There are few things more quintessentially summer than an icy wedge of watermelon, with its green striated rind, crimson flesh and inky seeds just ready for spitting.
Until you grow up, that is, and your palate expands to appreciate the yin-yang, savory tang of mixing the sweetness of a perfectly ripe Galia, Tuscan, Crenshaw or other melon with something salty, spicy or just plain mind-blowing. That's the appeal behind that Italian classic, prosciutto-wrapped melon, and the feta-watermelon salad that was so trendy a few years back.
But they're not the only game in town, at least not after chefs and food writers such as Angelo Sosa and Mindy Fox get their hands on the magnificent concept.
Sosa, the two-time “Top Chef” competitor and author of the new “Flavor Exposed,” says the key is blending flavor trios. So when he works with melon, for example, he adds spicy and salty components to the sweetness of the fruit. Watermelon is cut in precise cubes, sprinkled with kosher salt and placed in the refrigerator to chill and cure for 30 minutes, before Sosa adds fresh thyme, a drizzle of good quality olive oil and a few grinds of cracked black pepper.
The result, he says is an appetizer or palate cleanser that looks “pristine, almost like tuna sashimi,” but with flavors blending into a harmonious sweet, salty and herbaceous whole.
Fox, the food editor of La Cucina Italiana magazine, likes to play with those sweet and salty flavor combinations, too, but the visual appeal is just as important, she says.
“The classic melon and prosciutto and the one that everyone started doing a few years ago — watermelon and feta,” she says, “we're still playing to that same idea, the sweet melon and the salty. That's the base of all these salads.”