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.

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!
Get updates from The Seasonal Gourmet on Facebook and Twitter.  Join the conversation today!

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

This recipe first appeared on Suite 101.com.

Farmers’ Market Report – July 8th, 2010

8 07 2010

Zucchini blossoms are a rare and delicious summer treat.

Welcome to my first Farmers’ Market Report for Summer 2010!  The markets are at their peak for the next couple of months and this week’s offerings did not disappoint.  In fact, growing conditions in Southern Ontario have been so good this year, there were a few surprises.  Here is a rundown of some of this week’s highlights:


Corn has arrived at Ontario markets earlier than usual this year.

I was a bit stunned to see the first local corn at the markets already.  Speaking with some farmers, I learned that’s about two weeks earlier than normal this year.  I bought six ears to experiment with, crossing my fingers the quality was going to be decent. The ears were on the small side but the kernels were very tender.  It wasn’t as flavourful as I’d hoped but because it’s so early, I’m sure later harvests will be sweeter. My favourite way to eat corn is boiled, rolled in butter and then topped with salt and pepper. However, if you’re looking for something more elegant, try my recipe for Corn with Red Pepper and Herbs.


Like corn, peaches are also early this year.  I didn’t buy any this week but we’ve been having a heat wave so hopefully that bodes well for upcoming weeks (peaches love hot, dry weather).  Peach Tiramisu is an elegant, no-bake dessert that showcases fresh peaches beautifully.


Apricots were abundant at this week's market.

I often find raw apricots kind of bland with a bit of a mealy texture but the ones I bought today were pretty tasty.  They had a nice sweet-tartness to them so I ate a few out of hand.  I chose ones on the smaller side but the farmers were selling larger ones as well.  Apricots are ideal for both sweet and savoury recipes; why not make some Spicy Apricot Glazed Grilled Shrimp?


Fresh herbs were in abundance this week including basil, mint and dill.  I keep an herb pot during the summer for day-to-day herbs but if I decide to do any large batch pickling or pesto, I’ll head to the farmer’s market to buy large amounts at a good price. To make use of summer herbs, check out my recipes for Pesto Sauce and White Bean Dip with Fresh Herbs.

Summer Squash

Pattypan squash and baby zucchini.

I have a feeling that zucchini are going to take over many gardens this summer, judging by the number and size of them at this week’s market.  Many of the yellow and green zucchini on display were already getting a little big for my taste (smaller ones tend to be less watery and are better for most recipes).  Pattypan squash were also abundant this week. You can make the most of summer squash by making Zucchini Pie with Fresh Basil or a moist Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting.  I was also excited to find zucchini blossoms at a local grocer this week.  They are fragile and rare but will occasionally turn up at local markets.  To use them, try my recipes for Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms.

I discovered another summer squash this week that I was not familiar with: vegetable marrow (see photo below).  I asked the farmer about them and learned that they are very similar to zucchini and are often stuffed with a ground meat mixture.  It seems to be a popular vegetable in England.  You can find a recipe for stuffed vegetable marrow here: Recipe for Stuffed Marrow with Sausage Meat.

Vegetable marrow are similar to zucchini and are delicious stuffed.


My husband loves cucumbers and often eats sliced cukes with a dash of salt and pepper as a snack.  They also add a fresh note to sandwiches and salads.  A crisp Asian Summer Slaw makes a great no-cook dinner.  Some of the stalls were selling dill alongside baby cucumbers – one-stop shopping for pickle makers.  Pick up some smoked salmon to make a Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad that is accented with fresh dill.


Both sweet and sour Ontario cherries were abundant this week.  While sweet cherries are imported from the U.S. each spring, sour ones are harder to find.  My grandmother had a sour cherry tree in her yard so they were the only kind we ever had when I was growing up.  They’re not very good raw but once cooked and sweetened, they have a tartness that is addictive.  For a classic sour cherry pie recipe, check out this one from Epicurious.com: Classic Sour Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust.  If you have sweet cherries, why not make a Cherry Clafouti with Almonds or a simple Cherry Almond Bread?


