Soon after we arrived on the south coast of Massachusetts for our summer vacation, I invited a good friend who lives nearby to come for an impromptu supper. At a local market I picked up a ripe cantaloupe, some thinly sliced prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella balls. At home I was planning to use them to make one of my favorite appetizers—skewers of cubed melon paired with paper-thin ribbons of prosciutto and fresh mozzarella balls all drizzled with basil-scented olive oil. All was going well until I realized I didn’t have any wooden (or metal for that matter) skewers in my rental kitchen!
Within minutes, though, I had a solution. I could simply arrange cantaloupe wedges on a platter and garnish them with mounds of mozzarella balls and with prosciutto slices rolled into cornucopias. I used a quickly made basil oil (a puree of fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil) as a marinade for the mozzarella, and also drizzled it over the melon and prosciutto. Voilà– a new salad perfect as a first course for a warm-weather meal.
Following this improvised salad, I served crispy pan-fried chicken cutlets with lemon wedges on a bed of linguine lightly coated with a homemade tomato sauce. If preferred, grilled fish, lamb, or sausages could be offered with tender haricots verts or green beans tossed in butter and sprinkled with fresh herbs. Happy summer cooking, everyone!
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Melon, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Drizzled with Basil-Scented Olive Oil
1 bunch fresh basil (enough to make 1/2 cup lightly packed leaves) plus extra sprigs for garnish, optional
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, peeled
1 small ripe cantaloupe (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
6 paper-thin slices best quality prosciutto (about 6 ounces)
16 small balls of fresh mozzarella di buffala (6 to 8 ounces)
1.Pull off 16 large basil leaves or enough to make 1/2 cup loosely packed leaves: rinse them and pat dry. Rinse and dry remaining basil and reserve for garnish.
2.Combine olive oil, garlic, and basil leaves in a food processor or blender and process, pulsing machine several times, until the basil and garlic are finely chopped and blended into the oil. Oil will be a bright green and thin, not thick as for pesto. Set aside. (The oil can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cover and leave at room temperature.)
3.Halve the mozzarella balls and place in a medium bowl. Pour 1/4 cup of basil oil over them and toss gently to coat well. Marinate at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.
4.Halve cantaloupe through the stem and scoop out and discard seeds. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Cut off skin from each wedge and discard. Cut each wedge into 1/2-inch thick slices. You should get about 10 to 12 slices from each half.
5.Trim and discard any excess fat from the prosciutto slices, then cut each slice in half crosswise and roll into a cornucopia shape.
6.To serve, arrange half of the melon slices slightly overlapping on one side of a serving platter or plate, and arrange remaining melon slices in the same way on other side of the platter. Mound mozzarella balls and arrange rolled prosciutto on platter. Drizzle the melon and prosciutto lightly with some of the basil oil. Place remaining basil oil in a small bowl to serve with a spoon. If desired, garnish platter with some basil sprigs. Serves 4 to 6.
Adapted from The Big Book of Backyard Cooking by Betty Rosbottom (Chronicle Books 2004)