Watermelon, rockmelon(cantaloupe), honeydew… summer is prime melon time.
Traditionally seen as a fruit and sweet treat, melons work just as well in savoury applications, adding sweetness to salads and cold soups. Although melons are refreshing when served chilled, refrigeration diminishes their flavour so serving at room temperature is ideal.
Try grilling melon for seasonal salad specials; cooking concentrates their sugars. The subtle flavour of watermelon pairs well with salty feta cheese, a kick of chilli or the zing of ginger. Splash a little acidity on there with a squeeze of lime or dash of balsamic. Or add some fresh summer herbs like rosemary, mint or basil. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests an update to the classic rockmelon wrapped in prosciutto by first marinating slim slices with rosemary, red chilli, lemon juice and olive oil. Served with a peppery green salad or on top of a garlicky bruschetta are entrée or finger food options for summer. In Mexico, watermelon seasoned with chilli flakes, chilli powder or chilli-seasoned salt, along with plenty of salt and a generous squeeze of lime juice is a flavour explosion.
Native to Africa, watermelons have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. There are now over 50 varieties which all taste very similar but range in size, shape and colour.
There are five common types of watermelon: seeded, seedless, mini, yellow and orange. Typically in New Zealand we have seeded and seedless with yellow and orange having some limited regional availability.
While the most common varieties have a deep green or striped skin with contrasting bright pink flesh, yellow flesh varieties are also available in New Zealand from January.
Rockmelons are smaller than watermelons and have a coarsely netted skin and a soft peach-coloured flesh that has a distinctive aroma and sweet smooth musky flavour.
This melon is slightly elongated and has smooth greenish- white skin with a pale green-cream flesh and a higher sugar content than either watermelons or rockmelons. As a honey dew ripens, its rind develops a sticky, velvety feel.
RIPE FOR THE PICKING
Whether big or small, melons should feel heavy for their size. Choose a watermelon with dull skin (shiny means it is under-ripe). Watermelons develop a splotch where they rest on the ground. When this splotch is creamy yellow, it’s ripe. Tap the underbelly of the watermelon.
A ripe one will have a deep hollow sound. Under-ripe or over-ripe melons will sound dull.
A ripe rockmelon or honeydew should have a deep, sweet scent, so get in there and give it a sniff. Rockmelon has a texture on its skin known as ‘netting’—look for a rockmelon with obvious netting(if it is too smooth, it is under-ripe). For honeydew choose one with dull skin.
The majority of melons grown in New Zealand are grown in the Waikato, Auckland, Northland and Nelson Bays regions and are available from January through to April.