Seasonal. Fresh. Festive.
Wanting to step away from baked good this summer, I adopted that mantra as I prepared for my recent culinary demonstrations at the Du Page County Fair. Fruit salads bring the cool to summer menus, but whimsical or uniquely carved watermelon elevates the dessert table into a sensational and unforgettable party centerpiece.
The secret to success lies in selecting the best watermelon for carving and scooping. Look for one that is even in size, color and blemish free. Press melon at sides and if rind easily gives away, the fruit is over ripe. Avoid large watermelons as they are too bulky to handle or successfully display.
Working before a hungry crowd I transformed a watermelon into this pastry chef's vision of Weber's iconic Smokey Joe grill and a healthy fruit salad. Not wanting my readers to miss out, here are the instructions so you too can create culinary magic for your next summer gathering.
"Grilled" Fruit Kebabs
1 medium size seedless whole watermelon (see note)
1 English cucumber, seedless
4 cups assorted cleaned fresh fruit, cut into kebab-sized chunks (pineapple, kiwi, strawberries)
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 pint fresh raspberries, divided
1-inch and 1½-inch diameter scoop
Large and medium serrated knives
Hand vegetable peeler
Large cutting board
2 large bowls
For the watermelon grill: Glue six sets of double kebab skewers together and set aside to dry. This will be the grill rack.
Measure watermelon to cut in two pieces, 2 inches from center, creating smaller half for top of grill and larger piece for bottom. Set bottom aside on platter, cut side down.
For the top, working with smaller piece, use 1-inch diameter scoop and portion watermelon flesh into kebab size balls into large bowl. Scoop just until reaching white rind. Using spoon, carefully scrape inside of top until only white rind remains. Blot dry with paper towels and set aside.
For the bottom of the grill: Working with larger section, slice thin piece off end so watermelon base will sit evenly and stable on cutting board. Flip over and using the 1½-inch diameter scoop, portion watermelon into balls same as for top. While scooping, drain excess juice into extra bowl.
Use medium serrated knife and spoon to evenly cut fruit out of shell, leaving a thin pink border. Trim top and level with hand peeler. Blot dry with paper towels and set aside.
Leave the English cucumber unpeeled and evenly cut into three 2½ inch wide chunks. Flip bottom grill shell over and position cucumber pieces on sliced section of bottom into triangle position. These will be the legs. Gently press skewers into sides of cucumber chunks and attach to watermelon rind. Use wire cutter to snip skewers. Flip over and position on platter, adjusting to level as needed.
For charcoal effect, place blueberries inside grill bottom and sprinkle with a few of the raspberries. Evenly place glued skewers about ½-inch apart on top of grill bottom. Cut each set slightly shorter than inside grill diameter and gently press skewer sets into place creating grill rack. Set aside.
Cut 3-inch piece from remaining cucumber. Slice in half lengthwise and carefully hollow into a curved shape. Cut skewer into two 2-inch pieces and press into cucumber to create handle. Gently press skewers into center of grill top and adjust cucumber handle as needed. Rest grill top on bottom grill at angle and use skewers at sides to affix securely. Place on platter.
Fruit kebabs with sauce: Mix watermelon balls and fruit chunks on skewers to create kebabs. Place 3 to 4 fruit kebabs on grill rack to finish centerpiece and remaining kebabs at base of grill for guests.
In a blender, purée remaining raspberries and 1 cup watermelon for sauce. Add splash of lemon juice, honey or rum to flavor. Transfer to a bowl and serve on the side.