By now you know that I am blessed with friends who cook. A while back I got a call from my friends Mike and Darlene Whitfield. Mike had been to the farmer’s market at the Agri-Center. He had found, among other treasures, perfectly ripe cantaloupes and was making soup. I was on my way!
Mike, known to his friends as “Big Mike,” is a culinary academy graduate and has worked in the kitchen of several fine Memphis restaurants. Currently he is Manager of Product Development and Education for a local wine distributor.
Originally from Arkansas (another of his self-designated sobriquets is “Chef Bubba”) he frequently combines the foods of his youth in ways that are surprisingly sophisticated. He tells me that he first came up with this soup at Chez Philippe, that wonderful restaurant at the Peabody Hotel, when faced with a basket of melons just about to go over the hill. It has become one my favorites. As hot as it has been lately, the prospect of something cool that doesn't have to be cooked is hugely appealing.
As the guests gathered, Darlene was making a fresh salsa with diced tomatoes (perfectly ripe, also from the farmer’s market), chopped onion, a bit of garlic, a generous handful of minced cilantro, finely minced jalapeno pepper and lime juice. Mike was starting on the soup. Fresh lady peas simmered with fragrant seasonings.
The soup went into the refrigerator to chill. Filets of tilapia, a mild white fish, went onto an oiled baking sheet to be topped with the salsa, then slices of Monterey jack cheese.
When dinnertime came, Mike finished the soup and as we enjoyed it, slipped the fish into a preheated 350F oven to bake for about 15 minutes. Dessert was a beautiful bowl of cut up watermelon, blueberries, strawberries and the first of this season’s blackberries. What a perfect meal for a hot summer night!
The melons for this soup must be ripe, sweet and juicy. When shopping for yours, pick ones that give a little when you press them with your thumb near the stem end. Give ‘em a sniff; they should smell like cantaloupes on the outside.
You can make your own salsa for the fish, or pick up a fresh salsa at most supermarkets. This doesn’t work nearly as well with a jarred salsa. A hint if you make your own: a good salsa needs a bit of jalapeno. If your tolerance for hot food is low, remove the seeds and you will get a much more temperate salsa.
Although both the soup and the salsa can be made ahead and refrigerated, this meal take so little time that it’s perfect for last-minute entertaining as well. Call a few friends and give it a try!
CANTALOUPE MIST SOUP
3 medium very ripe cantaloupes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup champagne or other sparkling white wine
Salt to taste
Fresh basil or mint springs for garnish
Peel and seed the cantaloupes and cut into chunks. Puree in a blender or food processor. Cover and refrigerate until quite cold, up to 24 hour. At serving time, whisk in the cream. Take a little sip and add salt to taste. At the last minute gently stir in the champagne. Serves 6 to 8.