Summer Watermelon Punch
Ideally, you should make Stage 1 of this punch at least 3 hours before serving it, to give the fruit time to get cold; this way, the chilled empty shell and fruit will provide the chilling mechanism for the punch. If you don't have the time to freeze the melon balls, add large ice cubes or a block of ice at the end. If you're taking this punch to a picnic or cookout, the least-messy transport option is to carry the infused melon balls inside the melon and transport the rest of the punch in bottles. You can pour it into the empty watermelon shell once you have the hull set in its serving spot. For a faster and streamlined option, see the variation, below.
1 large ripe watermelon, plus extra watermelon for juicing (enough to make 7 cups of fresh watermelon juice and 40 to 60 melon balls)
3 cups dry gin
1 cup green Chartreuse
¼ cup sugar
1 cup fresh lime juice (from about 5 limes)
12 ounces tonic water
Lime wheels, for garnish
Ice cubes (optional)
You'll need a melon baller, a blender, a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, and a ladle.
For Stage 1: Cut open the watermelon at the top, making it large enough so you'll be able to scoop out the melon inside and use the empty watermelon shell as a high-walled punch bowl. Scrape any red flesh left in the lid into a large bowl and reserve the "lid."
Use the small end of the melon baller to scoop out 40 to 60 watermelon balls; place these in a separate bowl. Scrape out the rest of the fruit and add it to the large bowl (with flesh from the lid). If you have space in your freezer, put the "lid" back on the watermelon hull and store the whole hull in the freezer, or at least refrigerate.
Working in batches, puree the watermelon flesh in a blender and blend to the consistency of a thick slush, then use a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth to strain out any solids, reserving the juice as you go. Continue until you have 7 cups of juice. Reserve any leftover fruit for another use (or use it to make more melon balls).
Combine 2 cups of the watermelon juice, 1 cup of the gin, ½ cup of the green Chartreuse and the ¼ cup of sugar in a deep bowl, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then pour the mixture over the melon balls. Freeze or refrigerate for 3 or 4 hours, until well chilled.
Remove the melon hull and the melon balls from the freezer. Ladle the melon balls back into the melon hull, reserving the leftover infusing liquid.
For Stage 2: Position the chilled watermelon hull with melon balls where you intend to serve the punch.
Pour the remaining 5 cups of watermelon juice, 2 cups of gin, ½ cup of Chartreuse, 1 cup of lime juice and the reserved infusing liquid from the melon balls into the chilled melon hull, stirring to incorporate. Top with the tonic water and stir gently.
Drop the lime wheels inside, so they float on the surface. If the watermelon hull or melon balls don't seem cold enough, add some ice cubes, as needed.
Serve in punch cups. Store any extra punch in the refrigerator to top off the melon throughout the party.
Variation: Soaking the melon balls in the juice and spirits gives them a depth of flavor that contrasts with the final punch. But if you're in a hurry or want to streamline the recipe, skip the infusion stage. Simply carve out the melon balls, reserve them and make the punch as described in Stage 2.
Makes 20, four-ounce servings
Nutrition | Per serving: 170 calories, 0 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 15 g sugar
M. Carrie Allan