Recipes from an Italian Summer is a new book by the Silver Spoon kitchen from Phaidon Press, and I recently received a review copy. It’s a collection of easy, breezy summer dishes for picnics, light meals, and summer entertaining. The recipes in this book are meant to be enjoyed at relaxing gatherings, and so most can be prepared in advance. These are simple dishes that take advantage of the best of the season. Fresh fruits find their way into desserts as well as savory dishes. This watermelon and shrimp salad is a perfect example of that. When I read about this dish, I was sure it would be a winner. Last summer, I became addicted to a watermelon and halloumi salad, and I quite like watermelon in savory applications. Kurt was less sure. He didn’t say a word as I prepared it, but his silence spoke volumes. Yes, this is a mix of shrimp, green olives, and mayonnaise served with watermelon balls. Is that weird? I didn’t really think it was. After a taste, Kurt realized his apprehension was unfounded.
I was glad to use some nice, big Gulf shrimp for this. I peeled and deveined them and roasted them in a 400 degree F oven with just olive oil and salt and pepper. Christina from the Central Market Cooking School gave me a great tip for shrimp at the last class I attended. Her tip is: "C" is for cooked, and "O" is for overcooked. You want to stop cooking your shrimp before they curl into an "O" shape. For the 20 per pound shrimp I used, that was about two minutes on each side. I let the shrimp cool before combining them with mayonnaise, chopped mint leaves, and halved green olives. For serving, the recipe directs you to use a hollowed watermelon half as a bowl and to season it with salt, pepper, and brandy. Then, the shrimp salad is to be placed in the watermelon bowl in alternating layers with melon balls. Since I was serving two people, I instead sprinkled some brandy on the melon balls, used smaller boat-shaped pieces of watermelon rind, and sort of layered or stuck melon balls into the salad as I could. I topped ours with basil chiffonade.
I can tell you that I now have two favorite, savory salads made with watermelon. Salty green olives, sharp mint, and shrimp in mayonnaise mixed with crunchy, sweet melon was a mix of contrasts that worked. The brandy added some complexity too. The best thing about this, though, was watching Kurt as he tasted and enjoyed. Then, he admitted that he was worried about this one but was surprised because it was actually really good. I knew it would be.