Colorado cantaloupe is not at the farmers’ markets yet, but will be within just a few weeks. When fully ripe, cantaloupe is meltingly sweet and delicious, perfect for the stretch of hot weather we’ve had. I serve it as an appetizer, sliced about ½ inch thick, and draped or even wrapped with paper-thin slices of prosciutto. The salty-sweet flavors make a classic combination, nice with freshly ground black pepper. Appetizers are so often “bread-y,” too heavy and filling for hot summer nights. Add a dry, bubbly Italian Prosecco for a light and refreshing, celebratory beginning to a special dinner on the patio.
During its summer season, serve cantaloupe slices on a platter as a side dish, garnished with a handful of fresh berries and mint leaves. What could be easier? Just halve the washed melon, scrape out the seeds, peel and slice. If you want to get fancy, use a melon “baller” to make melon spheres, and combine with honeydew and/or watermelon for a pretty color combination, with black- or blueberries for punctuation. Keep it simple. Enjoy it at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Eat it in smoothies, for dessert, in salads until you’ve had enough, and then wait for next year. Melon is a summer crop in the U.S., simply not very good in any other season as it must come from the southern hemisphere where it’s harvested before it’s ripe, lacking both its distinctive flavor and the texture we love. And it’s important to remember that other countries don’t share our standards for acceptability regarding pesticide and herbicide use, so enjoy U.S. cantaloupe in its summer season to be safe, and other U.S. fruits over the winter, such as apples, pears, and all the citrus fruits. (Exception: Valencia oranges are juice oranges, and a warmer weather crop.)
Purchase melons that have a mostly beige color for immediate eating. Any green color indicates that it is not quite ready to cut. Cantaloupe is very low calorie, and an excellent source of beta carotene, folic acid, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. It is one of only a few fruits high in B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B6 (pyridoxine).
A refreshing chilled soup made with cantaloupe is fast and easy to prepare as a first course, with several variations to try. Taste the melon before beginning the recipe to determine if any sweetening is needed, or just cut back on the club soda or dry champagne.
Chilled Melon Soup serves 6
6 cups chopped ripe cantaloupe
1 cup Valencia orange juice, freshly squeezed
juice of 2-3 limes
2 cups club soda
Puree the melon with orange and lime juice in blender or food processor. Stir in the club soda and serve in bowls or mugs, garnished with mint leaves.
Variations: Substitute Pineapple-Orange juice. Or substitute 2 cups dry champagne for the club soda, and add 1 cup whipping cream, whipped, as garnish. Stir in 2-3 tbsp. agave nectar to taste, if needed.