Watermelon rind doesn't often make it beyond its handheld summer function. But Chicago's new Perennial Virant has an apt slogan for the underused rind: "Eat what you can, can what you can't." Executive chef Paul Virant puts this mantra into practice thoroughly by preserving everything from fennel to figs, and this preserved rind stole our stomachs. The sweet-and-sour watermelon rind balances the salad's peppery arugula, salty prosciutto and fragrant melon slices to create a summer dish that wastes nothing in the pursuit of deliciousness.
Pickled Watermelon Rind with Prosciutto, Melon and Arugula Salad
Recipe adapted from Paul Virant, Perennial Virant, Chicago
Yield: 4 servings
Cook Time: 2 days for watermelon rind, 15 minutes to assemble
Pickled Watermelon Rind
3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups water
3 cups diced watermelon rind, green part removed and discarded (from about 1 small watermelon)
1½ cups granulated sugar, divided
¾ cup Champagne vinegar
¾ medium lemon, thinly sliced
¾ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
1 cinnamon stick
½ medium shallot, minced
½ medium lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cantaloupe cut in small dice (about a quarter of a small cantaloupe)
4 cups arugula (about 4 ounces)
½ cup (about 2 ounces) thinly sliced prosciutto
Parmigiano-Reggiano for shaving
½ cup Pickled Watermelon Rind
4 slices country bread, toasted
1. Make the pickled watermelon rind: Dissolve the salt in the water and pour it over the watermelon rind. Let the mixture stand for four hours, then strain, rinse and place the rind in a medium saucepan. Cover with fresh water, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Strain the rind.
2. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, warm ½ cup sugar with the vinegar, lemon, cloves, allspice and cinnamon until the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot mixture over the rind, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
3. Drain the rind and reserve the liquid. Place the liquid in a saucepan set over high heat and stir in an additional ½ cup sugar. Bring to a boil and pour the liquid over the reserved rind. Refrigerate for another 24 hours.
4. Drain the rind and reserve the liquid. Place the liquid in a saucepan set over high heat and stir in the final ½ cup sugar. Bring to a boil and pour the liquid over the reserved rind. Use within one week or can the watermelon rind for later use.
5. Make the salad: In a small bowl, whisk together the shallot, lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. In a large bowl, toss together the cantaloupe and arugula with the dressing and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad on a platter and drape the prosciutto over the arugula. Shave Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of the salad. Serve with a ramekin of pickled watermelon rind and toasted bread.