Wilting in Rome.

It’s too darn hot. At least it is for me. Vincenzo on the other hand is delighted by the soaring temperatures and assumes the Gecko position whenever possible. Such unreasonable weather however, like having your tonsils out, has a gastronomic benefit. Namely, that you can – with absolutely no need for justification or adherence to acknowledged meal times – consume as much ice-cream, sorbet, granita, jelly, ice-cold blancmange and panna cotta as you wish. In such weather it’s also permissable, advisable even when you feel the wilt, to stop whatever you are doing, roll up your sleeves and cut yourself a vast wedge – this is no time for dainty slices – of ice-cold watermelon. Vincenzo likes to squeeze some lemon juice over his. Shun all offers of cutlery and approach the eating of your wedge with slightly aggressive relish.

Until last year I’d never done anything with watermelon other than eat it in the manner described above. Then last year in Umbria my brother Ben and I made watermelon juice and then watermelon granita. Both were a great success, and thus my watermelon repertoire broadened from one to three; the wedge, the juice and the granita,

I’d read about watermelon and feta salad and watermelon and toasted haloumi salad and I’d been mildly interested but not convinced. Then a couple of weeks ago my Mum, Jenifer, rang with important news. Her voice was slightly urgent, and the line wasn’t terribly good. I felt the surge of panic that’s becoming more frequent and familiar as my parents get older and I stay in Italy.

It subsided as she proceeded to tell me with infectious enthusiasm the important news, green fingered news, the news about her garden. First the broad beans, and how they would be ready by the time I came back. ‘Don’t forget the pecorino when you come’ she said. ‘A nice big piece from Volpetti to eat with the broad beans.’ Then she talked about the gooseberries, the baby lettuces, the chard, courgettes, the rocket. Once I was fully up-to-date with garden progress, we talked about this, that, and a surprising and very good salad she had eaten at the Chelsea Physic Garden restaurant during her gardening course.

There were big pieces of ripe, sweet watermelon‘ she explained. ‘Surprisingly big pieces, with cubes of feta cheese, good feta, and some of those really wrinkled black olives, you know the sort?’

I think so‘ I replied. ‘You mean the wrinkled, very black, oven baked ones you used to buy from the Athenian grocer in Bayswater?

Exactly‘ said Mum. ‘There was some red onion, sliced very finely’ another long pause. ‘Oh and parsley, lots of parsley, chopped very roughly so you could really see the leaves.

Lemon juice? Olive oil?’

Of course‘ she said.

My Mum was right – she usually is when it comes to food related matters – it’s a surprisingly good salad. It’s delicious actually, good food for these searingly hot days. The crisp, cool, sweetness of the melon, the dark, briny olives, the creamy, salty feta, fragrant parsley, mild onion and the bright citrus make for a wonderful combination. I have made it several times now, tweaking and testing. Fresh mint makes an excellent addition, as many of you have already discovered, after all. this salad is well documented. On this occasion I added some cucumber which was nice, but mainly because it was such a tasty cucumber which is a rare thing these days. I suggest adding cucumber if you really like it – I do – otherwise it’s superfluous.

The watermelon should be ripe, sweet and well chilled, the onion red and mild. Toss the salad gently with your hands, it’s the best way. Serve immediately.

I have been eating this for lunch with bread, but I imagine it could be a good starter for a summer supper or part of a rambling BBQ.

Watermelon, cucumber, feta and black olive salad

Inspired by Mum’s Lunch at the Chelsea physic garden

Serves 2 as lunch, 4 as a starter. If this was a starter for supper I’d serve it alongside a plate of prosciutto.

  • a small, mild red onion
  • A handful of parsley
  • A sprig of mint
  • a few black olives (I use greek Kalamata or ideally the wrinkled oven baked ones)
  • 600g ripe, red, juicy watermelon
  • a small cucumber (optional)
  • 100g feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon or lime juice to taste
  • black pepper

Peel and chop the onion in two and slice each half carefully into slim half moons.

Pull the parsley leaves from the stalks, wash and pat them dry. Then chop the parsley very coarsely, you want nice leafy pieces. Do the same with the mint

Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into approximately 2cm chunks.

Peel the cucumber and cut it into 2cm cubes.

Cut the feta into rough 2cm cubes. Stone the olives.

Put the watermelon, cucumber, feta, parsley, mint, onion and black olives into a shallow bowl. Then spoon over the olive oil, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and a twist of black pepper. Then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don’t lose their shape.

Taste, and add more lemon or lime juice, olive oil or pepper if you think necessary.

Serve immediately.



Filed under food, fruit, parsley, recipes, salads, summer food, watermelon

37 responses to “Wilting in Rome.

  1. Roberto’s family sat at the kitchen table holding their breath on Sunday. You see I had the knife and the watermelon and the charge to split it open. A lot of ‘whoas’ and ‘be careful’ as the melon slid a bit with the knife firmly wedged. I wiggled it and yanked it, until finally I had succeeded. I set down the knife and wrung out my hands…’phew!’ Roberto’s father laughed.

