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The Mellow Melon - July 2016

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The Mellow Melon - July 2016

by Ron Skaar

Photo by Jon Russo

Catherine de Medici, the 16th century bon vivant, was extraordinarily found of the muskmelon. When she complained one day of feeling ill, her rival at the French court, Queen Jeanne of Navarre, blamed it on the number of melons Catherine consumed.

Most melons originated in the Near East and from there spread to Europe. Their rapid growth and size were associated with fertility, abundance and luxury. It was during the era of the Roman Empire that they were cultivated throughout the Mediterranean. Melons were not well known in Northern Europe until the 15th century, and then they became hugely popular at that French court.

The cantaloupe melon was first grown from Armenia seeds planted at the pope’s Cantalupo gardens near Tivoli. This fruit spread throughout the Middle Ages and was a prevalent crop in Spain by the 15th century. Columbus carried seeds to the New World and later on, Spanish explorers cultivated melons in what is now California. 

Squash, cucumbers and melons are all members of the vine-growing gourd family. With the exception of watermelons all melons resemble winter squash in structure. They have a thick flesh incorporating a central seed-filled cavity. Watermelons are structured more like summer squash with seeds dispersed in a radial pattern throughout the flesh.

Sweet and juicy melons contain the “best of both worlds” of their summer and winter vegetable counterparts. They resemble summer squash in their high water content, accompanied by a low calorie count. Melons approach winter squash with their high nutrient value.

Melons are a great source of potassium, vitamin C, some of the B vitamins and soluble pectin fiber which helps ensure a healthy cholesterol level. Like pumpkin and butternut squash, orange fleshed varieties of melons contain beta carotene, which becomes vitamin A in our bodies. Honeydew melon’s carotenoids may help shield delicate eye tissue from damage due to ultraviolet radiation.

Similar to squash, our most common melons fall into two seasonal families. The highly aromatic and perishable summer melons like muskmelon, Galia, Ambrosia, Persian and Sharlyn, separate from their stems when ripe. Winter melons, including honeydews, casabas and canaries are less fragrant and will keep longer.

A slight softness is a good sign in choosing a melon along with a clean, smooth break at the stem end. Most summer melons should also have a full fruity fragrance but there will be no sweet odor if they have been refrigerated. Melons don’t gain any sweetness after being harvested although leaving at room temperature for 2-4 days will help create a softer and juicier flesh.

Watermelon, a distant cousin of the other melons, contains more of the antioxidant lycopene than tomatoes! Both of these ingredients, plus colorful melon, scallops and piquant spices are part of this sumptuous recipe, adapted from an old Sunset magazine.

 


 

Tomato and Melon Salad with Seared Scallops

1 lb. seedless watermelon, rind trimmed

1 lb. cantaloupe or other orange melon, seeded, rind trimmed

1 each yellow, red and green vine ripe tomatoes

3 tbsp. each lemon and lime juice

1 Serrano chiles, sliced paper-thin

1 tbsp. packed brown sugar

5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 tsp. finely shredded ginger (use a Microplane)

12 dry-packed sea scallops

 

Slice melons thinly and lay on large shallow platter. Slice tomatoes crosswise and add to platter. Whisk together citrus juices, brown sugar, ginger and 3 tbsp. oil and add chiles. Pour most of dressing over melon and tomatoes and let marinate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a (not nonstick) frying pan over high heat. Pat scallops dry, season with salt and pepper. Add remaining 2 tbsp. oil to hot pan and sear until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn over and cook on the other side, 1 minute. Add warm scallops to platter, drizzle with remaining dressing and finish with fresh ground salt and pepper. Serves 6.