Now that school’s back in session, it just feels like summer is over. Sure, the temperatures are the highest they’ve been all season, but that lazy summer feeling is definitely missing. I guess the oppressive struggle of getting the kids up and off to school each day kind of weighs me down. Or maybe it’s the boring monotonous routine with no end in sight! Oh, and how about the traffic? I’d almost forgotten how much heavier it is on school days. Urg!
Enough whining. I know what will release me from this funk. Watermelon! This big, juicy, sweet, sticky delicious fruit is just the thing to brighten up the back-to-school blahs.
Watermelon, a member of the gourd family, was brought to America through the slave trade and quickly adopted as a staple summer food in the South. But Southerners aren’t the only people who’ve made watermelon the king of summertime fruit. Europeans, especially Italians, also revere and consume this succulent treat throughout the summer. One of my many mottos: Any food cherished by the Italians is OK by me.
It’s not just the moist, luscious, tender flesh that makes this treat so monumental—it’s the versatility its dewy flesh affords. Watermelon pairs well with many other warm weather treats.
One of the most satisfying pairings is with cheese. The watermelon’s sweetness goes extraordinarily well with salty cheeses; my favorite is feta. Feta’s semi-dry, crumbly texture, sharp pungency and addictive saltiness is absolutely irresistible (like my magnanimous personality).
If you’re not sophisticated enough to enjoy the wonders of sheep’s milk cheese, another great choice is goat cheese. What you give up in saltiness from the feta you make up for with the goaty barnyard tang and sultry creaminess of fresh goat’s milk cheese.
Nuts are also complementary items. Never discount the wonderful textural contrast achieved with spiced or candied pecans or walnuts.
If this is starting to sound like a Cheffed Up salad, then you’ve definitely become one with me. How about some peppery arugula, and maybe even something pickled? I know: pickled watermelon rind. Old-fashioned frugality led to this fascinating creation and, boy, is pickled watermelon good.
You can also use the melon as a soup, a riff on classic gazpacho. I like to spike mine with a little tequila just for fun. Speaking of fun, a vodka-injected watermelon is, well, SUPER-FUN! How about a watermelon popsicle? BRILLIANT! Give this recipe a try—it’ll keep that lazy summer feeling going just a little longer.
CHEF BILL’S WATERMELON POPSICLE
- 3 cups watermelon juice, from pureed and strained watermelon
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Big pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 to 2 tbsp. tequila
- 1 to 2 tbsp. mini semisweet chocolate chips
1. In a small, nonreactive saucepan, heat about 1/2 cup of the watermelon juice with the sugar and salt, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir the sugared syrup into the remaining 2-1/2 cups juice in a medium bowl. Mix in lime juice and tequila.
2. Pour the mixture into plastic popsicle molds and freeze for 30 minutes. Stir to reincorporate, then drop a few chocolate chips into each mold.
3. Freeze until solid.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at email@example.com to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!