec can be substituted. Or infuse any orange-scented teabag in simmered liquid).
Simmer star anise, ginger, coriander seeds, orange zest, and sugar in 1 cup water for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain into bowl.
In a blender, purée melon cubes with orange juice, strained liquid, and orange-blossom water. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.