I was told that this is probably the last week for asparagus this year.  Usually by the end of the season, asparagus is starting to look tired but not this year.  The stalks were thick, robust and vibrant.  This was an exceptional year for asparagus and I enjoyed it in a variety of dishes.  Check out the Asparagus Archives for some delicious ideas ranging from Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms to a rich and decadent Roasted Asparagus Lasagna.

Until next week,

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Caprese Salad

19 08 2008

Caprese Salad (Insalata Caprese in Italian) is a classic summer salad that is very simple to put together.  The key to success with this salad is to use the very best ingredients you possibly can.  When you use tomatoes at their peak, good quality mozzarella and olive oil and fresh picked basil, it’s truly a special dish. However, if you use sub-par ingredients and poor quality tomatoes, it can be pretty mundane.  Save it for summertime – it just won’t be the same with January’s tomatoes!

This is not really even a recipe, just some guidelines on what to use for the best result.  I have shown some suggestions on how to compose your salad: stacked, as a chopped salad, layered on a platter or as stuffed tomatoes.  You could also toss the ingredients with pasta or layer them in a baguette for a refreshing summer sandwich.

Insalata Caprese 101



  • Ripe tomatoes, in the prime of their season.  Any type of tomato that is top quality will do – heirlooms are good, as are plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and cocktail tomatoes.


  • Fresh mozzarella – Buffalo mozzarella is preferable but cow will also work.  The best kinds can usually be found at a good cheese counter or shop and are kept in liquid.  Ask your cheesemonger for recommendations.  Avoid pre-packaged block mozzarella from the supermarket as it does not have the same flavour or texture.
  • Fresh Mozzarella Balls

  • Extra virgin olive oil – A decent olive oil is essential.  I typically use ones from Tuscany or Spain.






Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Fresh Basil.  The fresher the better, preferably from your own herb garden.  Don’t even think about using dried basil from a jar!
Fresh Basil

Fresh Basil


  • Sea Salt.  This adds the finishing touch and a salty crunch to your salad.
Sea Salt

Sea Salt


Putting it All Together

Now that you’ve assembled your ingredients, you can compose you salad however you choose.   Typically the tomatoes, basil and cheese are layered and then sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil.  How you assemble your salad may depend upon the occasion:


This is an impressive presentation for an elegant first course at a dinner party.  Slice a tomato into rounds, leaving the ‘lid’ in tact.  Slice a very thin sliver off the bottom piece so the tomato will sit upright without rolling over.  Layer a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella, a basil leaf and repeat for all tomato slices. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

'Stacked' Caprese Salad

'Stacked' Caprese Salad



This is the quickest way to put together a caprese salad and is excellent for family style dinners.  Cut up tomatoes and mozzarella into chunks, chop up some basil leaf (see primer on How to chop herbs ) and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with sea salt and toss everything together in a large bowl.  Garnish with a basil leaf.

'Chopped' Caprese Salad

'Chopped' Caprese Salad



This is another good way to present the salad for buffet or family style dining.  Layer slices of tomato with the cheese and basil slivers.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Garnish with a basil leaf.

"Layered" Caprese Salad (made with heirloom tomatoes - they look green but are actually ripe)

'Layered' Caprese Salad (made with heirloom tomatoes - they look green but are actually ripe)



For cocktail parties, stuffing the tomato with the cheese and basil makes the perfect one-bite finger food.  Cut the top 1/4 off the top of a small cocktail or grape tomato.  Scoop the seeds and pulp out from inside and discard. Cut the mozzarella into small chunks and wrap each piece in basil leaf.  Stuff the mozzarella into the hollowed out tomato.  Drizzle stuffed tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt.

"Stuffed" Caprese Salad

'Stuffed' Caprese Salad


Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

7 08 2008


Corn is one of my favourite vegetables.  The season for fresh corn is very brief in Canada so during the few weeks it’s available, I eat it as often as I can.  Simply roasted or boiled corn on the cob with butter, salt and pepper is a classic but it’s also wonderfully versatile as an ingredient in salads, pasta sauces or soups.  I developed this recipe as a way to showcase a few summer ingredients that we can only get for a short time so enjoy it while you can!   It’s also an excellent way to use up any leftover cooked corn (if there ever is such a thing – which is not too often in my house!)

Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Makes approximately 4 servings as a side dish

(Can be adapted to be VEGETARIAN)


  • 2-1/2 cups cooked corn, cut off the cobs (approximately 4 cobs)
  • 4 rashers bacon (optional – omit for vegetarians)
  • 10 to 12 mini tomatoes (such as cocktail, cherry, grape, etc.), cut in half
  • 3 Tablespoons red onion, cut into a fine dice
  • 1/4 cup red pepper, cut into a fine dice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh basil leaf, for garnish
  1. Cook bacon until crisp.  Crumble into pieces and place in a large bowl.
  2. Add tomatoes, corn, onion and red pepper to bowl.  Drizzle with basil vinaigrette (see recipe below) and toss to coat.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with a basil leaf.

Basil Vinaigrette:

  • 4 Tablespoons neutral oil (such as canola or safflower)
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil (*see tip on how to chop basil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt

*Tip for cutting basil leaf: Take a few large basil leaves and roll them up together very tightly, as though rolling a cigar.  With a sharp knife, cut through roll in thin strips.   Chop up strips into smaller pieces.

  1. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together.  Use on corn salad or other summer salads.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!


Ricotta Gnocchi with Basil Pesto

29 06 2008

Gnocchi w pesto

For years I could not figure out the appeal of gnocchi.  The small Italian dumplings can easily be found on restaurant menus and at the supermarket but the few times I dared try it, I found it heavy and gummy so I typically avoided ordering it.  Then one day I ordered a small bowl as a primi at an Italian resto and realized how good it can be.  The light, airy dumplings were bathed in a fresh tomato sauce – it was a revelation.  I did some research and discovered that gnocchi are actually very easy to make.   They are most often made with potato, however, I make a version with ricotta cheese that is very quick and simple to prepare.  It makes an impressive starter or main dish for a summer meal.  You can serve it with the fresh basil pesto that follows or top with your favourite sauce.

Ricotta Gnocchi

Serves 2 as a main dish or 3 to 4 as a starter (primi) course


  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 to 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for flouring countertop (amount of flour needed will depend on how wet your ricotta is)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup flour, salt and egg.  Mix until combined.
  2. Check texture of the dough.  If it is sticky and wet, add additional flour 1/4 cup at a time.  Mix into dough and re-check.  Continue adding flour a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Dough should be moist and pliable but not sticky.
  3. Once the dough is the correct consistency, sprinkle about 1/4 cup flour onto a clean countertop.  Scoop out about 1/4 cup of dough onto counter and roll it into a long ‘snake’, about 1/2″ in diameter.  Like this:
  4. Flatten the dough slightly with a fork, leaving groove marks in the dough.  Cut into pieces approximately 1″ long.  Set gnocchi aside on a plate.  Repeat the process with the remainder of the dough.
  5. Fill a large stock pot with water and add 1 Tablespoon of salt.  Bring to a boil.  Add gnocchi and cook until the dumplings float to the surface, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. 
  6. Drain cooked gnocchi into a colander and run under cold water to stop them from cooking further.  (If you are not serving the gnocchi immediately,  you can toss them with a tablespoon of olive oil and refrigerate until ready to proceed with the next step).
  7. Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet.  Add gnocchi and saute until browned on one side.  Turn them over and brown the other side.  Remove from pan and toss with your favourite sauce (see suggestion below).

Fresh Basil Pesto

Pesto originated in the city of Genoa, Italy.  Traditionally, it is made with pine nuts, however I tend to prefer it without the nuts.  You can always throw in a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts if you’d prefer. 


  • 1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, stems removed
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for grating on top
  1. In a food processor*, add all ingredients and pulse until combined and a thick sauce forms.  Toss with your favourite gnocchi or pasta and grate additional parmesan on top. 

*If you do not have a food processor, you can use the traditional method of mashing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle.  I usually use a Cuisinart hand blender with the ‘processor’ cup attachement instead of a full sized food processor. 

Bon Appetit & Enjoy!