Poor cantaloupe. Most often found cut into too large chunks in the ubiquitous fruit salad, it never generates much excitement. I overlooked it for years. It was in Ecuador of all places that I began to appreciate its potential.
In 2003-04, my now-husband and I taught ESL in the coastal town of Manta. There, tucked on a quiet street, was an Italian restaurant with a romantic courtyard, well-priced wine, and a good brick-oven pizza. We went there often and always began our meal with wedges of cantaloupe draped with thinly sliced prosciutto.
I credit my time in Ecuador with igniting my passion for cooking. There, in a kitchen with only a dorm-size fridge and a rickety gas oven, I learned how to seed and cut papaya, tried my first avocado smoothie, and bravely (and a bit queasily) ate an entire bowl of menudo prepared by my Ecuadorian roommate. Outside my tiny apartment, I crumbled chifles over the freshest ceviches, devoured still warm yuca bread sold by vendors on buses, and tried rambutans, tomates de arbols, and carambolas.
Cantaloupe draped with prosciutto seems vanilla when compared with tropical fruits, but it was also a new experience and one easily recreated upon my return home to the states. To this day, prosciutto with melon remains one of my favorite appetizers for its simplicity and the memories it invokes. It is also a reminder that, as in so many other things, in cooking less is more.
This past weekend I made prosciutto with melon for hors d’oeuvres. Some of the leftover cantaloupe found its way into fruit salad, but there was plenty more and I decided to turn the rest into a refreshing frozen dessert.
Cantaloupe is plenty sweet, but simple syrup infused with fresh mint turns these pops into something worth savoring. Sliced strawberries are more of an aesthetic addition although you’d never complain about their presence. Everything combined makes a beautiful and surprisingly sophisticated pop that upon first bite will certainly make you give cantaloupe the credit it deserves. Happy cooking.
Cantaloupe, Strawberry, and Mint Pops – Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes about 9 pops
The recipe for simple syrup yields about 1 cup, which is more than you will need for this recipe. Lucky you! Mint-infused simple syrup is wonderful for sweetening homemade lemonade, iced tea, and cocktails like mint juleps.
For the simple syrup:
¾ cup water
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup mint sprigs
For the pops:
4 cups (about 1 lb) cut cantaloupe
1/3 cup mint-infused simple syrup
1 cup sliced strawberries
To make the simple syrup, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for 3 minutes then remove from the heat and stir in the mint sprigs. Let the mint infuse for 15 minutes. Strain the syrup and discard the mint sprigs. You should have about 1 cup simple syrup. Refrigerate the syrup until ready to use.
Add the chopped cantaloupe to a blender and purée. Pour the cantaloupe purée into a measuring cup; you should have about 2 cups pureed cantaloupe. Stir 1/3-cup simple syrup into the purée. Taste and add more simple syrup if desired (see the head note above for ideas on what to do with leftover simple syrup). Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Freeze pops using a pop maker like the Zoku Quick Pop Maker or use plastic molds. Add 3 or 4 strawberry slices to each mold and then add the cantaloupe purée. If using a pop maker like the Zoku, follow the instructions included with the machine for freezing. If using plastic molds, freeze the mixture in the molds for 3 to 5 hours before serving. Enjoy!