I spent Sunday afternoon at the Big Apple BBQ. It was a perfect, sunny, pork-infested, beer-soaked weekend summer day. But oh, it was hot. And I was sweaty. And all I wanted, all I needed, when I got home, was something refreshing. Of course, buying a lemonade on the way home would have been too easy; why would I ever take the easy road? That’s silly.
I had read about this cantaloupe-basil agua fresca in my Bon Appétit earlier in the weekend (I was waywayway behind on my magazine reading, but nothing a little 12-hour couch laze on a Saturday can’t take care of) and it seemed like just the thing. Unfortunately, this isn’t an instant gratification sort of a recipe, due to the blending and the straining and the, oh, 2-hour steeping. But don’t worry, I hydrated while I waited and hit the gym to work off some of the pork and when I got back, I had something delicious waiting.
I find cantaloupe to be weirdly savory-almost meaty-which I realize must sound entirely crazypants. But I do! After the sweetness, there’s a lingering savoriness at the back end. I have to wonder if that’s why it likes prosciutto so much? I have the same theory about avocado, which tastes like bacon to me, and pairs amazingly with it. I don’t know. Maybe too much pork has confused my taste buds a bit. Nah, that’s impossible, there’s no such thing as too much pork.
Regardless of whether your taste buds are as twisted as yours truly’s, this cool, refreshing drink is somewhere between sweet and savory. It’s not as sweet as you expect it to be, with 3/4 of a cup of lemon juice to cut the syrupy sweetness of the melon and add a tart tang. Basil, the queen of the summer herbs (and my favorite for the warmer months [it's displaced by rosemary for much of the year]), adds to the savory feel. But the overwhelming essence is the floral, perfumed, ripe summer melon. A perfect end to a BBQ-filled, sweaty, summer day.
Cantaloupe-Basil Agua Fresca
From Bon Appétit. Serves 8.
Pssst: put vodka in it…I won’t tell.
15 c chopped cantaloupe (about two 3 1/2 lb melons)
3/4 c fresh lemon juice
3/4 c loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- Puree the cantaloupe in a blender until smooth- you’ll need to do a few batches
- Set a sieve over a large bowl and line with cheese cloth (depending on how tightly woven your cheese cloth is, you’ll need to double or triple it
- Pour the puree into the cheese cloth and let strain, then gather into a bundle and squeeze out any excess juice
- Pour the strained juice into a new cheesecloth and strain into a pitcher
- Add the lemon juice and basil and let steep for 1-2 hours at room temperature
- Pour over ice and serve