Burrata with Tomato and Basil

31 08 2011

Burrata with heirloom tomatoes and basil makes a great appetizer or first course

With summer produce at its best right now, we can rely on top quality ingredients to keep cooking simple. One classic summer dish that couldn’t be easier is Insalata Caprese – a salad made with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and sea salt. For an interesting twist on a standard caprese salad, why not try it with burrata instead?

Colourful heirloom tomatoes give the dish visual appeal

Burrata is a type of fresh mozzarella cheese from Puglia in southern Italy. Each baseball-sized round of burrata is stuffed with mozzarella curds and cream, which spill out once it has been cut. Each ball has a ‘knot’ on top where the cheese was sealed, keeping the cream inside. It is often packaged in a damp wrapping or suspended in liquid to protect it. Burrata is extremely delicate and should be consumed within a few days of production.

Until recently, burrata had to be imported from Italy to North America, however, there are a number of producers now making it in Canada and the United States. In Toronto, I usually buy burrata produced by Quality Cheese or Santa Lucia. It’s usually available at specialty cheese shops including Olympic Cheese, Scheffler’s Deli and the Cheese Boutique. In other areas, a google search should indicate where you can find it (unfortunately it may be difficult to locate outside of urban areas but ask at your local market – they may be able to order it for you).

Fresh basil pairs beautifully with ripe tomatoes

The key to serving burrata is to keep it simple. A simple drizzle with olive oil and a dash of sea salt will suffice but I like to showcase peak season tomatoes and basil to take it to the next level. Prepare some Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps to spread it on (see recipe below). Use good quality olive oil, sea salt and the best quality fresh tomatoes and basil you can find. Be sure to bring the burrata to room temperature for a half hour or so before serving. This dish only takes minutes to put together and will be sure to impress your guests as an appetizer or starter dish.

Burrata with Tomato and Basil

  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups good quality tomatoes (any kind will do as long as they are ripe and sweet – heirloom varieties come in many colours and are visually appealing)
  • 4 to 5 large fresh basil leaves, plus extra sprigs for garnish
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch or two of sea salt
  • Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps (below)
  1. Remove burrata from its packaging and use a clean towel or paper towel to dry it. Set it on a serving platter and let it come to room temperature for at least a half hour before serving.
  2. Chop the tomatoes and basil (to chop basil, see my tip on How to Chop Fresh Herbs)
  3. Place the tomatoes around the burrata and sprinkle with chopped basil. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the cheese and tomatoes and season with a pinch or two of sea salt.
  4. Use a knife and spoon to serve on crisps.

Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps

Tip: These crisps can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for a couple of days. However, if you don’t have time to make them, Ace Bakery sells a similar product that works well. You can also serve the burrata with toasted baguette slices or even crackers.

  • 1 baguette
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup (approximately) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 1 clove fresh garlic (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice a baguette into rounds about 1/2“ thick. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown and toasted. Turn crisps over and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Crisps can be kept in an airtight container for a few days.
  5. To make garlic crisps: Peel a clove of garlic and rub it onto each crisp.

Burrata is delicious served on Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!
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Portions of this article first appeared on Suite 101.com. Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Farmers’ Market Report – August 25th, 2011

25 08 2011

A roadside farm stand in the Niagara region

As we near the end of August, farmers’ markets in Ontario are stacked high with summer’s bounty. With the exception of a few spring vegetables, pretty much anything that grows here is now available. It’s almost too much to keep up with! Here are a few of the highlights from my recent market visits:

Tomatoes

I’ve been pleased to discover that this has been a pretty good year for tomatoes in Southern Ontario. Thanks to a hot, dry July, this year’s tomatoes have good flavour. Eatocracy recently did a story about the Best Sandwich in the Universe: a tomato sandwich, simply prepared with white sandwich bread, sliced ripe tomatoes and mayo. It only works in the summer, when tomatoes are at their peak. I don’t disagree that a tomato sandwich is a thing of beauty but my personal favourite is a BLT. The crisp bacon and crunchy lettuce elevate the tomatoes to new heights, in my humble opinion. For more great ideas using tomatoes, check out the Tomato Archives.

Corn

August is the peak month for corn in Ontario

Corn has been plentiful this summer but I’ve had a bit of an issue with some of it. I bought some nice looking cobs at the market a couple of weeks ago and used them to make a pasta dish. Unfortunately, the kernels were a little too sweet (if that’s possible!) and tasted more like sugar bombs than corn, which didn’t really enhance the recipe. However, I bought some cobs last weekend that were much better – still sweet but they had a decent ‘corn’ flavour as well. Simply boiled and dressed with butter, salt and pepper, it was a true taste of August. Why not make some Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers or try Corn Scallop, a delicious side dish for grilled meats.

Peaches

Freshly picked Niagara peaches

Peaches are a staple at Ontario markets this time of year. This year I’ve found them to be flavourful but a little on the small side, which one of the growers told me was because of the dry weather in July. Peach Cobbler is a classic and Peach Tiramisu is a unique twist on an Italian standard. If you’d rather something more savoury, Peach Chutney is a great accompaniment to pork or chicken.

Summer Squash

Zucchini and patty pan squash were abundant at the last market I attended. Luckily the zucchini were still young and tender – they can get watery as they grow large. Smaller summer squash tend to be sweeter and work well in pasta dishes such as Summer Squash with Egg Pasta. Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting is a great way to finish the meal – it’s moist, flavourful and the cream cheese frosting makes it special.

Potatoes

Ontario baby potatoes

Baby potatoes are one of my favourite things. They can be prepared very simply: give them a quick boil or steam and dress with a little bit of butter, salt and chopped parsley (add a little sour cream if you want to be decadent!). Or you could whip up a batch of Baby Red Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette, a mayo-free, zippy potato salad that’s a nice change from the usual (you can use regular white potatoes in place of red).

