Dining

Magic Ingredient: Watermelon

Early fall is ripe with sweet fruit. With fall upon us, watermelon might seem a sweet reminder of summer days. But here in Colorado it's only within the past few weeks of September that locally grown melons have reached their peak.

September 2008

With fall upon us, watermelon might seem a sweet reminder of summer days. But here in Colorado it's only within the past few weeks of September that locally grown melons have reached their peak.

At Full Circle Farms in Longmont, owner David Asbury isn't the only one noticing that watermelons are ready for picking. "You can always tell when foxes and raccoons figure out we have a nice melon patch," Asbury says. "The animals know when [the fruit] is sweet." The melons coming out of Asbury's fields are red-fleshed icebox-style melons including Red Starlight, Crimson Sweet, and Sweet Favorite. Medium green with dark stripes, they typically range from six to 10 pounds and are full of small seeds. (Don't ask Asbury for a seedless melon. "You're trying to fool Mother Nature," he says, noting that he prefers tried-and-true heirloom varieties.)

Ripe melons should be red but not too vibrant, as dark red ones are apt to have a mealy, overripe texture. If pink-fleshed, they were picked too soon and might taste like a cucumber. Aside from thumping a melon, Asbury recommends checking for ripeness by looking for a yellowish spot where the melon rested on the ground. If it's there, it's ripe. For watermelon with a little autumn flair, try this Haystack salad from Carla Berent, executive chef at Mel's on Sixth Avenue.

RECIPE: Watermelon "Haystack" Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette (Serves 8 as a side salad)

This recipe is best made with a seedless watermelon, despite David Asbury's preference for heirloom varieties.

  • 1/8 cup blood orange juice (may substitute regular fresh-squeezed orange juice)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound baby spinach, cleaned and dried
  • 3-4 pounds seedless watermelon, peeled and julienned
  • 1 jicama, about 1 ½ pounds, peeled and julienned
  • 4 ounces feta cheese crumbles
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Make vinaigrette: Put orange juice, lime juice, honey, and vinegar in a blender and mix on low. Slowly add olive oil until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss spinach with ¼ cup vinaigrette and divide onto eight plates. (Reserve remaining vinaigrette for another use.) Toss watermelon and jicama together with a pinch of salt and pepper. Place on top of spinach in a neat haystack. Sprinkle salads with feta and pine nuts, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

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