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.