How to Dress Up Fresh Summer Melon

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Back in my restaurant days, there was nothing I hated more than working on Sunday afternoons. Around 3:00, one of the cooks would show up at my station with a Cambro filled with hunks of roughly peeled honeydew and cantaloupe left over from brunch.

It drove me crazy that they always seemed to prep too much, and that somehow it was my responsibility to keep that fruit from going to waste. Intensifying my guilt was the fact that the fruit was locally grown, bursting with more flavor than you'd ever find in a supermarket melon.

The nature of this "gift" was such that I often needed to make use of it right away to round out my dessert menu that very night. So, while sorbets and granitas could be put off till midweek, Sundays were the days I had to use that melon fresh. Of all the preparations I played with from week to week, my favorite wound up being the simplest of them all.

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I'd cut the melon into a dainty dice, then toss it with fresh thyme, a spoonful of chrysanthemum honey liqueur, and a tiny squeeze of lemon or splash of cider vinegar, plus a pinch of salt. After an hour, the flavors would meld into something herbaceous and mellow, with a refreshing minerality that paired well with dishes both savory and sweet.

Sometimes I'd spoon it over warm ricotta, with some fresh-baked madeleines on the side; on other occasions, I'd serve it with peach pit panna cotta and crispy almond tuiles. Often, the melon mixture would be stolen back, and the cooks would wrap it into little bundles with prosciutto for a salty-sweet snack.

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These days, I don't work in a fancy restaurant where I can rummage behind the bar for obscure, high-end booze. But I've found that my melon salad works well with almost any sweet and floral liqueur, like something made with elderflower, jasmine, or rose. Or, try it with a splash of crisp white wine, which is usually tart enough to eliminate the need for any other form of acid.

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It's a nice change of pace from the usual, and great for when you'd like to dress up your farmers market/garden haul for company; you can even pair it with Daniel's ajo blanco in lieu of a topping of sliced grapes. It's a simple way to use melon that's less a recipe than an idea, easily adapted to whatever purpose you like.