Yes, that’s a watermelon and we’ll get to that topic but, first, we’re going to turn back to cobblers for a minute. I’ve updated Wednesday’s posting with pictures of the skillet cobbler technique. And I’ve got a few words of wisdom: There may be a truckload of summer fruit in the stores but much of it is unripe, overtart and nasty and adding sugar and cooking it doesn’t help much. You’re better off buying frozen fruit (frozen mangoes with fresh blueberries; frozen tart pie cherries or Italian prune plums, if you can find them) unless you’re sure the plums, peaches, nectarines, etc. you’re getting a truly ripe.
Both cobblers I made this week were good but not great; the problem was not the topping or the baking technique, it was an imbalance between tart and sweet. A really good cobbler (crisp, crunch, betty, etc.) is irresistable. These are good enough to eat but far from irresistable. Further: forget whipped cream. Cobblers should be served hot, with vanilla ice cream — even Harmony.com couldn’t make a match this good.
Okay, back to regularly scheduled programming. If there is a fruit of Summer 2011, it’s watermelon. Not only has it been appearing in all shapes and sizes in local supermarkets but I’ve been seeing watermelon dishes everywhere from “Top Chef Masters” (wherein a contestant used watermelon to stand in for ‘ahi in an appetizer) to beverages (watermelontinis, watermelon margaritas, watermelon smoothies and slushes) to salads (vegetable salads, not just fruit mixtures) and even entrees. For something that used to star in backporch seed-spitting competitions, that is pretty heady stuff.
The Web site DailyCravings.blogpsot.com (Fashion, Fun Food and Furnishings) did a picture gallery of watermelon stuff from the summer, from watermelon-themed painted fingernails to a cake iced in fluffy pink, green and black frosting designed to resemble a slice of watermelon. SavorSA, a San Antonio-based foodie site, headlined a May, 2011, story “Refreshing Watermelon a Trendy Ingredient This Season.”
The story describes a feta, dried olive and heirloom tomato salad made by chef John Brand of La Mansion del Rio and Ostra and a fundraiser in the city in which five chefs were challenged to prepare something exceptional using watermelon. Of course, throughout the Southwest and in Mexico, watermelon paletas (“Popsicles”) are common.
Stumped for how to get beyond passing chilled slices at a summer barbecue? Check www.watermelon.org, the national Web site of the watermelon promotion board. The entree recipes are eye-opening: watermelon in a stir fry, marinated watermelon on the grill, watermelon and shrimp kebabs, pork and watermelon lettuce wraps, watermelon barbecue sauce, watermelon slices on a hamburger instead of tomato.
Speaking of that last idea: Watermelon does share watery texture with tomatoes, if not their acidity, so can play the tomato role in many dishes, especially if you kick up the acid with citrus juice or vinegar.
I tried this salad, created by chef Damien Watel, from SavorSA.com, and was found it refreshing and interesting:
Watermelon, Tomato and Feta Salad
Seeded cubes of watermelon cubes, about 2 cups
Ripe tomatoes, cut into pieces similar in size to the watermelon, about 1 cup (or more)
Microgreens or mesclun-type “salading”
1/2 cup or more crumbled or cubed feta cheese
Fruity extra-virgin live oil, to taste
Rice wine vinegar, to taste
Basil or flat-leaf parsley (tear the basil, mince the parsley)
Salt, to taste (optional)
In a bowl, lightly toss together watermelon and tomatoes. Arrange washed and spun dry microgreens on flat salad plates. Arrange watermelon-tomato mixture on top. Sprinkle liberally with feta. Drizzle olive oil and a touch of rice wine vinegar on each serving (or you may emulsify the two to make a dressing). Garnish with additional microgreens or with finely chopped basil or parsley, to taste. Salt, if desired. Now don’t that beat seed-spittin’?