Walking down the center aisle of a farmers market this time of year is like walking through a candy store. Sure there are berries and stone fruit enticing us at every turn. But peaches, plums and saskatoons alone aren’t responsible for the intoxicatingly sweet fragrance. Summer melons are hitting their peak where I live and the aromas are incomparable – oozing honey – filling my summer mornings with the sweetest whiff of wonderful.
However before you run right out to the Piggly Wiggly and pick up one of those green bowling balls that pass for watermelons or get lured in by the dirt cheap, mealy muskmelons that pretend to be cantaloupes let me tell you something. There are melons out there that taste sweeter than pineapple, mango and saskatoons (combined). They come in odd shapes and can be covered in ugly warts or splashed with funny freckles. These are the heirloom melons and you might even pass them right by (wondering all the while just where the sweet aroma of honeysuckle is coming from).
Heirloom melons aren’t as rare as you think. Oftentimes they’ve been lovingly tended by generations of growers whose immigrant ancestors brought the seeds with them when they moved to the New World. One such melon (and its intoxicating fragrance) is called Zatta Melon. It’s a muskmelon that dates from at least the early 1600’s when it was illustrated in still-life paintings. Today it remains a traditional variety of Italy, where it’s called “Brutto ma Buono” (ugly but good).
The flavor of these orange-fleshed Zatta Melons is very sweet and rich and deserves some special attention. I’ve chosen a salad with the peppery bite of watercress – which contrasts nicely with the Zatta Melons that I’ve cleverly used as salad bowls. Grape tomatoes and red onion add complexity and crisp bits of baked prosciutto “chips” add crunch, while celebrating the classic combination of prosciutto and melon. GREG