To my mind, one of the best things about summer is the abundance of available fresh, ripe, and often local, melon. My favorites are orange-flesh muskmelons, such as cantaloupe and Tuscan cantaloupe (similar to the former, but enhanced with green stripes). I am rather picky, I admit. The fruit should be firm but appropriately tender, juicy, sweet, fragrant, and never, never mealy.
Even though my family doesn’t often have trouble consuming the one or two melons we buy each week at the market, the summer heat can often transform a lovely ripe melon into a mealy mess within a day. To avoid this catastrophe, I have found that preparing soup is one of the best ways to quickly put a good bit of this fruit to delicious use.
The following recipe actually serves equally well as a cold or room-temperature soup and the base of a fruit smoothie to which you could add other fruit, yogurt, buttermilk, or ice cream, for that matter. This is also one of those nifty dishes that babies, children, and adults can all enjoy.
If the melon is ripe enough, you don’t need to add much else to it, save for a bit of salt to brighten and enhance the fruit’s sweetness and a splash of vanilla extract or a pinch of vanilla seeds scraped from a plump bean. You can’t really taste the vanilla, but it does add depth and complexity to the melon’s floral characteristics.
Serve this soup by itself, with a sprig of mint or basil, and a scoop of fresh ricotta cheese, if desired.
Summer Melon Soup
Seed, peel, and chop one medium cantaloupe or other orange-flesh muskmelon. (You should have about 4 cups.) Put the fruit in a blender, add ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (or the seeds from about ½ a vanilla bean), and puree until very smooth. Pour the soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese and garnished with fresh basil or mint, if desired.
Makes about 4 cups