Top chefs have discovered the potential for great, simple dishes using burrata cheese (pronounced boor-RAH-tah), turning it into the celebrity cheese of the year.
Burrata looks like a ball of mozzarella with a topknot, but there is a surprise inside. On the outside, the cheese is the stretchy texture of mozzarella, but its creamy, soft, buttery center slowly and irresistibly oozes out onto your plate when the skin is cut open. It’s like eating heavy cream, only better.
No wonder the cheese derives its name from burro, Italian for butter. It is a relatively modern specialty of Southern Italy, especially in the region of Puglia (the heel of the boot) created as a way to use the stracciatella (“scraps” or “rags”) of mozzarella left over from production.
Many cheese connoisseurs recognize burrata as one of the best fresh cheeses in the world. Once it could only be found in Puglia, where it is made with water-buffalo milk, but today burrata is produced domestically with cow’s milk.
Some years ago in Puglia, I ate it with a spoon while it was still warm, with sweet ripe pears and salty prosciutto. Fresh burrata should be served at room temperature. If it is too cold, the cream in the filling becomes solid, and that essential lusciousness will be lost.
Its spectacular gushing center can be scooped up with slices of crusty bread. Its flavor, the essence of fresh milk, makes it perfect for pairing with flavorful ingredients like olives, tomatoes, prosciutto and herbs.
For best results, use a serrated knife to cut through to the almost liquid interior. The highly perishable cheese should be used within 24 hours of purchase; after 48 hours it’s considered past its prime.
Try tossing burrata into pasta, such as drained penne or spaghetti. For a truly rich caprese salad, encircle fresh burrata with slices of ripe red tomatoes and torn basil leaves, and drizzle with olive oil. Wedges of burrata, garnished with a shaved fennel salad and dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, makes a superb lunch. Try topping a platter of hot creamy polenta with an enticing, melting burrata for dinner.
Gianni Burrata Salad
This recipe is adapted from chef Betania Salles of Gianni Italian Ristorante at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. Wines that work best with burrata are usually cold and white, like an effervescing Anna de Codorniu Cava Brut Rose from Spain ($14). The aromas of red berries, cherries and green apple in this well-balanced wine blend with the with the creaminess of the burrata. Serves 6.
2 pounds small golden, red or candy-strip Chioggia beets, tops trimmed
6 (4-ounce) balls of burrata (available at Whole Foods Market)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 cup mâche lettuce, rinsed well and spun dry
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Heat oven to 425. Pour kosher salt into a shallow roasting vessel to make a thin layer. Place beets on salt bed. Cover pan tightly with foil and place in oven for about one hour, depending on how many and how big your beets are. To test for doneness, remove foil and slip a paring knife into one of the beets. If the knife meets little resistance, they are done. When beets are done, remove foil covering and let them cool. When cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and discard, keeping stems intact. This can be done the day ahead. Cover and chill.
To assemble salads, place a burrata round in the center of each of 6 plates, season with salt and pepper. Scatter beets around it, sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. Garnish dish with mâche and a good drizzle of olive oil.