    Now, I know that I would enjoy this salad. Everything about it sounds cool and lovely. I think Roberto and his family would love it as well. How could they not?

    And all I could think when you mentioned prosciutto was how lovely it tastes with cantaloupe. It’s only natural that it would do well with watermelon.

    I’m salivating. Thanks, R.

    • rachel

      The thought of you with a vast knife and the chorus of R’s family is fantastic, Ah the drama, I have seen this scene countless times here Italy, the melon, the knife, the onlookers, the crack as the melon opens. You make me smile.
      Yes lovely with proscuitto. I ate the end of the last salad with a slice.
      Keep cool- eat watermelon thats what I say.

  2. wow.
    I was born and raised in Iran, and although I happily live in Toronto now, I would be lying if I said that from time to time I don’t suffer from bouts of homesick blues… One of the ways I cheer myself up on those days is by eating nostalgic foods. I can’t even tell you how many of the ingredients in your salad are from my list of home-foods. Watermelon, mint, fetta, olives, cucumber? You stole my heart with this one. We’ll be making it for sure!

    • rachel

      Iran – I am starting to put the jigsaw of your interesting food culture (and thus wonderful blog) together. I know all about nostalgia eating. Although my English roots make it slightly less romantic fare -meat pie, custard anyone? Glad you like the salad !

  3. Wilting along here in N’ville, too. I have been surprised by the watermelon-feta-red onion combo–how it gushes, at once, salt and sweet. I wasn’t convinced, either, until last year, when my garden was overrun with wiley watermelon, and made several variations. Refreshing. Helps you un-wilt.
    Dressed in sherry vinaigrette is great as well.

    Love that first photo.

    Keep cool, Rach keep cool!

    • rachel

      You have watermelon your garden! That is so exotic. When i was little and we used to have watermelon in greece I thought it was the msot exotic ( and delcious) thing I had ever eaten. Love the idea of the sherry vin – will try, aso raspberry vinegar came to mind.
      I know N’ville is wilting, a friend just got back, it’s hotter than here – yikes. yes lets all keep cool!

  4. Watermelon and feta sound a little off-putting at first, but I agree with you–it’s a delicous combination. I have added pinenuts and substituted baby arugala for the parsley. I love your addition of of black olives. Stay cool.

    • rachel

      I like the idea of the arugula (Rocket to us strange English) and the pinenuts too – noted. The olives are a lovely addition, their salty, briney nature is a good contrast to the sweet melon.

  5. Watermelon with lemon juice squeezed over it? Oh, yes please. Why, oh why have I not yet thought to do this? (And maybe lime would work as well?)

    This is perhaps one of the best food-revelatory things I’ve heard since my grandfather taught me, a long long time ago, to butter my corn and then hit it with lots of freshly cracked black pepper.

    Wishing you cool breezes — we’re sweltering over here in Toronto as well!

    • rachel

      Lime does work – beautifully. The citrus is Vincenzo’s trick, his granfather was a farmer in sicily and grew lemons, they use them on everything. Breezes gratefully received, sending you some back.

  6. A wonderful mother-daughter collaboration. I just bought a small watermelon, but none of the other necessary ingredients. Although I’ve seen watermelon-feta creations on many occasions, I just haven’t made my own yet. I don’t even have a good excuse. It will have to wait until I purchase another melon, but not too long. It looks like a perfect summer salad, not to be missed. Also…I’m thinking of attempting almond granita this week. I have what I need for the granita. Wish me luck.

    • rachel

      Granita luck to you. I had almond granita yesterday – bought I hasten to add. I think it is quite right you eat the fist watermelon just so, you can make the salad with the second one. And the third, well, i think you’d like watermelon granita!

  7. johanna

    we too ate this as part of a delicious lunch in early june at the chelsea physic garden cafe (the tangerine dream café…!) i can attest it was delicious and yours looks just right. great idea to recreate it at home – so simple and refreshing, yet satisfying.

    • rachel

      Lucky you – I am longing to go to the Tangerine dream cafe (not sure about the name it seems a little bizarre). I am back soon so planning a trip. Yes it is lovely and refreshing, good for these wilting days,

  8. TD

    Watermelon with feta, not what I would have thought of without assistance, and that’s why your blog is so inspiring. I like the idea of cucumber with watermelon. I went back and re-read your post on the granitas and now I am so so thirsty for all that icy goodness. I have to make those soon.

    You know, I kinda get why Vincenzo enjoys the heat. Strange but I hate and love a humid heat…reminds me of what I used to call home growing up. Perhaps if you live in Rome long enough you too will someday sit like a gecko and simply soak in all that hot, humid air. That is a nasty thing to wish for but can be comforting to some. Oh great photos again! The first one made me hungry. In my opinion, the purpose of food photography is to whet the appetite, and you do it so well.

