Deliciously scented and packed with juice, cool, refreshing melons are a welcome sight come the summer months. Several varieties are readily available, from the almost drinkable watermelon to the green-fleshed honeydew, but my favourites are the cantaloupe and the charentais, which are in season now in southern Europe.
Intensely sweet and dripping with juice, they are best eaten as simply as possible. You need do nothing more than slice them in half, scoop out the seeds and dig deep into the centre with a spoon. They are the perfect start to any day or a delicious end to any meal, sliced and served on their own or with a squeeze of lemon juice.
At the restaurant we serve them at this time of year with prosciutto di Parma or with sheep's milk ricotta, a little black pepper and a splash or two of rose syrup. We also make a melon sorbet, on top of which we sprinkle a teaspoon or so of sugar infused with crushed mint and lime juice and zest.
Melons are at their best right now and throughout the summer months – so make the most of them.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Melon with ricotta, rose petals and rose syrup
This is a pretty dish; light, fresh and very clean in taste. We use rose petals from our garden that are grown naturally without the use of any pesticides – make sure yours are equally chemical-free.
1 canteloupe or charentais melon
15 unsprayed rose petals
180g/6oz ricotta (my favourite is sheep's milk, which is very pure and light)
2tbsp rose syrup
20ml/1fl oz gentle-flavoured extra-virgin olive oil, such as a Ligurian oil
Slice the melon in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into three and, using a sharp knife, separate the flesh from the skin. Arrange the melon flesh simply on a plate, interspersed with spoonfuls of the ricotta. Drizzle the syrup and olive oil over and scatter the petals. Serve.
Melon with ginger caramel
250g/8oz caster sugar
375ml/13fl oz water
A good pinch of salt
2 thumbs of ginger, finely sliced
1 canteloupe or charentais melon, chilled
Place the sugar and 125ml/4fl oz of the water into a small, heavy-based saucepan over a very low heat and, without stirring, allow the sugar to dissolve. Once dissolved, bring to the boil. Cook until the mixture begins to colour – at least five minutes. When it begins to brown around the edges watch it carefully as it will then darken quite quickly. Once the caramel has reached a deep mahogany, quickly and carefully pour in the remaining water. Add the salt and ginger and stir frequently for a further two minutes to loosen the caramel. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour into a container and cool thoroughly in the fridge. This will make more than you need, but it keeps for ages in the fridge.
When your melon is cold, slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Slice or scoop the melon into chunks, removing the skin as you do so. Arrange the melon on a plate and drizzle over the cool caramel. Serve. '
As an aperitif, sweet melon juice works well with Prosecco, making a cool and refreshing summer cocktail.
100g/31/2oz caster sugar
150ml/5fl oz water
1 canteloupe or charentais melon
2tbsp rose water
Half a bottle of Prosecco (a full bottle is enough for 5 glasses)
Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan and place over a medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat slightly and cook for five minutes to make a light syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. While the syrup is cooling, halve the melon and discard the seeds. Scoop out the flesh, place it in a blender and purée until smooth. Strain through a fine meshed strainer and add the rose water. When the syrup is completely cool, stir into the blended melon juice, and chill until ready to use.
To serve, pour into a champagne flute – you will need about one third melon juice to two-thirds Prosecco. Pour the Prosecco in slowly, as it will bubble over if you hurry. Stir gently with a spoon and serve.
Melon with sambuca and crushed fennel seeds
We sometimes serve this rather heady combination with a simple glass of Champagne at the restaurant. It is a nice way to start a meal, cool and thirst-quenching with a surprisingly sophisticated flavour.
2tsp fennel seeds
1 charentais melon
40ml/11/2fl oz sambuca
Warm the fennel seeds gently in a dry saucepan over a gentle heat to release their flavour; do not let them colour, though. Remove from the heat and pound roughly in a pestle and mortar. Slice the melon in half, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut each half into three slices and, using a sharp knife, remove the skin. Arrange the melon flesh on a plate. Lightly sprinkle the sambuca over the melon and scatter over the crushed fennel seeds. Serve immediately.
The Forager By Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer on how to find the juiciest melons...
Buying tips Summer melons do not ripen after picking. Buy melons only if they smell fragrant and feel heavy. These can be stored in the fridge for about one week. Asian, Greek and Italian food stores are the best suppliers of ripe melons that have been treated with care.
Melon seeds Real Seeds sells varieties most suited to the UK's climate, including the Ukrainian "Collective Farm Woman" Melon, Minnesota Midget and the flavoursome French variety, Prescott Fond Blanc (www.realseeds.co.uk).
UK stockists Natoora sources produce from France and Italy, including charentais melons and Italian baby watermelons (www.natoora.co.uk). Middle-Eastern food store Yasir Halim (495 Green Lanes, London N4, tel: 020 8340 8090), meanwhile, stocks the Cypriot Ananas melon, Galia melons and green melons.Reuse content