In October of 2013 a couple who are part of my beloved improv family welcomed a gorgeous baby girl into the world. In order to take some pressure off the new parents, a request was made on their behalf to have meals delivered to them for the first few weeks. My bestie brilliantly suggested that she and I team up and take them dinner, volunteering to make a hearty minestrone soup. In seeking inspiration for my portion of the meal, I turned to the inimitable Alfred Portale of New York’s famed Gotham Bar and Grill.
I found the book “Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures” nearly a decade ago in one of those bargain bins near the entrance of a big box bookstore. It was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought myself, and it caught my eye because 1) The pictures were gorgeous; 2) The food was unlike anything I’d made at the time; 3) I’ll admit to thinking, “Ooo! Big time chef!”; and 4) I was broke, and it was in the right price range. Once I got it home, however, I found that I didn’t use it, as the dishes were far enough above what I felt was my skill level at the time that I was too intimidated to try my hand at any of them. (Considering his recipes are, as advertised, relatively simple, you get an idea of just how lowly I esteemed my cooking skills back then.) As would go on to become a bad habit, I read the book cover to cover as I would a novel, and then put it on the shelf, where it would go unused for years.
At the point at which I went in search of a recipe for my friends, I had only ever cooked out of Portale’s book once. I had made his Beet Salad with Orange, Feta, and Mint for an orange and purple-themed pot luck dinner a few years earlier, and then returned the book to its place on the shelf. Considering how long it had been a part of my collection, and how extremely little it had been used, I decided it was high time I gave it another spin. Partially as a counterbalance to the savory minestrone, and partly because it caught my eye, I decided this time to make Portale’s :
Watermelon, Cherry Tomato, Red Onion and Cucumber Salad
Makes about 4 1/2 cups, enough to serve 4
3 cups diced watermelon, preferably seedless (1-inch dice; see Note)
I shaved the watermelon with my chef’s knife, something I’d learned to do years previously with cantaloupe, and a task that I weirdly really enjoy doing. There’s just something so satisfying about the “shunk, shunk, shunk” of rind being sliced away, until all that is left is the juicy, meaty interior, ready and waiting to be neatly chopped into bite-sized cubes.
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup minced red onion
1 cup diced, peeled, seeded cucumber (small dice)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put the watermelon, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, lime juice and oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Cover and chill in the Crefrigerator for at leat 1 hour. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary, adding some more lime juice if its flavor doesn’t register. Serve well chilled.
Note: Seedless watermelon is produced from a hybrid seed developed in the 1950s. The benefits of seedless watermelon go beyond the convenienc; because the flesh around seeds tends to soften, seedless watermelon is firmer.
Huh, I had no idea! This is a very cool little fact. Portale also includes other helpful information alongside his recipes, such as other dishes to pair them with (for this one he suggests his Spicy Grilled Skirt Steak), and ways in which you can transform this dish with the addition of a few other ingredients, depending on your own personal tastes. I love it when a recipe gives you more than just instructions for cooking the food!
Because I packed the salad up for transport, alas I have no pretty plated picture of it. In future I will have to remember to put something together for photographs! I did taste as I made the salad, though, and I thought the flavor was great. I’m a big fan of watermelon, so I love finding new uses for it, particularly ones I might never have considered. Pairing it with more traditionally savory ingredients, worked really well, drawing out the tomato’s inherent sweetness, and mellowing the sharpness of the onion. It certain broadened my melon horizons just a bit, and I would definitely make it again, for myself this time. Hey, any excuse to give one a shave!