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5.29.2007

A better day

Others may argue, but I think May is the toughest month. It’s the biggest tease, the old bait-and-switch. Over most of North America, things are looking pretty nice. The flowers are in bloom; the weather is fine; bare feet and legs are back in fashion. But Seattle, however, isn’t quite on the bandwagon. It’s sort of hanging from the tailgate, and by only one hand. Sure, the trees are full and the flowers are open, and most of us are driving with the windows down. But this city is tricky. It blows hot and cold. One day, it’s 82 degrees and sunny, and the next, it’s 58 with flood warnings. You know, really, winter in Seattle is no sweat. It mists a little, and it’s cloudy and gray. But by May, when weather still feels like February, it can be hard for a girl to keep her chin up.

Now, I should, of course, tell you that forecasters are predicting sun and 77 degrees today. I should also tell you that it’s about time. For the better part of the past two weeks, Brandon and I were without a car, and for the better part of the past two weeks, it rained. Going carless in Seattle, with its sprawl and so-so bus schedule, is no easy feat. For us, it was a particularly wet one. The rain came in lockstep with our social plans. Every time we went to leave the house, it was drip drop! drip drop! all of a sudden. One night, we decided to meet some friends for dinner, and I offered to bring dessert. Have you ever tried to carry a freshly baked, still-hot cake in a paper bag, under a too-small umbrella, in a rainstorm? I have. That’s all I want to say about that.

Then there was the time – the following night, actually – that we took a cab home from a cocktail party, again in the rain. This may be impossible, but I could swear – really, swear – that the body of the vehicle was not attached to its wheels. It was like riding in a sailboat on the windiest day of the year – only instead of whitecaps, we had potholes. By the time we pulled up at home, I was so motion-sick that all I could do was sit quietly and rub my stomach, like stroking an old dog, in the hopes that it would lie down and sleep.

Oh, May. You’re so fickle, and such a free spirit. I’ve always liked June better. It’s got such a sweet name, so lady-like and dainty. It’s all pin curls and sundresses. It has to be better than this. Summer doesn’t usually arrive in Seattle until the Fourth of July or so, but still, I believe in June. I believe in June, because it means melons.




Lately, we’ve been eating them like they were going out of style. Local specimens won’t be ripe for at least a month, mind you, but the markets are full of them anyway, in all shades and sizes. Last week we went through two watermelons, dense and sweet, each no bigger than a child’s head. Over the weekend, I brought home a cantaloupe. It smelled like picnics and honey and warm air, and when I set it on the counter to soften a bit, it sent up a cloud of fragrance as thick as fog. It reminded me of something I’d read in Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries last winter, when melon season was long past. There was one page in particular that I folded down, a recipe for a better day, a hot summer day, a salad of ripe melon and cured meat with fresh mozzarella and arugula.

Now, granted, it’s not hot quite yet, but it is summer, sort of, and when a melon announces its readiness, I sit up and listen.

Most days, I would argue that prosciutto and melon, put together, are hard to improve upon, but Nigel Slater knows his business. Sure enough, there’s no deal that can’t be sweetened with the clean, milky chew of fresh mozzarella and the slow burn of young arugula. Mr. Slater’s original recipe yields a tossed salad, but for the sake of prettiness – and so as not to bruise the fruit and greens – I made mine a composed version, positioned around the plate like numbers on a clock. First came the melon, coarsely cubed; then thick slices of cheese; a pile of prosciutto torn into rags; and a heap of peppery greens. Each got a drizzle or douse of olive oil and lemon, and some got a little of both. It was hardly sixty degrees that day, but at our white table by the window, for a half hour or so, it felt like midsummer. I highly recommend it.


