The beginning of a meal is a good place to be adventurous when menu planning, and when learning to cook...You might consider taking risks with appetizers, where you generally encounter hearty appetites and, if the nibbles are entertaining and delicious, open minds.When it comes to liking (or disliking) licorice, there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. I've never heard anyone say "Licorice? I can take it or leave it." I have a theory that there is a "licorice" gene. There are whole countries - Holland and Australia - where it seems to be an obsession. If this is true, I definitely have the gene.
The appetizers in this book fall into several categories, but all aim to pique the appetite, rather than stun it with complexity or quantity. Small portioning is an obvious strategy for first courses, but I like the little nibble to be big enough to allow you to appreciate the ingredients. Some [of the starter recipes in Zuni] might [even] become the main course of a simple meal.
Judy Rodgers, Page 72.
So based on my love of the anise taste, when I was choosing a first starter to make from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I picked this one. It's not exactly a recipe; it's more like assembling great ingredients. But what ingredients they are, starting with beautiful, ripe cantaloupe, and delicious Italian prosciutto.
According to Judy Rodgers
Cured meat, paired with a condiment or two or three, makes simple work of the appetizer course in a meal. Buy cured meat where they sell a lot of it, and where they slice it perfectly and are careful to lay down each slice neatly overlapping the preceding one.Prosciutto & Melon in Sambuca
We use Parma prosciutto at Zuni, choosing brands that are deep, fleshy pink and firm but not hard...San Daniele can be an excellent choice as well. Fine, sweet-salty, satiny prosciutto tolerates nothing but elegance on its plate ~ in particular, succulent, low-acid fruit. The combinations I describe toy with the softness, the subtle nutty-sweet animal flavor, and the sensuality of the best prosciutto.
Judy Rodgers, Pages 79 and 80
Dishes to Start a Meal, Page 82
I found a fragrant cantaloupe at Eli's.
Eli just might have the most beautiful produce department in the City. He might also have the most expensive produce department in the City now that Paradise Market is closed.
When I moved back to New York City after living in Washington, Paradise was open at 83rd and Madison. It was the size of a rather small jewelry shop, and the produce there was treated the same way Tiffany treats diamonds. Each piece absolutely perfect and carefully arranged in glorious display.
One day after I sold my mother's engagement ring for loot (just kidding), I was shopping in Paradise, and I glanced out of the window. Staring into the window were Gerry and Dot Blum, people I met when I lived in Atlanta. They weren't looking at me; they were looking at the glorious fruits and vegetables.
Sadly, Paradise has been closed for a few years now. Rumor has it Mr. Roh got married, had a baby, and moved out of the City. The location has had a number of incarnations since then - a lingerie shop, a cashmere shop; now it's a fancypants chocolate shop. Whenever I walk by, I think about Mr. Roh, beaming happily among his fruits and vegetables, and, like Milton, I miss Paradise. Who wouldn't?
Anyway, at Eli's I also got a few slices each of Prosciutto di Parma (on the left) and San Danielle (on the right) so I could try them both.
I halved and seeded the melon and carved away the rind. I cut the melon into crescents.
I took out my beautiful marble mortar, which I got from La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia.
I crushed some fennel seeds in the mortar
and sprinkled the crushed fennel on the slices of melon, which I had put in a wide shallow bowl.
Then I added some Sambuca.
I can't figure it out, and he can't explain why, but Walter has at least five bottles of the stuff. I did see someone give him a little case containing three small bottles as a birthday present one year, but that doesn't account for the rest. I've never seen him drink it. But he sure has plenty of it.
I let the melon sit to macerate in the bowl for about ten minutes. Then I plated the crescents and draped the prosciutto over the melon. It was ready to serve.
It was juicy and delicious with a faint anise flavor, not strong at all, actually rather elusive. We ate it as the main event at lunch. I loved it.
As usual, Sylvano was hanging out with me in the kitchen.