    • rachel

      I have been in Rome 5 years and if anything, I am getting worse at this hot thing. Next year we are going to bail out of Rome for a few months hoping the sea will help. Watermelon /feta combo is great. I was sceptical to say the least but now I believe. Glad you like the pictures, Vin said he thought they were weird and all cut up.

  9. perfect summer flavors (and i’m always a sucker for sweet and salty). we are melting here in brookyn. it’s about day 30 of straight 90’s temps. kill me! i’m trying SO hard to just point a fan at me instead of using the air conditioner, but it’s that humid heat that is just brutal.

    nothing a nice watermelon salad can’t help. Can I take a bath in this dish? sorry, it’s too pretty for that!

    • rachel

      Not sure about a bath but also made a facepack, very sticky but really quite nice. God it’s even hotter in NY – bloody hell we should all be by the sea in Sicilia.

  10. That salad sounds really lovely. I am very glad there was nothing more urgent than garden and salad news.

  11. Christine

    You know, I have a giant half of a watermelon hanging out in my fridge…we’ve been eating it in giant cut chunks, but maybe this is when I get over the idea that this would be anything less than great. BUT since I have no feta and lots of good blue cheese, maybe I’ll try it with that. hmmm…The husband will surely think I’ve lost my mind.

  12. Val

    I’m surrounded by watermelons at the moment and am sweltering away in the intoxicating heat. Watermelon is my saviour (as well as air conditioning) but I somehow can’t get myself to share the watermelon with any other ingredients, even a squeeze of lemon. I love it all by itself as a sweet snack that follows a savoury meal.

    Your salad does look incredibly good though and I am quite tempted to give it a go. I have half a watermelon in my fridge right now so I may just go ahead and use some of it to make this salad tonight!

  13. i miss the hot Roman summers. ahhhh….your salad looks lovely- a wonderful medley of flavours. x shayma

  14. Beautiful pictures! Everything looks so fresh and tasty it’s making me hungry right now. This salad sounds yummy, but do you have the recipe for the watermelon granita? lol

  15. Dea

    I make the most delicious fermented almond cheese, with nutritional yeast, salt, olive oil and lemon. It would make a great substitute to the Feta, this salad sounds delicious.
    Its hot here, but oddly enough never as hot as on the mainland…the wind coming off the sea keeps us cool. I am making smoothies these days for me, and for my family bellpeppers stuffed with bread crumbs, onion, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, raisins and stuff like this that I can make 1 batch and they can eat it with pasta, and in the evening with bread and a salad. I made melanzane ripiene the other day…big hit, usual bread crumb mix, … stuffed tomatoes, insalata di riso… all stuff that can be eaten cold. Last night I don’t know how I resisted but I made shredded zucchini and potato fritters (courtesy of Aran of Cannelle et Vanille an amazing blog) and home made garlic aioli. I fed them that with a nice green salad and crusty bread and fruit….
    I barely consult my cookbooks any more I just visit my favourite food blogs including yours!
    Ciao bella stay cool xoxo

    • rachel

      I like the sound of that cheese – apart from a ricotta mis – adventure I have never made cheese. I also like the sound of the stuffed bell peppers. oh and the garlic aioli. lovely stuff, lovely Dea.

  16. christina K

    Hi from Athens …where we’re used to wilting!
    Just wanted to write that this combination watermelon/feta is so familiar to us and I’m glad that many people abroad enjoy it too!
    P.S.: Those ideally wrinkled olives that you mention , we call them ”throuba” (θρούμπα)

    • rachel

      Hello Christina in Athens
      Athens – wonderful, one of my favourite cities ! Thank you for this message and I am so happy to know the name of
      the delcious wrinkled olives – Throuba – I will remember that !

  17. I don’t usually post comments on blogs – I’m typically a lurker. But this topic has left me eager to share a very simple recipe with you. Please try this – the first time I ate it I swear I made it for a week straight afterwards, and relished it each and every meal. It’s delicious!!! Take chunks of watermelon and sprinkle with crumbled feta, then place on a salad of arugula tossed with just salt, pepper, and good olive oil. Then, and here is the key, drizzle a balsamic glaze over the whole thing. Cut a chunk of bread and dig in – you’re in heaven! Also nice is watermelon with Greek yogurt and honey drizzled over the whole thing. A yummy summer breakfast!

    • rachel

      Hello Sherri
      That sounds really good, I can imagine the peppery arugula ( we call it rocket in the UK and rughetta in Italy) works beautifully.
      I am also going to try your breakfast suggestion. Thank you

  18. Emme

    I agree, I guess I had an old-fashioned idea of how to eat watermelon. This sounds interesting. I like the ingredients, so I’m going to give it a try. Thanks

  19. Chantal

    I just discovered your blog it is love at first read!
    I make a great roasted red pepper pesto at the end of the summer when red peppers are more affordable. It is great with pasta or on good Italian bread with fresh mozzarella. Do not use dry packaged cheese!!! Chow

  20. Pingback: Orgasmic Watermelon Salad – La Cucina Orgasmica

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