Early Summer Composed Salad
Inspired by Nigel Slater and his Kitchen Diaries

This salad is only as good as its individual components, so make sure your ingredients are as good as possible. (I know I’ve said that before, but I mean it.) The melon, especially, should be a great one - sweet and fragrant, the kind that makes you stop and inhale, sighing a little, each time you walk past. I like to let mine sit on the kitchen counter until I’m sure it’s plenty ripe, and then I stick it in the fridge for a few hours before serving. (I like most fruits best when they’re chilled, especially melons.) The olive oil, too, should be of excellent quality. My current favorite is this one, made in Sacramento. Tea introduced me to it, and as she says, it’s almost more like olive juice than it is like olive oil. (That’s a good thing, in case you’re wondering.) It’s a beautiful shade of yellowy green, thick and cloudy and wonderfully grassy. It makes everything it touches stand up and sing.

The quantities below are approximate and make a light Sunday lunch or supper for two people. For a vegetarian alternative, replace the prosciutto with ribbons of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Brandon gives it his seal of approval.

½ of a small ripe cantaloupe, seeds and rind removed, cut into rough 1-inch chunks
A few thin slices of prosciutto, torn into wide strips
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into six slices
About 4 ounces baby arugula
1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for serving
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving
Crunchy salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper
A small handful of Italian parsley leaves (optional)

Divide the melon, prosciutto, and mozzarella between two plates, arranging each item in its own little pile. Set aside.

Put the arugula in a medium bowl. In a small cup, whisk together 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Drizzle the dressing over the arugula, and, using your hands, toss very gently. (Arugula bruises ridiculously easily. It’ll bruise if you even look at it wrong.) Put a handful of arugula on each plate, alongside the melon, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the mozzarella. Splash a bit of lemon juice over the melon. Drizzle the melon and mozzarella with olive oil. Sprinkle a bit of parsley over the plates, if you like. Serve, with plenty of crusty bread.

Yield: 2 servings

39 Comments:

Blogger foodette said...

Here in LA we also have dreary Mays and Junes (called June Gloom), so I understand a bit what you are going through. It must be the Pacific. But your salad sounds like a lovely way to evoke the needed feelings of summer on a cloudy spring day.

4:35 PM, May 29, 2007  
Anonymous Katie said...

Oh, heavens do I know the feeling. We're only like a week ahead of you in Portland, but I have had it! May is such a tease. I've also had the experience of trying to bring a delicate cake on the bus, in some sort of contraption so as not to destroy it. Ugh! No fun.

Anyway, this salad looks wonderful, keep up the simple summery recipes!

5:11 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger s said...

i have a serious problem. every monday, after waiting all day for the new post, i obsessively run out to the market and buy whatever it is you tell me i should be eating. i can't even wait until the next day. oh, instant gratification...

5:21 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Deborah Dowd said...

This salad sounds like a healthy way to indulge my love of prosciutto! Summer will come (even to Seattle)and with it heirloom tomatoes, melon and ears of sweet corn!

7:13 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger kickpleat said...

This May has been horrible, i agree. however, today was simply lovely and hot like it shouuld be going into June. Unfortunately, like this month, I can't get behind the melon. Oh well. It looks pretty!

8:17 PM, May 29, 2007  
Anonymous Dee said...

Molly, you must accelerate the book project -- your writing is so dee-lightful and the recipes are all keepers! Thanks for sharing another devine recipe that will be perfect for summer as well as our southern spring weather!

Ciao,
Dee

2:11 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Karen said...

Molly, I just discovered your lovely blog and have spent days catching up--agreed that May is not one of the greatest months. The melon-prosciutto-arugula salad looks delectable! As for good olive oil, I actually received this as a Christmas present and it is the MOST delicious thing I have ever tasted.

2:11 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Inne said...

So glad I'm not the only miserable one! London has been cold, wet and grey for more than a month now. I've gone back to eating my winter staple (soup) and I'm still wearing my winter coat. But your recipe sure sounds summery. Hopefully June will be better...

4:37 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Auglaise said...

I'm envious of your upcoming warmer weather, here in London we're set for another several weeks of rain and freezing temperatures after an April mostly in the upper 20's (between 70-90 on that side of the pond.

Thanks for another wonderful looking salad - I'm slowing becoming addicted to French-inspired lentil one!

4:52 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

What a beautiful post - just like poetry. I'm enjoying your recipes from afar and I can't wait to try this one!

