Spaghetti al Melone
Spaghetti al Melone? Spaghetti and melon? Seriously? Seriously!
I admit that I am a bit belated in posting this summertime moment, but here in the southeastern United States it still feels like summer! So, I am happy to share one of my favorite dishes with an ideal wine pairing: Spaghetti al Melone with Arneis.
Plus, this is one of my personal go-to comfort dishes, and in these continuing trying times I think we could all use a little comfort! Trust me, you will want to make this dish again and again and again.
But first the backstory...
When I was first pursuing a food/beverage career, I was lucky enough to attend a class with Giuliano Hazan. You might recognize the last name as his mother was basically the Julia Child of Italian cooking. Giuliano obviously knows a thing or two himself, and this dish certainly imprinted on me.
Supposedly, Giuliano discovered it at a Venetian restaurant that specialized in unusual dishes. (And obviously, the idea of cantaloupe as a base for pasta sauce sounds a bit unusual.) But suffice it to say that I have cooked this dish close to a hundred times for all sorts of guests…and it always blows peoples’ minds.
It’s incredibly simple – just butter, cantaloupe, lemon juice, a touch of tomato paste, salt, pepper and Parmesan. But the cantaloupe takes on a whole other flavor when cooked down in butter, and most often folks guess that it’s some sort of squash. Basically, it’s a little salty, a little sweet, and totally delicious.
So, what to pair with such a favorite dish? Of course, there are a number of different options. I can certainly imagine a well balanced Chardonnay working beautifully with these flavors or perhaps a dry Riesling from Austria or a Rhone white!
But better yet, what about Italian? More specifically what about Arneis? This is a native white grape of the famed Piedmont region in northeastern Italy. Most folks turn to the Piedmont for its legendary reds made from the Nebbiolo grape, but this little known white grape can be quite extraordinary.
I could not imagine talking about Arneis without mentioning Alfredo Currado of Vietti as he was instrumental in bringing the grape back from near extinction in the 1960s.
You still do not see an overabundance of Arneis, but perhaps that’s a good thing.
Small quantity = High Quality!
There’s a prettiness to Arneis that matches the prettiness of this dish. There are some tropical fruits on the nose and palate and even white flowers, but then there’s this backbone of minerality. This is most definitely a white wine that can stand up to a rich dish, and it does just that with Spaghetti al Melone.
This is a pairing where the sum is almost greater than the parts, which is truly a magical thing.
Here is Giuliano’s recipe that I have slightly amended over time. And I should mention that sautéed shrimp make a lovely addition to an already outstanding dish.
Spaghetti al Melone
1 box of spaghetti (or bucatini, my favorite!)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, diced pretty fine (or pulsed in food processor a few times!)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt plus ¼ cup for pasta water
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
More salt and pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When you see the butter foam begin to subside, add the melon, and stir until it is well coated with the butter. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the melon’s released liquid has evaporated. Add salt, black pepper, lemon juice, and tomato paste; stir to combine. Add the cream and cook until it has reduced by half. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Remove from the heat.
Add ¼ cup of salt to the boiling water, drop the pasta in, and stir well. When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, drain well, and toss with the cantaloupe sauce and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4
P.S. My most memorable occasion cooking this dish had to be in New Orleans for a crowd of 20-ish friends. A birthday or hurricane party -- who knows! I made about a 5 X batch and served it in an enormous wooden bowl (that finally found its purpose). By the end of the night, folks were eating straight out of the bowl with the serving spoon! It’s just that kind of dish :)