For all that I adore summer, and the lighter, crisper, juicier sort of cooking that comes with it, the whole thing can quickly become a little fraught. I mean, there’s the overbearing heat, which can swiftly turn me from sassy cookstress into wilted puddle, unable to eat anything other than frozen peas. Also, and I guess this is because I am an overthinker, I get really dithery – do I go rice-papery and Japanese or mezze-bowley Greek salad-y or maybe some kind of Moroccan influenced flatbread wrap thing and I can’t choose so would it be weird to go Italo-Thai? There’s nothing like indecision to make you sweaty. Finally, I sometimes find myself unable to focus on anything approaching practicality, and instead become obsessed with making something sweet….
This was one of those times.
It was, I believe, back in October when I first felt the stirring desire to make watermelon sorbet. Unfortunately watermelons just weren’t around. Luckily I am emotionally study enough to wait patiently. They have finally become cheap at the markets and my wish is not only attainable, it’s much more seasonally appropriate.
I didn’t have a recipe to follow so I scoured the internet, and finally ended up with the following, a pastiche inspired by several sources.
1 large watermelon
1 cup sugar
1 egg white
Scoop out all the flesh from inside the watermelon and puree it in a food processor (I had to do it in batches since my watermelon was so huge). A lot of recipes said to strain the juice and discard the flesh but I thought that was kind of a waste of flavour and texture. Unfortunately that meant I had the relatively nightmarish task of picking out the black seeds. You choose what you’re up for. Meanwhile, bring the sugar and water to the boil in a pan on the stove, without stirring, and let it bubble away till reduced by half (but not burnt). Once this is cooled, pour it into the watermelon puree, stir, and then tip the lot into an appropriate container and freeze till solid. What you want to do now – and again, not the simplest of tasks – is puree the now-frozen watermelon and syrup in the food processor, which breaks down any inevitable ice crystals. Finally, whisk the egg white till stiff and carefully fold it through the pureed sorbet, then pop it back in the freezer. Don’t be put off by the egg white step, you can’t taste it at all and it gives the sorbet a great texture. Plus you won’t need an ice-pick to scrape out a bowl of sorbet.
Et voila. Sunset-coloured summery goodness in a bowl is only 24 hours, six bowls, and a sticky food processor away. Don’t let that put you off though. Not only is this delicious, it’s also very pretty, and not entirely unhealthy. I imagine it would be fairly awesome if you blended it with vodka and quaffed it from margarita glasses. For those of you paddling through winter on the other side of the hemisphere, it is worth waiting for, although this stuff is so good that you might as well pay $16 for a watermelon flown in from Madagascar to make it. Indeed, you might think watermelon in its unadulterated state is quite refreshing enough, thank you, and to a certain -extent it is – the stuff is like solidified vitamin water. But for those times when you just can’t leave well alone…
I actually bought two watermelons from the market. Well, I bought them, Tim brought them home…a fair transaction, I feel. For my next trick, I used a sizeable portion of the second one to make this incredible salad from Forever Summer by my (unwitting) muse Nigella Lawson. The combination may sound a little unusual but it works. As if I was going to question Nigella.
Watermelon, Feta, and Black Olive Salad (serves 8)
1 small red onion (which I left out because I didn’t have one)
2-4 limes depending on juiciness
1.5 kilos ripe watermelon
250g feta cheese
a bunch each of fresh flat-leaf parsely and mint
3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
100g pitted black olives
Peel and halve the red onion and slice finely. Put the slices in a small bowl with the lime juice. Meanwhile, remove the rind from the watermelon and cut into smallish triangular chunks. Either slice or crumble the feta and put them both into a wide shallow serving bowl. Tear up the parsely and chop the mint and sprinkle both over, followed by the onions and their juice, the oil, and the olives. Mix it gently and season with black pepper if desired.
I can’t remember what I served this with, but it really was lovely – cold, crisp watermelon against soft, salty cheese and tangy olives.