Melons are in their peak season right now, inexpensive, plentiful, and full of sweet promise. The cantaloupes I've lugged home for the last two weeks have been wondrous--intensely floral, sugar-sweet juice bombs that are an easy way to flex some Italian muscle.
Italians have a particular fondness for cantaloupe and its cousins. A large platter of fragrant, sliced melone is a popular and refreshing end to a meal in just about every region. In Lombardia or Emilia Romagna it may be garnished with a grind of aromatic nutmeg or a dribble of aceto balsamico; in Rome, it might receive a shower of fresh mint, and in Sicily, a sprinkle of sea salt. The classic pairing before dinner is prosciutto con melone, an antipasto incorrectly offered year-round in too many restaurants outside of Italy. When served the Italian way, with the melon at it peak, perfectly ripe, sweet and luscious with locally cured, hand-cut prosciutto, the combination is a revelation.
But hot, muggy days are made for gelato di melone. Ripe melons have a high sugar and water content as well as dense flesh, resulting in a creamy-textured gelato without the addition of eggs or milk. If you want that extra bit of dimension from a just bit of dairy, my trick is to add a small amount of yogurt; the acidity gives a pleasing, subtle tang to offset the natural sweetness of the melon.
Two medium cantaloupes will give you about 3 pounds of flesh, after you've removed the skins and seeds (and shoved a few chunks in your mouth like I did), which yields about 6 to 7 cups of unfrozen gelato mix. Feel free to adjust this recipe up or down to accommodate the size of your ice cream freezer.
Gelato di Melone
-Makes about 1 1/2 quarts of frozen gelato.-
2 medium, ripe cantaloupes 1/2 cup honey a pinch of kosher salt Fresh juice from 1/2 a lime 1 cup plain yogurt, whole or nonfat (optional)
1. Clean the cantaloupes and cut them into cubes; you should have about 3 pounds of cubed melon. Puree the melon in a blender with the honey, salt, lime juice, and yogurt (if using). If your blender is small, you may have to do this in batches.
2. Strain the mixture through a fine meshed sieve to remove any fibrous pulp. Taste the gelato base and adjust the sweetness up or down to your preference with honey and lime juice.
3. Freeze the mixture in a gelato or ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
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