Orange Crush

The unassuming cantaloupe offers a savory summer surprise with Jerry Huisinga’s Tonnarelli al Melone

By Martha Calhoon July 20, 2009 Published in the August 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

Tonnarelli al Melone

ONE SWELTERING SUMMER IN LOS ANGELES, I discovered the savory possibilities of melon at a humble roadside fruit stand. There, cubed pieces of pale-orange cantaloupe were being sold in plastic baggies, together with watermelon and honeydew, all spiked simply with salt and chili powder. The bold contrast made me think the poor cantaloupe had long been undersold by its blander fruit-salad preparation. Other savory combinations, such as the quintessential Italian antipasto pairing of smoky prosciutto with cantaloupe, have hinted at this fruit’s untapped versatility. And there have been more recent revelations, like salads of cantaloupe and goat cheese, or chilled melon soups topped with sprigs of mint. But such attempts at rethinking the cantaloupe have typically left it as little more than a cold side item—the mild, moist fruit doesn’t seem to lend itself to much else.

However, here in Portland, Bar Mingo head chef Jerry Huisinga uses his skillet to showcase the potential of this local August ingredient. In late summer, Huisinga surprises diners with his recipe for tonnarelli—thin egg noodles like tagliatelle—served with cream and sautéed cantaloupe. He explains that quickly heating the cantaloupe in butter and vegetable oil, then dousing the cubes with heavy cream and a bit of tomato paste, brings out the fruit’s vegetal qualities, while the melon’s characteristically sweet fragrance and delicate flavor lend themselves to the sauce. The resulting dish is like a light summer Alfredo—rich, but refreshed by the essence of fruit. “It comes with an unexpected taste, but I don’t think I’ve known anyone not to like it,” says Huisinga, who began experimenting with the recipe several years ago as a chef at Genoa.

Huisinga plans to feature cantaloupe recipes, including his tonnarelli, at one of Bar Mingo’s Tuesday-evening wine pairings in August, but this dish’s speedy preparation and simple ingredients invite you to prepare it in your own kitchen for summer guests. Look for the Charentais variety of cantaloupe at the Portland Farmers Market in August; its sugary sweetness makes it a good candidate for experimentation—hot or cold.