Step by Step: How to Make Il Pittore’s Cantaloupe Soup

By Danya Henninger  |  August 12, 2014
Credit: Danya Henninger

It was Il Pittore that turned Stephen Starr onto the power of great chefs, we like to think.

In the early years, Starr’s restaurants focused more on concept than culinary for their draw (consider Buddakan, Continental, Jones, etc....with Morimoto being an outlier). The newest ventures from the prolific restaurateur, however, are built around or with hot chefs, such as Serpico (Peter Serpico) and Fette Sau (Joe Carroll). Il Pittore was the turning point.

Chef Chris Painter had been Starr’s culinary director for years, but finally got his own kitchen in late 2011 when he opened this petite, bi-level Italian in Rittenhouse. The ensuing three years have been good — in fact, Painter was just voted “Best in Philly” in Philadelphia magazine’s annual readers’ poll.

Why don’t more people rave about his housemade pastas? One reason is price: the restaurant is not cheap. That’s why Painter’s new summer prix fixe tasting menu is an extra good deal.

For $45, you get four changing courses featuring the best from local farms in PA and NJ. By rough estimate, the soup-pasta-entree-dessert parade would normally run you at least $65 (and that’s being very conservative). The farmers’ menu is available nightly.

We stopped in to get the skinny on the first dish on this week’s list (here), which is a chilled cantaloupe soup. You could easily do this one at home, Painter says, even if you don’t have all the exact same garnishes. Follow along below for a step-by-step look at how it’s made.

  • All of the ingredients for the dish.

  • Cantaloupe comes from Green Meadow Farm. How do you tell when a melon is ripe? “Pretty simple,” says Painter. “You feel it. If it’s soft, it’s ready.”

  • Hand-squeezed juice from an orange and a lime will be added to the melon.

  • Meanwhile, thin slices of duck prosciutto are placed on a tray to bake into crisps, one of which will be used as garnish. They're being laid out by John Taus, formerly chef at The Corner (now Mamou) and The Corner Foodery. He decamped for NYC for a while, but is now back and assisting Painter.

  • Olive oil is poured over the melon. Painter prefers oil from Sicily as opposed to the more popular Tuscany because it’s lighter and not as overpowering.

  • Black pepper is ground over the fruit, and a lot of salt is also added. “This melon just drinks up salt, you’d be surprised how much you have to put in,” says the chef. He also offers this tip: sprinkle a pinch of salt onto melon when you’re eating it straight, you’ll taste better flavor.

  • Blend.

  • A prosciutto chip, crisp and ready.

  • The melon purée should be made several hours in advance and allowed to chill in the refrigerator before serving — it’ll turn an even brighter shade of orange. 

  • Painter adds a spoonful of black pepper crema and the duck prosciutto to the center.

  • A borage flower will also be added to the garnish, providing a splash of contrasting color.

  • The final touches are a pour of prosecco, which causes the crema to fizz, and a drizzle of olive oil around the edges.

  • Painter serves his soup in Richard Ginori plates ordered specially from Italy. They look delicate, but are surprisingly sturdy, he says. A lot like his restaurant.