Dreaming up creamy burrata, arugula and spice radishes -- the perfect combination
Some of the first treasures from my garden every year are radishes and arugula, and usually lots of them. While I may be one of the few people who enjoy a plain radish, even I can only eat so many before I start asking neighbors if they would like to share my harvest. This year, however, I will not be sharing as many of these garden treasures as in the past, because I recently discovered how delicious radishes and arugula are when paired with one of my new favorite cheeses, burrata.
Last fall I attended a cooking gathering hosted by my new friend Cara Mia Cipolla Kretz. Cara is the creative mind, and talented cook, behind homemadeItaliancooking.com, which is devoted to her love of cooking where she shares cooking tips and secrets from three generations of women in her Italian family. At this event, I first tasted burrata, a white ball of gooey cheesy goodness with roots in the Puglia region of Italy.
Cara paired the burrata with spicy radishes and arugula and drizzled the colorful combination with a simple dressing made with olive oil and lemon juice. A generous sprinkle of salt, pepper and lemon zest completed the mixture that is then piled on top of toasted crostini and eaten as at appetizer.
But, what is burrata? The name is akin to 'imburrata' or buttered in Italian. That's a clue to its richness. Burrata looks like a ball of mozzarella cheese, but looks can be deceiving, because while this cheese has mozzarella in it, burrata is not mozzarella cheese. Burrata is its own, very special type of cheese. It is a rich, unripened cheese made by combining mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it a unique soft stringy texture. When you cut into a ball of burrata the middle oozes out like creamy melted cheese with a buttery flavor without being too rich and is at its flavor peak when eaten at room temperature.
Cara purchases her burrata from her favorite cheese vendor Lara Postiglione, owner of lamozzarellachicago.com where they sell cheese made only from the milk of water buffalo. I mention this because when I looked for burrata in my local Mariano's, I found burrata made from cow's milk.
Always curious about ingredients I set off to determine if there is a difference between cow's milk burrata and the water buffalo variety. My humble opinion is yes; there is a difference between the two.
The buffalo mozzarella outer layer is a bit softer than the cow's milk but either way the inside is soft and buttery. I think it's worth a special order to enjoy burrata the way they make it in Italy, but in a pinch, I would rather have some burrata rather than none at all. I encourage you to seek out both types and test the difference yourself. I would love to hear what you think.
I certainly would not have guessed the trio of arugula, radishes and burrata would be such a perfect combination. The buttery flavor of burrata is perfectly paired with peppery flavor of arugula and radish, creating a cool, smooth contrast, similar to adding cream to a vodka sauce or sour cream to spicy Mexican food. The fat content of the cheese balances the heat, but don't be mistaken; this is not a bland dish. My one piece of advice is not to skimp on the salt, it is essential to balance the flavors, so if you are shy, try a little at a time, but please do not eliminate it all together. I would go as far as suggesting when you think you have enough, add a little more and let the flavors meld.
This appetizer has met with rave reviews by my family and friends -- I know, of course, I would say this, but it is true. As a test, I served this to a family friend, almost force fed, to be honest, who has an intense dislike of radishes and even he loved it. I watched, he had more than one!
There is still time to plant some arugula and radishes in your garden this year, or run out and buy some. Whether you grow your own, or not, be sure to try this before the summer is over. I can assure you it will find its way to your table long after your harvest and the farmers markets are gone.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.