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Garden watermelons reaching their peak

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Updated: November 11, 2012 1:56AM



T he weekends during the remainder of the summer are limited, and so is the nice weather.

Stroll past a public park on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll find a swarm of picnicking patrons — all forcing in one final summer excursion before the cool weather of autumn sets in.

The grills are out, the frisbees are flying, and the foods of summer bid goodbye once again on their farewell tour.

Fried chicken, sweet tea and sweet corn all get to experience their final toasts to summer, as does watermelon — the archetypal food of the late, hot summertime days.

It doesn’t take much to enjoy a watermelon in summer, especially when the flesh is sweet and the seeds are few. Chilled and sliced, it’s ready to eat.

If it comes from your garden, it’s even tastier, and now is the time when the garden watermelons are reaching their peak. Firm and green, their little white spots on the rear are disappearing and their rind finally makes a nice hollow thump.

My garden variety is an heirloom Sugar Baby — sweet, juicy and small enough to fit in the refrigerator. Perfect for a picnic.

But it’s also perfect on the supper table, on a dessert menu or as an elegant first course drizzled with balsamic vinegar and paired with prosciutto. Its versatility may be its greatest asset — other than its taste, of course.

A growing trend in the United States is to mix the sweet taste of watermelon with savory ingredients. Feta cheese, with all of its salty exterior and milkiness, makes an excellent complement for the sweet and juicy bite of the watermelon.

Tossed together in a salad, the flavors meld into one united taste of summer. And with a smattering of balsamic vinegar, cracked black pepper and a few slivers of fresh basil and prosciutto, the level of flavor and elegance of this dish goes from final summer picnic to moonlit al fresco dinner.

There’s no need to remove the seeds of the watermelon in this dish. In even the most formal situations, spitting out the little black dots is like saying goodbye to summer one final time.

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Prosciutto

1 small watermelon, cubed into about 2-inch chunks (or 1/2 large watermelon)

2 cups feta cheese, cubed

1/4 pound proscuitto, rolled and sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Balsamic vinegar

Cracked black peppercorns

Combine watermelon, feta, prosciutto and basil in a large bowl. Grind pepper according to taste. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.



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