Back in the days when my Dad used to treat us to a USF Bulls basketball game, I used to save up my appetite for game food. All day long I would say ‘no thanks’ to offers of home-cooked food; give a body swerve to the kitchen; maybe risk a piece of fruit so I wouldn’t pass out. All so I could cram an incinerator-hot hotdog into my mouth. The ketchup would invariably hemorrhage all down my front and onto my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, but it was worth it. I’m still pretty messy, but maybe a smidge classier.
I have grown up a bit since then. As a veteran food label reader, I can’t remember the last time I had a hot dog. And even if I were going to have something special later on I am not daft enough to starve myself until said occasion arrived: that’s a perfect recipe for making a piggy fool of oneself, from the appetisers onwards.
But I still find my stomach growling when watching taller, stronger more talented people than I toughing it out on a field, track or court. Must be some kind of perverse ‘well if I’m not good enough to play X then I will just go to hell in a handcart with this bowl of Y.’ The ‘Y’ probably being something salty and crunchy.
And so – you know where I’m going with this, don’t you? – the Olympics. From the bonkers but brilliant (if you are British) opening ceremony, to so far seeing defending gold medallist Rebecca Adlington scrape into the 400m swimming freestyle final (hubby not here to reprimand me on my tortured cuticles), my ghrelin has been working overtime. If I’m not careful by the end of the next 17 days I may have to borrow Mr A’s trousers.
But nowadays instead of MRM frankfurters (don’t click if you are squeamish) I will be preparing something like this salad. I know that sounds a bit priggish: a salad? But hear me out before you mock. This salad has cheese. And not just any cheese, Italian-made burrata cheese. For those of you acquainted with the heavenly parcel known as burrata go ahead and skip to the recipe. The rest of you, a few cheesy facts to whet your appetite. But a little hint: burrata means ‘buttered’ in Italian.
On first glance burrata looks like mozzarella. A nice plump mozzarella, but a mozzarella. Yawn. And it is made from a pear-shaped pouch of stretched mozzarella, so we are on the right track. But what sets this apart, and makes many of us liquid-eyed with longing, is what’s inside: thick fresh cream and mozzarella curds – ‘stracciatella’. More a culinary bomb than cheese, attempting a neat slice is as impossible as turning down George Clooney/Eva Mendes (delete as appropriate). With the first incision out pours the most luscious, soft and creamy curds. Amazingly the result is not at all cloying.
Even as someone who doesn’t normally succumb to cream’s charm I must say that the layered taste of this cheese – sweet from the cream, pleasant acidic tang from the stracciatella and yet more complexity and contrasting texture from the mozzarella skin – is pretty amazing. Not everyday food. Not even every week food. Certainly not budget food. But what a spectacular exclamation to punctuate a pasta dish, salad plate or even paired with best tomatoes, torn basil leaves and tangy fresh bread. Come winter I will split an unctous, ghost-pale burrata over roasted and spiced uchiri kuri or butternut squash. I can hardly wait. Burrata is simply one of the finest fresh cheeses you can eat.
If you you are lucky you may find freshly-made burrata, wrapped in protective asfodelo leaves, in which case eat it right away as it only keeps a couple of days in the fridge. Burrata in puffy plastic pouches or in a lidded container keeps a little longer, but not much. Natoora and Waitrose are reliable UK stockists, but you may find it at independent delis and at farmers’ markets. Because of the airmiles and timing, Italian-made burrata is difficult to find outside of Europe, but I have read that there are a few US-based makers of this cheese. An article from the Nibble gives some clues, as well as a potted history of burrata. If you can’t easily track it down -I know I am lucky with my handy Waitrose store – please use a ball of best fresh mozzarella (NOT the block stuff – a different beast altogether). Or, for the more motivated among you, perhaps make your own using this recipe from Sunday Suppers. But, if you ever get to Italy and see it on a menu…well, you don’t need me to tell you what to do
And that leads me on to say that I will be heading to Lucca, in Tuscany, for a short break with my family. My GP has very wisely advised that I get away from Scotland’s recovery-hindering cool, damp air and head somewhere warm and dry. Again. Now that’s a prescription I am looking forward to filling. See you next week!
Roasted (Nearly) Nicoise Salad with Burrata and Parsley Pesto
When the veg are finished roasting decant them into a large, shallow bowl, along with the beans, pesto and herbs. Tear in the Peppadews, allowing the juices to dribble in. Now for the extra yummy bit: pinch bite sized, gooey pieces of burrata and dot over the salad; drizzle over a little more pesto slaked with oil and grind on some pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 2 generously.