If you think cantaloupes are just for making melon balls, think again.
Local chefs, home cooks and California farmers are working to elevate the lowly cantaloupe from a fruit that’s eaten only occasionally to one that’s an ingredient in elegant dinners, tasty appetizers or a delicious cocktail.
Yes, it’s time to rethink the cantaloupe.
McKinzie Klein, executive chef at Max’s Bistro, says the Valley’s seasonal fruits, including cantaloupe, are a nice complement for fish sauces. She makes a vinaigrette using cantaloupe purée, herbs and apple cider vinegar.
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“It stands up really well to a halibut or shrimp,” Klein says.
Klein, who took over Max’s kitchen this year, also works cantaloupe into a savory risotto with mascarpone cheese. She says the savory elements help tone down the sweetness of the cantaloupe so you taste more of the flavor of the fruit.
“You can get really creative with it,” Klein says.
Fresno County cantaloupes will be available through October.
She hopes her dish is creative enough to win the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board’s recipe contest. Klein’s cantaloupe dishes are paired with a 45-day aged Brandt Ranch New York steak.
The recipe contest is part of an industry effort to remind consumers that it’s California cantaloupe season and to celebrate California Cantaloupe Week during the week of July 25-31.
“I love it when I go into a restaurant and they have a unique recipe that includes cantaloupe,” said Steve Patricio, president of Westside Produce, a Firebaugh melon packer and shipper. “To keep our industry thriving we need to think of cantaloupe in lots of different ways.”
Patricio’s Westside Produce is one of several large-scale melon packers in west Fresno County, the state’s largest cantaloupe growing region. Other regions include Stanislaus, Imperial, San Diego and Riverside counties. In all, California farmers produce 75 percent of the nation’s cantaloupe supply.
Patricio says that cantaloupes have a history in the county going back more than 100 years. The large, musky-smelling melons thrive in the Valley with its low humidity and high heat.
“We have the ideal climate to grow great-tasting melons,” Patricio said.
Fresno County cantaloupes will be available through October. To select a good cantaloupe, look for one with prominent cream-colored ridges. The stem end of the cantaloupe should also be smooth and well rounded. And another sure sign of a tasty ripe melon is its sweet musky aroma.
Blogger Christina Patricio of Fresno doesn’t have to worry about finding a ripe melon or running out of cantaloupe. She’s married to Blake Patricio, whose family runs Westside Produce. She’s also the author a lifestyle blog, www.thepatricios.com.
“After a couple of months of melons, our household is begging for peaches and grapes,” Christina Patricio says with a laugh. “The truth is, we love cantaloupe and I’ve discovered lots of different ways to eat them.”
Patricio say the sweet taste of melons is a perfect companion for salty meats like prosciutto. She makes simple skewers with cantaloupe, rolled-up prosciutto and mozzarella.
She also loves to use cantaloupe in fruit salads, a caprese salad, and smoothies. She has even tried cantaloupe soup. And who can resist slicing a cantaloupe in half, scooping out the seeds and dropping in a dollop or two of vanilla bean ice cream?
Melon prosciutto & mozzarella skewers
By Christina Patricio
1 cantaloupe, cut into one inch cubes
1 package of prosciutto
1 container of small mozzarella balls
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
1 bottle of balsamic reduction
Carefully tear the prosciutto slices in half and roll them up. Using small cocktail skewers, thread the prosciutto onto the skewer, then the cubed cantaloupe and mozzarella balls. Place on a serving plate, sprinkle with parsley and drizzle balsamic reduction on top.
Cantaloupe breakfast bowls
By Christina Patricio
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup of fresh berries
1/2 cup of granola
Honey for drizzling
Cut the cantaloupe in half and scoop out the seeds. Portion about 1 cup of yogurt in the middle of the cantaloupe. Top with berries, granola, honey and serve.
By The Vineyard Restaurant and Bar
1 cantaloupe, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
60 small fresh tarragon leaves
Coarse sea salt, to taste
6 thin lime wedges
Special equipment: a vegetable peeler
Cut each cantaloupe half lengthwise into three wedges (six total). Shave thin slices from seeded side of a melon wedge with vegetable peeler (first slice may be irregular), stopping when you get close to rind. Arrange slices, overlapping slightly, on a plate. Repeat with remaining cantaloupe, putting slices from each wedge on a separate plate.
Drizzle each serving with 1/4 teaspoon lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon oil, then scatter 10 tarragon leaves on top. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve with lime wedges.
Cantaloupe ginger cocktail
By The Vineyard Restaurant and Bar
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 teaspoon honey, more as desired or maple syrup works well
3 ounces cantaloupe purée
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon lime juice
Optional, fresh mint leaves
For the purée, cut the cantaloupe into chunks and blend in a high-speed blender or food processor for 30 seconds until completely smooth.
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes, add vodka and honey and stir well until honey is mostly dissolved. Add cantaloupe purée, ginger, lime juice and mint, if adding. Muddle the mint with the back of a wooden spoon. Shake vigorously then strain and pour into a chilled glass. Garnish with sprigs of mint and melon balls if desired.
Grilled Harris Ranch bistro filet and cantaloupe salad
By Reagan Roach, executive chef Harris Ranch Inn and Restaurant
6 ounce bistro filet loin
1 ounce fajita marinade (see below)
1 ounce olive pomace oil
1 tablespoon steak salt (see below)
3 ounces romaine, large dice
½ ounce thinly sliced prosciutto, chiffonade
6 ounces fresh California cantaloupe, large dice
1 ounce peach, large dice
1 ounce nectarine, large dice
1 ounce fresh mozzarella, small dice
½ ounce red onion, sliced thin
¼ each avocado, diced
1 ounce cucumber, diced
2 ounces white peach vinaigrette (see below)
¼ ounce basil leaf, chiffonade
1 cup olive oil
3 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 tablespoons soy sauce
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
4 tablespoons lime juice
¼ cup cilantro (chopped)
½ each jalapeño (halved, and seeded)
1 tablespoon garlic (chopped)
¼ each yellow onions (sliced)
½ cup paprika
1 cup salt
1 cup granulated garlic
½ cup ground black pepper
¼ cup onion powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon chili powder
Mix all ingredients together.
White peach balsamic vinaigrette
6 white peaches and reserved ends of yellow peaches
1 ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup sugar
¼ cup champagne vinegar
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic
1 shallot, chopped
1/8 teaspoon coriander, ground
¼ cup honey
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients, except oil, and puree. Slowly add olive oil and emulsify together with blender or immersion blender running.
To complete dish: Preheat grill; marinate bistro steak in the fajita marinade for at least a couple of hours. Season steak with the steak salt, then grill. While steaks are grilling, assemble the remaining ingredients into a salad, tossing with the white peach vinaigrette, garnishing with the mozzarella and basil. Allow steaks to rest, then after a few minutes, slice steaks and serve over the salad.