A melon by any name

Watermelon three ways

Rachel Priestley
July 3, 2014

The longest day has past, the heat is here to stay, and so is the summer fruit. The star of summer fruit in Tuscany is by far the watermelon. Citrullus vulgaris: luscious rich red in colour, juicy and glossy, sweet and syrupy, sticky on the fingers and face if you eat a whole slice, you would not expect such a fine-looking fruit to have such an ugly name. From the Latin came anguria and cocomero in Italian.

 

Dating back more than 5,000 years to Egypt, the watermelon produces up to 100 fruits per plant with each one weighing up to (and exceeding!) 20 kilos, like the ones grown in the Valdichiana area to the east of Siena. The season runs from June to September and angurie are in their prime right now.

 

In Florence, there is always the watermelon vendor up at piazzale Michelangelo, who sells big, red, juicy, dripping, ice-cold wedges of watermelon for a small price. (I am convinced his profits are more in one season than some of the city’s small cafés.) If you head to Prato at this time of the year you may find one of the city’s fountains filled to the brim with cocomeri, with no space left for the flowing water. It’s a sight you will never forget!

 

On the night of San Lorenzo (August 10), free watermelon is distributed in front of the church of the same name in Florence city centre.

 

This time of year, I find no better way to cool off than with a sorbetto di cocomero or sorbetto di anguria—they are all the same thing. But I also love to make salads featuring watermelon, so here are three recipes for you to try. (They all go well with vodka, by the way.) Buon appetito!

 

 

RECIPES

 

Sorbetto all’anguria (Watermelon sorbet)

 

Ingredients

400g sugar / 500ml water / 1.4kg watermelon / 4 lemons

 

Preparation

Make a syrup from the water and sugar: place together in a pot and stir to the boil. Simmer for 5–10 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has become thick and syrupy. Set aside to cool.

 

Meanwhile, take a round watermelon, weighing about 2kg. Cut the top off in a neat fashion and scoop out the flesh and seeds. Place the watermelon shell in the fridge to cool down for serving later. Chop the watermelon into chunks and remove the seeds. Blend in a food processor until smooth, then weigh out 1.4kg of watermelon. Mix with the cooled sugar syrup and the juice of four lemons. Place the sorbet mixture in a shallow tray and in the freezer. Every hour, remove and whisk through the liquid, which will slowly start to freeze. Once frozen, scrape out and fill the watermelon shell with the sorbet and serve. It is nice to serve with a little prosecco poured into it.

 

 

Cocomero ubriaco (Drunken watermelon)

 

Preparation

Cut a small plug-size hole in the top of a watermelon and pour in half a bottle of vodka. Put the plug of watermelon back and place the watermelon in the fridge for a couple of hours. Cut into wedges and enjoy instead of an aperitivo!

 

 

Insalata di gamberi e anguria

 

Ingredients

1kg prawns, fresh and whole / 600g watermelon / 2 bunches rocket / 1 glass white wine / 2 cloves of garlic / Small knob of ginger / 1 bunch fresh mint /120ml extra-virgin olive oil / 60 ml balsamic vinegar / Salt and pepper to taste / Chili pepper to taste

 

Preparation

Get the best, plumpest, freshest prawns you can find at the market. Leave the heads on and shell the body (leave the tail shell). De-vein them: remove the intestinal tract using a toothpick or make an incision down the back with a small paring knife. This will often be filled with sand, so it is essential to remove it; otherwise the prawns can taste gritty. Wash them under cold running water and pat dry.

 

Peel and crush the garlic cloves. Peel and finely dice the ginger. Heat a heavy-based pan with half of the extra-virgin olive oil. Add the garlic to colour, followed immediately by the prawns. Sauté until they start to turn from transparent to opaque, add the salt, pepper, chili and ginger. Toss again and add the glass of white wine. Cover with a lid and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool, keeping the pan juices. Meanwhile, cut open the watermelon and cut into bite-size pieces, removing the skin and white pith and discarding the seeds.

 

Wash the rocket leaves and chop finely. Do the same with the bunch of mint saving the tender sprigs on top of each stalk as garnish.

 

Mix the balsamic vinegar with the remaining extra-virgin olive oil. Add the pan juices and taste for seasoning. Mix the dressing with the rocket and watermelon.

 

Take a large round platter and place the seasoned watermelon and rocket salad on the base decorated by the prawns on the top, each one with the tails in the middle and the heads near the rim of the platter in a spiral fashion. Garnish with sprigs of mint and serve. (The sweetness of the watermelon and the prawns lends itself well to a Bolgheri Vermentino. My pick is Grattamacco Bolgheri Vermentino DOC with its minerality, fragrance of white flowers and peach, and offering a hint of spice.)

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