Watermelon and Arugula Salad

Watermelon and Arugula SaladThe Ripe Stuff
Last week I was out in my garden, and noticed that one of my watermelons “looked” like it was ready to be picked and devoured. Silly me. After many years in the grocery business, not to mention growing my own food, I assumed I would be able to figure out if a watermelon was ripe. Oh the arrogance! I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.

When I cut open the melon, it was totally white inside. No ruby red juiciness. Not even a lovely shade of blush. It was straight up flavorless, white melon flesh. I was mad, I was sad, and I was frustrated. Why couldn’t Mother Nature have come up with some handy little device that would tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the bounty in your garden was ready to be enjoyed? Kinda like one of those pop-up things that comes in your turkey. That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

Alas, it was not meant to be. So instead, I went in search of tricks to knowing when your produce is ripe. Some of the info I got was pretty cool. For most fruits and vegetables, it can be as easy as looking at the color. Bananas turn yellow, tomatoes turn red, and carrots turn orange.

It’s not always about looks. Sometimes you need a trick from an expert. So, I went our produce manager for a tutorial. Here are a few things I learned:

To test if artichokes are ready to eat, squeeze them. If they squeak they’re good to go. If they don’t they’re probably old. It’s the same with Zucchini. If they squeak when two squash are rubbed together they are ripe.

Peaches may look ready, but when you get them home they are either too hard and flavorless or too soft and icky. Color is a good indicator but not always accurate. The best way to know if a peach is ready is to push gently at the top where the tree stem should be. If it is soft it’s ready. For nectarines, if the skin on the outside is shiny, it’s not ready yet. The skin should be matte in appearance for a perfect nectarine. I learned these tips a few years ago from Fitzgerald Kelley who provides us with his tasty peaches and nectarines. I haven’t had a bad one since.

Melons probably present the most challenges when trying to determine their ripeness and, apparently, watermelons are the hardest of all, which made me feel a little better. The best way to check a watermelon for ripeness is to thump it with your finger. If it sounds hollow, it’s ripe.

Muskmelons, like Cantaloupe, are easy. The more fragrant they are, the riper they are. Also, if you push on the blossom end and it gives a little bit, then it’s ripe.

Honeydew Melons are the most fun though. Honeydew is ripe when you run your fingers across it’s skin and they stick. If your fingers slide easily across the skin, it’s not ripe yet. The reason is that as the melon ripens, the sugars from the fruit are released through the skin thus making it “sticky”. Not honey sticky but, well…sticky. Try it next time you’re in the store. It’s kinda cool.

So when you find that perfect watermelon, enjoy it right out of the fridge or, better yet, try this Watermelon and Arugula Salad adapted from the Barefoot Contessa. It’s a super fast great Summertime salad! 

Watermelon and Arugula Salad
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?
Serves six

1/2 pound baby arugula leaves
2 pounds seedless watermelon, 3/4-inch-diced (an approximately 3-pound watermelon)
1/3 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2-pound chunk Parmesan cheese

Place the arugula and watermelon in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pour enough dressing on the arugula and watermelon mixture to moisten. Adjust to taste. Toss well and place on 6 salad plates or a serving platter.

Using a vegetable peeler or the large blade of a grater, shave the Parmesan into large, flat pieces and sprinkle them over the arugula and watermelon.

Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve.


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