Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

The Sardinian Watermelon Salad Recipe Everybody Asked For At The Family Reunion

You look at the list of ingredients and say, "Seriously? That can't possibly work." That was my reaction, too. The first time I tried making it, I was motivated mostly by incredulity, and it turned out to be extraordinary. It's also, as computer professionals would put it, fault tolerant. Vary the amounts, substitute ingredients, omit or set things aside for vegans or folks with nut allergies, and the recipe still holds up. In fact, I don't really keep close track of amounts or proportions anymore, and it turns out fine. The amounts I'm guesstimating below are for a side dish to feed four people.

half of a "personal-size" watermelon
one lime (preferably organic and scrubbed clean, because you're going to zest it)
olive oil, about as much as the juice you get out of the lime
half a cup of pine nuts
half a cup of ricotta salata cheese
a quarter cup of fresh mint leaves
one shallot
a pinch of salt and pepper

A Note on Ingredients
If you think there might be vegetarians among the people you're feeding, check the ingredients on the cheese to make sure it does not include rennet. Rennet comes from butchered cows, and is often used to culture cheeses. People who are vegetarian as a matter of religion or principle will regard a rennet-cultured cheese as a meat product. If you can't get ricotta salata, you can substitute feta or fresh mozzarella, though you'll want to adjust how much salt you add with either of those.

In a pinch, basil can be substituted for mint. Slivered almonds can be substituted for pine nuts, and the procedure for toasting them is about the same.

Zest the lime, preferably with a microplane. Anytime you're using a citrus fruit, you might as well add the zest. Be careful to grate only the very outermost millimeter, and stop before you get to the white layer of the rind. The white layer just under the zest in inedibly bitter.

Juice the lime. Pick out any seeds, and add the zest.

Add the olive oil, about one part oil to one part lime juice. Add just a pinch of salt and pepper to emulsify them.

Peel the shallot and cut it in half. Remove the innermost part of the shallot, the part that wants to go sprouting out the top if it can -- that's the part that causes heartburn. (This trick also applies to onions and garlic.) Chop the shallot very fine and add it to the dressing.

Chop the mint leaves very fine and add them, too.

Toast the pine nuts. If you do this by spreading them evenly on a tray in a toaster oven, you must stand there by the toaster oven, watching for the moment when they begin to brown. Do not step away or be distracted, though you will begin to think they will never get there. The very second you see that they're beginning to brown -- they'll start to smell really good just before that second -- get them out of the toaster oven immediately. They go from perfect to burned in a millisecond, and it's better to undershoot than overshoot. The other method is to spread them in a frying pan, dry with no oil, and scoot them around with a spatula, keeping them moving constantly. Again, don't step away or get too interested in your thoughts, or the pine nuts will burn. Let your nose tell you when the moment is nigh. Take them off the heat the moment they begin to brown. Let them cool a bit, and then plop them into the dressing.

While the pine nuts cool, cut the watermelon into one-inch chunks. If you're doubling or tripling the recipe for a crowd, you may want to let the watermelon chunks sit in a strainer for a few minutes before you combine them with the dressing, because the amount of juice they release can get a little overwhelming.

Combine the dressing, watermelon, and pine nuts into a bowl big enough that you can stir them until the watermelon is covered. The chunks will try to leap out of the bowl, but you will outsmart them! This may require a bigger bowl than you initially estimate. If in doubt, lean toward the large.

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