8.24.2012

Blind Melon


At a market, recently, I stumbled upon a basket of melons with identifying signage that read Sugar Queens. I’m not really a melon fanatic, but I snatched one up quicker than a bell clapper in a goose’s ass. Why? Because it said Sugar Queen. No, I had never heard of this variety of melon, nor did I have a clue what it was or what it would taste like. But the fact that it was called Sugar Queen made me all chirpy. I figured it must be a precious and exultant melon.

I don’t know much about melon selecting. I’ve seen people smell them and shake them, gently and/or hard. And I’ve seen folks hold them up by their ears - as if they had a conch shell and were listening for the ocean. But from this basket of Sugar Queens, I simply selected the one that spoke to me. It was not the largest or smallest or roundest or oblongest. But it felt confident and firm in my one hand and it had a little bit of a blemish on one side of its netted skin. It smelled so sweet, almost candy-like, almost too sweet. She was now my Sugar Queen.

When I got home and began to unload and put all my groceries away (which is one of my all-time favorite things to do) I put Sugar Queen on the counter and briefly wondered what I might do with her. After a day or so I very well could have forgotten about her but Sugar Queen would not let me. Her perfume was so strong and floral that each time I walked by I was reminded that I needed to find a special something or another to do with her. I totally get it. Us, women... we do like our attention. After a few days, and especially these crazy hot ones we’ve been having, I began to get nervous she would become too ripe to do much with, so, just in case, I put her in the refrigerator. There she continued to acost both Fred and myself with her eau de melon each time we opened the refrigerator door. And her scent even lingered in the kitchen for a few moments after closing the door.

It was time for me to figure it out. The only style in which I have eaten melons, historically, is the way my mom served them to me as a girl: a wedge, with the rind attached, scored in bite-sized cubes, with the cut going down to the rind, making it easy to eat with a spoon. It was a breakfast thing or a snack thing. I occasionally eat some honeydew melon with a sprinkle of salt, or cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. I am quite fond of watermelon used in salads with heirloom tomatoes, red onion and feta cheese. But that is pretty much it for me and my melons. After all, it is fruit.

And then I realized - what do I always do when I don’t know where to turn with an ingredient? And, for crying out loud, what have I not made in far, far too long? Soup! Ah, but this one is a challenge. It’s Sugar Queen. 
 

When I googled Sugar Queen, not tons came up. Wikipedia didn’t even have a page for her, for godssake. But I did notice a promising recipe from 2010 from the Seattle Times. An heirloom melon gazpacho. And lo and behold, that heirloom melon called for in the recipe was my Sugar Queen. In total me form, I only glanced at the ingredients to make sure I had everything I needed. I did not, however, actually read through the entire recipe. It’s a terrible habit of mine that bites me in the arse more often than not. Had I read through the recipe I would have noticed that it was very poorly written with steps and ingredients missing in the directions. It even had an added ingredient that was not listed in the ingredients. So what ended up happening was some pretty awesome riffing and improvising. A lot of tasting and adding this and that and some of that over there and a little more of this. At one point I couldn’t figure out why the vinegar was so strong and recalled that white wine was listed in the ingredients but never mentioned in the directions. So I added the white wine and it completely balanced the acid of the vinegar - and without making the soup taste like white wine at all. Science, I tell you.

What I came up with is pretty great. It’s sweet, yes. But it’s nuanced and complex. It’s lovely and also smart. It has notes that dance around on the tip of your tongue that are simple yet unrecognizable. It’s seemingly obvious to describe but right when you try, the words float right out of your consciousness, rendering you into a stumped stutter. It smells really beautiful. Just like us women...


I think this soup is best served as a small portion, perhaps even as an amuse bouche.
 
Heirloom Melon & Tomato Gazpacho
Serves 6
Ingredients
2 cups cubed French baguette, all crusts removed, and cut into small cubes (about 1 baguette), divided
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp Champagne or sherry vinegar
4 cups cubed, peeled and seeded melons (preferably heirloom, such as Sugar Queen, butterscotch, Ogen, Ananas)
1 cup chopped, ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup diced shallot
1 tbsp chopped, fresh chives
2 tbsp purple basil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra oil for frying the croutons
3 dried bay leaves, ground to a powder
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp celery salt
Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Walnut oil to garnish
1/2 cup ice cubes, or as needed


Directions
In a bowl, soak 1 1/2 cups cubed bread in the vinegar.
Meanwhile, using a blender or food processor, purée the melons, tomato, shallot, chives & basil. Add the soaked bread and vinegar to the food processor and purée until completely smooth.
With the motor running, slowly add the wine, one-fourth cup olive oil, then the ground bay leaves. Taste, and adjust the seasoning with sage, celery salt, sea salt & pepper.
If the soup is overly thick, add a few ice cubes and purée until the desired consistency is achieved. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and vinegar.
Transfer the soup to a nonreactive metal bowl and chill before serving. This makes about 4 cups soup.
While the soup is chilling, fry the garnish. Pan-fry the remaining cubes of bread in a hot skillet with a little olive oil until evenly toasted and golden brown. Season to taste with a light sprinkling of salt and.
Serve the soup, garnished with a few croutons and a drizzle of walnut oil.


One year ago: Beer Braised BBQ Pork Butt
Three years ago: Charred Hanover Tomato Soup with Lump Crab


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