Basil

Fresh basil is a fragrant summer treat

It has been a good year for basil, at least for farmers (my personal pot of basil didn’t make it through the heat wave). Every time I have purchased some at the market this summer, people on the street and the bus have commented on how incredible it smells – a taxi driver even asked me for a leaf so he could see what it tasted like! Pesto is one of the most common ways to use a lot of basil. Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Pesto is impressive and surprisingly simple to make. This month’s Saveur magazine has a full feature on pesto with a number of delicious recipes, from Pesto-Rubbed Chicken with Panzanella to Crispy Calamari with Pesto Mayonnaise. Caprese Salad is another way to use fresh basil – and it’s a great showcase for perfect tomatoes too!!

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.





Pimm’s Punch

18 08 2011

Pimm's is available at many pubs and bars in London

I recently returned from a wonderful weekend in London, England (just before the terrible riots that rocked the city). My husband and I spent the week sightseeing, shopping, attending the theatre and, of course, eating and drinking. One of the drinks that is quite popular in London is Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based liqueur that is often mixed with lemonade and soda.

Pimm’s is a quintessentially British drink; it’s enjoyed at Wimbledon and the Henley Royal Regatta and is popular in bars across Britain. We enjoyed a delicious cocktail made with Pimm’s, lemonade and fresh fruit while enjoying some tea sandwiches during a break from shopping at Harvey Nichols. It’s a wonderfully refreshing summer drink and can be served by the pitcher, making it a great choice for entertaining.

I was surprised to discover that Pimm’s No. 1 is readily available at LCBO stores in the Toronto area (unfortunately, I don’t know about other areas – ask at your local liquor store). You can usually find it with liqueurs or near the gin section. While cucumbers are a traditional garnish, you can use whatever fruit/berries are in season. At this time of year, blackberries and raspberries might be nice additions.

Pimm’s Punch

Makes about 5 or 6 tall drinks

  • 1-1/2 cups (12 oz.) Pimm’s No. 1
  • 3 cups (24 oz.) lemonade, homemade or store bought
  • 1-1/2 cups (12 oz.) lemon-lime soda (ie. Sprite or 7-Up) or gingerale
  • Ice

Garnishes:

  • Mint leaves
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Lemon wedges
  • Orange wedges or favourite fruit/berries
  1. In a large pitcher, combine the Pimm’s, lemonade and soda. Stir to combine
  2. Add ice and garnishes.
  3. Use a large spoon to control the garnishes and ice while pouring into tall glasses.

Cheers and Enjoy!

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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Pimm's Punch makes a refreshing summer tipple





Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto

2 08 2011

Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto

Farmers’ markets are at their peak right now and almost anything that grows during the summer is now available. To take advantage of the bounty, why not make this lasagna which is packed full of summer herbs and vegetables? It’s the perfect dish for entertaining because you can assemble it in advance and bake as guests arrive. The various components take a bit of time to pull together but it’s pretty straightforward and the effort is well worth it. The recipe can also be adapted to suit vegetarians.

Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto

Serves 6 to 8

For a vegetarian version, omit the sausage and double the vegetables.

Pesto Sauce:

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Pinch of salt

Sausage and Vegetable Sauce:

  • 3 mild Italian sausages
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced eggplant (about ½ small eggplant, cut into a ½” dice)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini (cut into a ½” dice)
  • ½ small red pepper, diced
  • ½ small yellow pepper, diced
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 28 fl. oz. (796 ml) can whole tomatoes
  • 5.5 fl. oz. (156 ml) can tomato paste
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt to taste

Béchamel Sauce:

  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 cups whole or 2% milk
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste

For Assembly:

  • 3 to 5 fresh lasagna sheets (or more to fit the pan)
  • 5 oz. mozzarella, grated (equals about 1 cup loosely packed when grated)
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

To Make the Pesto Sauce:

  1. In a food processor or processor cup of a hand blender, combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To Make the Sausage and Vegetable Sauce:

  1. Remove sausage meat from casings. Heat olive oil on medium-high in a large skillet or enameled cast iron pot. Add sausage meat and cook until just browned, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove sausage from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onion to the pan and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chopped basil and red pepper flakes and cook for another two minutes.
  3. Pour in tomatoes and break up with a spoon. Add tomato paste and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes until it is thick (béchamel can be prepared during this time – see below). Season tomato sauce with a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Set aside until ready to use. Sauce can be refrigerated up to two days.

To Make the Béchamel Sauce:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat butter on medium-high until just melted. Add flour and quickly whisk into the melted butter. Reduce heat to medium and cook flour mixture for 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
  2. Add 1 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken and add another cup of milk. Continue until all milk has been added. Add nutmeg and stir to combine. Season with salt to taste and set aside until ready to use.

Assembling and Baking the Lasagna:

  1. In the bottom of a baking pan measuring 7” X 11” X 2” (2 quarts), spread a thin layer of pesto sauce. Cover with a thin layer of tomato/sausage sauce and top with a drizzle of béchamel.
  2. Place a fresh lasagna noodle on top, cutting sheets to fit the pan as necessary.
  3. Repeat the process: pesto, tomato sauce, béchamel, noodles/pesto, tomato sauce, béchamel, noodles/pesto, tomato sauce, béchamel. Top with shredded mozzarella and grated parmesan. Lasagna can be refrigerated until ready to bake, up to two days.
  4. To Bake: Heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake lasagna for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and beginning to brown. Let cool slightly before serving.
Bon Appétit and Enjoy!
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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

This recipe first appeared on Suite 101.com.