5:30 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I should have my wife read this as you would think that Seattle is rosey the year round

6:38 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Kara said...

Oh, if you only knew how much I wished I lived in Seattle. Here in Kentucky, we've had summer long enough that I am thoroughly sick of it, and longing for a really good rainstorm.

That said, I must say that even a non-lover of cantalope could get on board with this salad!

6:46 AM, May 30, 2007  
Anonymous ann said...

oh god, don't you just looooooove nigel? he's my cooking muse, if a man can be a muse that is. sounds like you and I are having the same rain karma. we went on vacay to Colorado last week, the sunniest state in like America, and everywhere we went it either rained or snowed. my boyfriend, who's from there, was horrified by my weather karma. I warned him, but he chose not to believe me.
anywho, what a great, sunny, pick-me-up salad you created! I can't wait to give it a go!

8:05 AM, May 30, 2007  
Anonymous Melissa said...

It sounds like you and I are pretty much in the same boat, my dear - May be damned! I remember only too well how fickle things can be in Seattle at this time of the year - we used to joke that summer deliberately waits until July 5th to arrive because it has so much fun seeing everyone's Independence Day celebrations rained out! Truth be told, though, if I had a few days of 82-degree weather here and there I wouldn't be complaining so much. ;)

As for the addition of mozzarella and arugula to the classic melone e prosciutto - genius. I'm definitely going to be eating it too, as soon as the good melons start making it all the way up here.

10:14 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

i heart june, and pretty much anything that mixes savory with sweet. lovely lovely post molly. i am off to feel some melons, err...

10:51 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Sarah said...

It's not just Seattle. Northern California is REALLY confusing right now, weather wise. I just wish it would make a decision and BE summer instead of wickedly windy at night and freezing in the morning.

On another note, June will mean that my favorite fruit/veggie stand will FINALLY open. Hurrah! I vote for an early June!

12:49 PM, May 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi--this is one of my favorite food combinations--this is so delicious-yum

12:51 PM, May 30, 2007  
Anonymous Marvin said...

Another beautifully written post Molly. I'm curious though, do you ever use that Bariani for sauteeing or frying? Or is its flavor best not wasted on heat?

1:52 PM, May 30, 2007  
Anonymous meg said...

Sing it, Sister! This sounds sooo good. I love summer, not in small part because I love summer fruit. Thank you for giving me one more thing to add to the official Summer Foods list in our home. (Is it wrong that my idea of summer is foodcentric? Is that a word?)

2:03 PM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger shari said...

i'm quite fond of june too. it's my birthday month and was my grandfather's as well. in my mind, june equals banana ice cream, bare feet, birthday cake, and just plain fun. looking forward to trying out the vegetarian version of this recipe. thanks molly. xox

3:49 PM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger chez shoes said...

I do hope your enthusiasm is catching! I want to like summer, really I do, but here in Los Angeles it basically stretches from May through Thanksgiving, with a bit of relief known as June Gloom. And when many of those days are over 100 degrees, it makes me long for *winter* instead.

6:53 PM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger e.b. said...

Here in FLA it is hot and we are praying for rain and that sounds delicious and refreshing. A perfect light fair to beat the heat. Which means no matter the weather good food is good food.

8:20 PM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Foodette, this is the first time I've heard the term "June Gloom," but boy, do I ever know what it is. Hope you're hanging in there.

Katie, I saw some photographs recently of the Portland farmers' market, and you guys look to be waaaay ahead of us where produce is concerned! So much gorgeous stuff. Summer is just around the corner (I hope)...

Aw, S, that doesn't sound like much of a problem to me. ;) How was the salad?

Oh, Deborah, the thought of sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes makes me feel faint! I know they'll be here soon, but it's not soon enough.

No melon for you, kickpleat? Darn! I used to be right there with you, I have to say. It's only in recent years that I've started to like the stuff. Maybe there's hope for you too?

My pleasure, Dee! And as for the book, I'll see what I can do! Slowly but surely, it's coming together...

Ooh, Karen! You've piqued my interest with that Spanish olive oil. Brandon and I might have splurge on a bottle.

