I've been to the South of France twice in the last month or so and I have become pretty hooked on the various types of melon on offer. When melons are perfectly, naturally ripened in the sun, in terms of their flavour and texture they can be worlds apart from some of the sad specimens that grace our supermarket shelves over here, which have probably ripened in a dark cooler for months before hitting the shelves. A melon is one of those great fruits that you can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and if you keep it in a coolbox it makes a refreshing chilled snack. It can be hard to tell quite how good your melon is going to be, but smell is often the best indication, so have a good sniff before you buy.
With some of the larger melons such as watermelons, their size means that they can often be a bit of a struggle to finish before they go past their sell-by date – but blended and popped in the freezer they make a great granita or even the base for a chilled cocktail during our (hopefully) Indian summer.
Melon salad with mint syrup
The fresh tastes of melon and mint combine beautifully; you can use a selection of one or two varieties of melon here, depending on what's available. The skins from this dish can be used to make the candied melon skin recipe below.
A selection of melons
For the syrup
The skins or rind from the melons
150g caster sugar
A handful of mint leaves and stalks
Cut the melons into quarters or eighths then remove the rind, leaving about – 1cm of the outer flesh on. Cut the rind into rough 2cm chunks and place in a saucepan with the sugar and mint stalks and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the skins with a slotted spoon and put to one side for the candied melon skin recipe.
Simmer the syrup until it has reduced by about half and leave to cool. To serve, cut the melon into bite-sized chunks and transfer to a serving bowl or bowls. Scatter the mint leaves over and spoon over the syrup.
This is a really refreshing starter, intermediate course or a cleansing dessert. All you need is good ripe melons, a blender or food processor and a freezer. This is the kind of dish that the children would love to be involved in – but keep an eye on the freezer or all that hard work could be scoffed in seconds.
1 medium-sized orange melon such as a rock or Charentais
1 medium-sized yellow melon such as a Cantaloupe or honeydew
1 small (or half of a) watermelon
Peel all of the melons and remove the seeds, except in the case of the watermelon where the seeds can be blended. Individually blend each of the melons in a liquidiser, then pour into separate containers and place in the freezer for 4-5 hours or overnight until frozen. Once frozen, break up the melon with a knife or place in a strong plastic bag and crunch with a steak hammer or the back of a small saucepan, and return to the freezer until required.
To serve, spoon the granita into chilled martini glasses or similar in three layers and serve immediately.
Melon and ham
This classic restaurant dish would have been on almost every menu in the late Seventies and Eighties and it was traditionally viewed as a safe choice. But in a simple dish like this with only two ingredients, both must be of impeccable quality for it to work. I used a piece of vacuum-packed ham that's been in my fridge since my trip to the Douro Valley in Portugal in June. It was a cut from the shoulder and smoked at a fairly high temperature and it came from the local butcher who cures and smokes every part of the pig so it was more or less cooked. It worked a treat with a succulent Charentais melon. I'm not going to give you a recipe for this dish, but just encourage you to shop a bit harder for some really good ham and a decent melon – that's it.
Candied melon with chilli
This is a great way to use up the melon skins from the recipes above. Serve just as a snack, with cured meats or with cheese.
10 or so dried red chillies, chopped
Melon skins from the melon salad recipe
Put the melon skins into a saucepan with the sugar and chillies; cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 40-50 minutes, the melon should be translucent, the skins soft. Transfer to an airtight container; store in a cool place.
Mark Hix will be running a game masterclass with Ben Weatherall at the Oyster and Fish House, Lyme Regis, on 16 September. Tickets are £37.50 and include a 3-course supper. For more information, contact 01206 756388