Nothing disappoints more than cracking open a carefully selected watermelon only to find mealy, bland flesh inside. (Unless you’re the comedian Gallagher, of course.) So how do you know which gloriously green striated melons will bear dead-ripe red fruit? Tap the watermelon and listen for deep hollow tones, recommends farmer Victor Gomez. Gomez should know: he’s worked on Munak Ranch in Paso Robles for more than a decade. Also, look for watermelons that are especially heavy for their size. No more mediocre melons.
Walter Greenwood is chef at the newly opened 1212 restaurant in Santa Monica. It’s no wonder the young chef calls watermelon gazpacho “a perfect dish for the beach,” just the thing to cool down on a hot summer day. He first ate the chilled soup when his mother made it with melons his father grew on a sandy beach in Texas.
1212’s Watermelon Gazpacho
Yield: Makes 15 servings
5 lbs watermelon, cubed + 1 lb for garnish
4 cucumbers, diced
5 large vine-ripened tomatoes
1½ lbs heirloom cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 oz watermelon radishes, thinly sliced
3 oz shallots, sliced thinly
1 jalapeño, finely diced
½ oz fresh mint, minced
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
3 cups granulated sugar
2 cups Champagne vinegar
2 cups water
Pickle the shallots: In a medium sauce pot, add one cup of sugar to two cups of Champagne vinegar and bring to a simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add the sliced shallots. Refrigerate for five hours to pickle.
Make the simple syrup: In a large sauce pot, bring two cups of water and two cups of sugar to a simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool.
For the gazpacho: Blend 5 pounds of cubed watermelon until smooth. Sieve the watermelon juice into a large bowl and discard the pulp.
Set aside a large bowl filled with ice water. Next use a knife to hull the stems of the 5 vine-ripened tomatoes and lightly score an ‘X’ into the bottom of each. Be careful not to slice to deeply. Poach the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for about a minute. The tomato skins should begin to wrinkle and separate. Then using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the ice bath to chill. You should be able to remove the skins once the tomatoes have cooled.
Transfer the tomatoes to a blender and pulse until smooth. Sieve the tomato juice into the same bowl as the watermelon juice and discard any tomato pulp. Add the simple syrup and mix.
Season the gazpacho with cumin and cayenne pepper, diced jalapeños, mixing well to incorporate. Dice or melon ball the remaining pound of watermelon and add it to the bowl with the pickled shallots and radish slices. Cover and chill for one hour in the refrigerator.
To serve: Ladle the gazpacho into shallow serving bowls and sprinkle with freshly minced mint.