I certainly hope June will be better, Inne! I've got my fingers crossed.

Auglaise, I'm so glad you liked the lentil salad! Good, good. And as for the weather, well, I have to tell you, it was 85 degrees here today. I don't know how long it will last - probably only about 10 seconds - but I hope for the same for you soon!

Thanks so much, Helen.

Wheresmymind, it's rosy most of the year. Most.

Kara, I can well imagine what it must be like in Kentucky! Having grown up in Oklahoma, I know all about that business of intense heat and humidity. I'm headed back there for a visit in only a couple of weeks, actually, and I'm already steeling myself for the heat. Eek!

Ann, I love the idea of "weather karma"! Just don't come to Seattle anytime soon. ;) We don't need any snow.

Melissa, I was just reading your post today about the rough weather you're having, and I loved the thought of your Catalan chickpeas. It's almost enough to make a girl wish for nasty weather... xo

Thanks, sweet Hannah! Now, um, how were the melons? xo

Sarah, I've heard about the weird weather in Northern California! I hear people are wearing mittens in San Francisco. Yikes! Here's hoping it warms up soon. I'm headed down there for my bachelorette weekend in about 10 days, and I DO NOT plan to pack mittens.

Thanks, Anonymous! Glad you agree.

Marvin, to tell you the truth, I haven't even tried cooking with Bariani. I mainly use it in salad dressings and for drizzling. It just seems too good to heat, you know? Have you tried it?

Meg, my entire life is foodcentric! You're speaking my language.

Oh Shari, I love the thought of your June! Banana ice cream! Bare feet! Birthday cake! Count me in. When's the party? xo

Yikes, chez shoes! If it were regularly 100+ degrees here, I'm afraid I would feel just as you do. In that case, I'm sending you my very best wishes for wintry weather!

Amen, e.b.! I like that. No matter where or when, good food is good food indeed.

12:00 AM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous abby said...

OK-can I say that I sooo feel ya on the weather thing?! It is warm today in Portland but they are predicting cold showers next week!
Oh well...
I am just finishing up "Diaries" and loving it. I am honestly a little scared of the melon+meat thing, been a vegetarian for years but recently started with meat again. Maybe I'll just have to try it.

7:58 AM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger Kirsten said...

Hi Molly,

I can just guess what night your dreary cab ride occurred! It was lovely to meet you and Brandon in person; We enjoyed chatting, and I hope we run into you again around town.

This salad is on the menu tonite - to celebrate the approaching midnite sun and lingering warmth of the evening hours, even if only a preview for actual summer days to come.

1:43 PM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger tammy said...

Beautiful recipe, beautiful prose.

7:18 PM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger Michelle said...

Hi Molly,
I know exactly what you mean, May isn't exactly the greatest month for lovers of food, too early for melons, too late for soup, no big holidays to cook for, an epicurean's limbo, hopefully, summer will come fast. Perhaps I will bump into you in OKC. That would be pretty cool. I'm often at Saturn Grill. Also, there's a new meat market next door to La Baguette Bistro and Bakery, they sell those cool little chicken breasts with the wing bone still attached, the same one's they use in the restaurant, I forgot what they're called, but I really impressed my family with that meal. An eager farewell to May ...
Michelle

10:51 PM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger Anne said...

I am loving your gorgeous writing, it makes me hungry just to read it! What I was wondering is, do you think Jimmy's decadent quiche recipe would lend itself to being made in a bigger pie pan instead of individual servings? I'd like to feed it to a bigger crowd so we don't all pass out from sheer gluttony but I don't know if it would assemble properly in a bigger dish. Can you give me any quiche tips?

11:44 AM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger Rose said...

Hi Molly,
I hope you will excuse what I am going to say now but... I actually didn't read your post. The melon salad looks and sounds delicious but I am too lazy today to read anything. Why comment then? because I just saw the picture that you added on your profile and you just look stunning, gorgeous, beautiful, so adorable. Love your hair even more! Brandon is a lucky man! Petit veinard!
Have a great weekend Molly!

