I invented this salad as an answer to Ivonne and Lis's call for contributions to their La Festa al Fresco event. Any dish using at least one seasonal, fresh ingredient would fit. This was more challenging for me than it might appear. First off, my market, now more than any other time during the year, is an absolute embarrassment of riches. The peaches, nectarines and plums (I bought 5 different varieties of plums alone, this week!) seem to be coming in faster than they can be sold. In the past week, I have gone through pounds of stone fruit in an attempt at the summer classic, homemade fruit pie (Don’t ask…really.), and I eat at least two out of hand every day. The figs (Black Mission, Calimyrna, Brown Turkey) which have been in fairly steady supply all summer are now at center stage in the produce section—two pounds for the price of one! And then there are the melons, daring me to gut and peel them with my largest, razor sharp chef’s knife.
The other challenge was that, even with all these luscious items at my fingertips, I didn’t really want to do much cooking. Part of my resistance was that Mike is away on business, but it also seemed quite silly to mess with nature’s perfection. All of this, plus an impending tropical storm or possibly hurricane here in South Florida, set me on a search for a dish where loveliness would be the result of sheer simplicity.
For inspiration, I flipped through the pages of Once Upon A Tart, the beautifully produced cookbook by New York City bakery owners, Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau. Far more than just tarts, this book is full of salads, soups and snazzy sandwich ideas. Their baguette bursting with watercress and thinly sliced brie, pears and figs caught my eye, but a sandwich was not quite what I had in mind. So, I went to bed with visions of baguettes and summer fruit dancing in my head. At some point before I fell asleep, the Honey-Cress Salad came together in my mind. Of course prosciutto and melon is a gorgeous salty-sweet combination, and the enormous, pale green honeydew melons have been calling out to me from their bin every time I go shopping. I would artfully arrange them on a bed of watercress and anoint all of it with a light honey-lemon dressing and a touch of olive oil to mellow the bite of the greens. Thin shavings of manchego would add another textural element and anchor the sweetness of the melon and honey while acting as a perfect pair with the prosciutto.
As I shopped for the ingredients the following day, I wondered if my nighttime salad fantasy would actually turn into a delicious reality. I will spare you the details of my careful prep work (I sometimes lack the patience to arrange things in a way that anyone would call “artful.”), and tell you that this salad is a dream come true. The bitter watercress became subtly peppery and the manchego fused with the prosciutto and melon like shavings of butter. Accompanied by crusty multigrain bread, this was all I needed for a simple summer meal. The portion above was intended to serve two, but I greedily finished most of it. For a larger crowd, or perhaps a festa al fresco, you can simply double the recipe as many times as you need to fill your largest serving platter. This is the kind of salad that can sit on the table along with your other dishes so diners can scoop up portions of it throughout a long, langorous meal, served under the setting summer sun.
Honey-Cress Salad with Prosciutto
I recommend the following amounts to serve four as part of a meal. Double the ingredients as many times as you need to serve a larger crowd.
3 tblsp. honey
1 tblsp. hot water
juice of half a lemon
1/2 honeydew melon, cut into wedges and peeled, then thinly sliced into uniform 3-inch pieces
4 cups watercress, thick stems removed
extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground pepper
6 to 8 very thin slices of prosciutto, torn into smaller pieces
3 to 4 oz. manchego cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Make the honey dressing: combine the honey, water and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
Arrange the watercress on a serving platter. Sprinkle with a touch of olive oil and season lightly with pepper. Toss too combine. Over the watercress, arrange the melon slices and prosciutto alternating in a circular pattern. Any extra prosciutto can be used to make little "rosettes" in the center of the platter. Strew the platter with shavings of manchego cheese, sprinkle with ground pepper and drizzle the honey dressing over the salad. You will not need to use all the dressing, but it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple days.
technorati tags: la festa al fresco
To see the roundup of all the Festa al Fresco dishes, take a look here on September 5th.