Photography by Sam Armocido
The first cookbook I ever bought with my own money is titled The Fine Art of Garnishing. It came packaged with 5 small tools which enabled me to turn a radish into a rose, an apple into a bird, and, most importantly, carve a watermelon. For one summer cookout after another, I carved watermelons to serve fruit salad. Family photos reveal watermelons carefully crafted to resemble whales, Viking sailing ships, and baskets.
We’d scoop out the watermelons using a melon baller, and toss the fruit with cantaloupe, honeydew, peaches and berries. While I still love a good fruit salad, there are meals when I want my watermelon dressed a little more elegantly. The savory flavors of bright vinegar, bitter greens and sharp cheese balance delightfully with sugary fruits. They are the perfect companion to anything smoky and charred from the grill.
I suppose, if you’re going to use such sophisticated ingredients, you should probably present them more formally. May I suggest a watermelon?
Watermelon Gorgonzola Salad
Photography by Sam Armocido
- 6 cups watermelon cut in 1” cubes
- 2 cups baby arugula, loosely packed
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/3 cup Cava Rosé, or other light, red wine vinegar*
- 1 tsp honey
- 2/3 cups olive oil – the good stuff!
- 1 cup chilled, crumbled gorgonzola cheese
*Cava Rosé is a wonderful summer introduction from our friends at Sapore. I paired it with Koroneiko, a light, grassy, Greek olive oil.
- Toss together watermelon and arugula in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together shallot, vinegar and honey.
- Whisk olive oil into vinegar mixture to form a thick, creamy emulsion.
- Stir cheese crumbles into vinaigrette and taste with a cube of watermelon.
- Season dressing to taste with additional salt, pepper, vinegar or oil and lightly dress watermelon and arugula.
- If making this ahead, keep the watermelon separate. It will release water which will dilute your dressing and wilt the arugula.
My mission: create a watermelon martini using Sapore’s new Ruby Red Grapefruit White Balsamic Vinegar as bitters. My thought? “I don’t know the first thing about mixing cocktails, and today’s tipplers have a discerning palate.” My first mistake? Publicly throw down the watermelon martini gauntlet on Facebook.
It turns out the same skill set you use to hone a recipe for farm-fresh produce works pretty well for cocktails. I wanted something that showcased bright, clean, sweet watermelon flavor, like the fruit, not the Jolly Rancher. I wanted cool, herbal notes to ground it and lend some depth.
Fresh pressed watermelon juice was the place to start. Gin gave it herbal depth as did basil simple syrup, whose sugar brought out the sweetness in the fruit. The Ruby Red Grapefruit vinegar lent that certain je ne sais quoi – depth, brightness? A squeeze of lime made it pop.
I’m no mixologist, but I’ve got a new favorite cocktail, at least for the next few weeks.
The Mid-Summer Ruby
Ingredients for one cocktail:
- 3 ounces fresh pressed watermelon juice (see below)
- 1 ounce smooth gin – use Bombay and save the Beefeater for a great gin and tonic!
- 1/4 ounce basil simple syrup (see below)
- 1/2 tablespoon Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar*
- lime round to garnish
*You can find Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar at Sapore – order it online – or look for grapefruit bitters at your local specialty liquor store.
- In a cocktail shaker with ice, add watermelon juice, gin, simple syrup and vinegar. Shake and strain in to a martini glass or a lowball with ice. Garnish with a lime round. Squeeze over the cocktail before drinking.
Watermelon juice and simple syrup:
- Watermelon juice can be made by pressing cubed watermelon through a food mill and then straining it through cheese cloth. Or, you can purée it in a blender, strain it through a sieve and then strain again through cheese cloth.
- Make the basil simple syrup by stirring together 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water over medium high heat. Let cook until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, and add 1 packed cup whole basil leaves. Let steep for 15-20 minutes and strain to remove solids.