12:02 PM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger cchang said...

Oooh! That is so fresh and yummy. I can just smell the cantaloupe from here. :) It's peach season right now in Texas and those taste lovely in salads as well with blue cheese and pecans...

12:03 PM, June 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carless is Seattle is not so bad. Sprawl in this part of country is nothing compared to anywhere in the Midwest. We've adjusted to packing more travel-friendly items to bring to gatherings. Unfortunately, my shoe collection has become much more utilitarian; but being carless has relieved much unnecessary stress in our lives. Carrying our cat to the vet in the rain in a carboard carrier has been a challenge. Yes, the rain sucks, but so does traffic.

3:05 PM, June 01, 2007  
Anonymous Amy said...

I couldn't agree with you more, this spring has just been one day of wacky weather after another. Temperature changes of 20+ degrees in two days is ridiculous. But I love summer in Seattle and I'm really looking forward to June.

3:52 PM, June 01, 2007  
Anonymous Mary said...

Very nicely written post. Thanks, I needed it - I just came in from a rainstorm of the sort where I had to hang my clothes up upon entering the house and they're creating a puddle beneath them. May indeed. I'm looking forward to melon season and more reasonable summer weather.

1:20 PM, June 02, 2007  
Blogger wellunderstood said...

made this for dinner last night, a humid and rainy early summer evening . . . with a glass of white wine we were in heaven! i drizzled a bit of the wine over the melon, too. this will certainly be a featured menu for our summertime enjoyment! yum!

6:00 AM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous Caroline said...

Loving your photography style... I know you are writer extraordinaire... it is as if your words float into ones brain and bring a smile with them. But, I have been quite captivated by your pics too. Thanks for all your good work and inspiration!

8:44 AM, June 04, 2007  
Blogger Jes said...

Oh Molly,
i have been reading your blog for so long now, and i love it, absolutely love it. so much so, that last summer-ish i spent nearly every day catching up on the previous two year's posts. (i can't wait for your book.)
i'm hoping for better weather as well as i will be in seattle tomorrow. i so look forward to the restaurants and market. would you have any recommendations for a couple of vegetarians (who are sugar and wheat free as well)?

jes
healthybird.blogspot.com

8:57 AM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous Katie said...

re: Portland Farmer's Market -- it is seriously getting incredible, it's so exciting! I bought some hood strawberries Saturday, that looked a bit iffy and they were amazing, but we have already had strawberries (they've been growing them in greenhouses) for almost a month that have been pretty darn good. We're so, so lucky here.

Btw, I made this salad last week, and it was delicious, simple, and a perfect quick weeknight meal. I found some fabulous lemon basil at the store that I sprinkled on top instead of parsley, it really brightened it.

4:55 PM, June 04, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Hello, all! So sorry to have not been able to keep up with your comments. The past couple of weeks have been busy, wedding-wise, and I have a feeling that it's only just beginning! Oof.

At any rate, just a few words.

Kirsten, you do know exactly which night I mean! Ugh. After such a nice time, it was such an awful, awful cab ride! Not fair.

Michelle, I might well run into you in OKC! Brandon and I are headed there next week, for some pre-wedding festivities...

Anne, I worry that I may be way too late in replying to your comment, but yes, you can definitely make Jimmy's quiche in a standard-size tarte or quiche or pie pan. It'll take longer to bake, but just keep your eye on it.

Aw, thank you, Rose!

So glad to hear it, wellunderstood!

Oh Jes, I am WAY too late, no doubt, to help you, and I'm so sorry. But for future reference, I would suggest Cafe Flora or Carmelita. Both are vegetarian restaurants, and I know that Cafe Flora, for one, is especially good with food restrictions. Hope you come back to Seattle soon!

Katie, I love the idea of that lemon basil. Yum.

11:31 PM, June 07, 2007  
Blogger amisha said...

sigh... i'm late to this but i think that this may very well make this hot, sticky early july seem a little lovelier as well. loving the beauty of the composed salad, so elegant on the plate. and there are still plump sweet melons to be had.

3:11 PM, July 02, 2007  

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