Melon Pasta Salad
Last weekend, Betsy and I went to a open air performance of Hairspray with a few friends. I’ve seen Hairspray on broadway and love it and I have to say I was totally impressed by the performance. Even though they probably had a set and props budget that was 1/100th of the original, the team at the Aurora Fox Theater did an awesome job.
The best part about it though is that you could bring your own food and drinks since it was in a huge park! Of course, there were any number of food trucks that would happily take your money. For our group though, I made up some sandwiches and a big batch of this pasta salad.
It might sound like a strange mix, but the crispy pancetta and cooling melon is perfect for a picnic.
Melon Pasta Salad
Yield: Serves 6-8.
1 pound orecchiette pasta, cooked al dente
6-8 ounces pancetta, crispy
1 medium melon, balled (5-6 cups)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup fresh mint, chopped
5-6 scallions, chopped
4-5 ounces ricotta salata, shaved
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
1) Lay pancetta out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until pancetta is crispy, about 12-14 minutes. Then let pancetta cool and crumble it into bits.
2) Cook pasta according to package. You can use any small tubular or round pasta.
3) Use a melon baller or small spoon to scoop melon flesh into small balls. Mince mint and chop scallions.
4) Whisk together olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl until combined. When pasta is done, drain pasta and add it to the oil and vinegar. Stir well and let cool slightly.
5) Stir in crispy pancetta and melon along with half the mint and scallions.
6) Season well with salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Top finished pasta salad with extra mint, scallions, and shaved ricotta salata.
Salad is best slightly warm or cold and keeps okay for a day or two.
Recipe adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe.
Having something crunchy and salty in this salad is very important for balance. I think bacon would be a bit on the thick side so pancetta is probably the best option. You don’t need a lot. Just a few ounces goes a long way.
To crisp it up perfectly, lay the pieces out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them at 350 degrees F. until they are really browned and almost burned. Then let them cool and they will be perfect little chips that you can crumble into your salad later.
The other ingredients in this salad are all fresh and light flavors that will help kill the heat. Especially the melon. I used a cantaloupe but I think you could use honeydew as well.
I used an entire medium melon for my version along with fresh mint, a few scallions, and some ricotta salata. You could use cotija or queso fresco cheese if you can’t find ricotta salata.
I used a melon baller to get nice round, even pieces of melon but you could use a small spoon and scrape out balls of melon if you don’t have a melon baller.
You should be shooting for 5-6 cups of melon although it’s totally flexible. It’s not a big deal if you have a little more or less.
Mince up the mint and scallions as well. It’s almost impossible to add too much mint to this salad. The fresh herb flavor is awesome. I used a huge bunch of it and it was delicious.
Mixing the Salad
Any good pasta salad will have a light dressing on it. I don’t like really thick heavy dressings on pasta salad. It should just barely coat the ingredients in my opinion. For this pasta salad, I whisked together some olive oil and white wine vinegar until it was combined and then stirred my drained, cooked pasta into the dressing. I like stirring the pasta into the dressing while it’s still hot because it kind of soaks up some of the dressing.
Then you want to let the pasta cool a bit before stirring in your other ingredients like the melon, pancetta, and mint. If you stir in the melon while the pasta is still super-hot, it will kind of cook the melon and make it mushy.
I only used about 2/3s of my mint and scallions and saved some for a topping.
Season the salad really well with salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes if you want a little spice.
When you are serving the pasta, shave on some cheese and sprinkle on some of the toppings.
The salad is great right away or you can chill it and serve it later.
After about two days, the melon starts to break down and the pancetta is no longer crispy so it loses a lot of it’s appeal in my opinion.
If you’re picnic bound this summer, bookmark this guy.