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.




Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms

14 05 2011

Ontario asparagus at the St. Lawrence farmers' market, Toronto, May 14th, 2011

Spring may have officially started back in March but today marks the ‘real’ beginning of spring for me: at long last, the first local asparagus is at the market!  I’ve been waiting patiently for asparagus season to begin and was not disappointed at the St. Lawrence farmers’ market this morning. I also found local fiddleheads, wild leeks and rhubarb so things are starting to get interesting in the kitchen.

Why not make a delicious and simple Asian-inspired noodle dish to showcase new asparagus? Sesame oil can be found at most supermarkets with the soy sauces. It adds a delicious nutty flavour to dishes and complements the asparagus and mushrooms beautifully (although a little goes a long way so be sure to use a light hand with it!).

Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Makes 4 to 6 main course servings

(VEGETARIAN)

  • 1 lb. (500 g) dry long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine
  • 12 oz. (340 g) asparagus, cut into 1-1/2” pieces – will equal about 2-1/2 cups
  • 4 oz. (113 g) shiitake or button mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced 1/2” thick – will equal about 2 cups
  • 2 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as safflower
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  • Chopped green onion tops for garnish

Sauce:

  • 4 Tablespoons sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • ¼ cup neutral oil, such as safflower
  • 4 large green onions, white and light green parts only
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon water
  1. To make the sauce: In a bowl or large measuring cup, add all sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Set sauce aside until ready to use.
  2. Prepare noodles according to package directions (spaghetti and linguine are usually cooked for about 9 to 11 minutes in salted boiling water).
  3. While the noodles are cooking, stir fry the vegetables. Heat two tablespoons of neutral oil in a large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and mushrooms. Stir-fry until the mushrooms have softened and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 6 minutes.
  4. Drain the noodles and add to the skillet with the vegetables. Pour sauce over the mixture and use a large spoon and fork to toss the mixture until vegetables are evenly distributed and the noodles are coated with sauce.
  5. Garnish the noodles with toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions before serving.
Additional Ideas: You can make the dish more substantial by adding cooked meat (sliced grilled steak or chicken would be delicious, as would Chinese bbq pork). You can also add other vegetables such as snow peas, diced red pepper, steamed broccoli or sliced zucchini.
Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Sesame Noodles with Asparagus and Mushrooms

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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication. This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.





Roasted Tomato Salsa

5 05 2011

Roasted Tomato Salsa with tortilla chips

May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, which is a great excuse to enjoy Mexican-inspired food and drinks. A simple roasted tomato salsa makes a delicious accompaniment to many dishes, from quesadillas to tacos. Or, just enjoy it with some tortilla chips and a margarita or Mexican beer.

Tomatoes are not in season right now but high quality greenhouse-grown cherry tomatoes are available in the produce section of most grocery stores. I usually use Canadian-grown Savoura brand cherry tomatoes but any kind will do as long as they’re ripe. A quick roast in the oven enhances their sweetness and adds a bit of delicious char. You can add additional jalapenos and hot sauce for a hotter salsa.

Serving Suggestion: Why not make some Crispy Fish Tacos and Mango Margaritas?

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Makes about 1 cup

(VEGETARIAN)

For the roasted tomatoes and onions:

  • 2 cups (400 grams/ 14 oz.) cherry tomatoes, stems removed
  • 1/2 small red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 Tablespoon neutral oil such as canola or safflower
  • A generous sprinkling of salt
  • Parchment paper

To finish the salsa:

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers (or to taste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional – a lot of people don’t like it so you can omit it if desired)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Extra hot sauce, to taste (optional)

To roast the tomatoes and onion:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, add the tomatoes and onion chunks. Toss with the oil and a generous pinch of salt until they are coated.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Make sure the paper goes up the sides of the rim so it catches any juices from the tomatoes.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 25 minutes or until they are softened and slightly charred. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pour the contents into a large bowl. Let cool completely.

To finish the salsa:

  1. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes and their skins, leaving the sauce slightly chunky.
  2. Add the chopped jalapenos, garlic, lime juice, cilantro (if using) and salt to taste. Stir together until smooth. Add additional hot sauce if desired.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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





Radicchio and Scamorza Risotto

15 03 2011

Scamorza Affumicate: A smoked cheese that is similar to mozzarella and provolone

I recently returned from a trip to northern Italy and have been busy working on my own versions of some of the dishes I enjoyed there. One of those dishes was a smoky risotto with sautéed radicchio that I had one day for lunch.  It was a cool, rainy day and the hearty richness of the risotto paired with a glass of Piedmontese wine was the perfect way to warm up.

Sourcing Ingredients

Scamorza is a cheese that is similar to provolone or mozzarella.  The smoked version (affumicate) is darker in colour and has a firm smoky rind and soft interior. Scamorza affumicate can be found at many cheese shops but you can substitute smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone if you can’t find it.  The scamorza rind is edible but won’t melt as easily so it can be trimmed if desired.

Radicchio at an Italian market

Radicchio is a leafy vegetable that is related to chicory.  Raw radicchio can be quite bitter but it mellows when sautéed or grilled. It can usually be found near the lettuce or cabbage in supermarkets and is easily recognizable by its bright purple leaves.

If it is your first time making risotto, you might find this primer helpful for information about ingredients: Basic Risotto.

Radicchio and Scamorza Risotto

Makes about 4 servings as a starter

(VEGETARIAN)

  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cups chopped radicchio (about 1 small head), plus extra for garnish and to make radicchio ‘cups’ (optional, see below)
  • 1 cup raw carnaroli rice (you can use arborio if carnaroli isn’t available)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • About 3-1/2 to 4* cups chicken or vegetable stock – be sure to use vegetable stock if cooking for vegetarians
  • 4 oz. (113 grams) smoked scamorza cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes (equals about 3/4 cup of cubed cheese)
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Salt, to taste
  1. In a large deep skillet or enameled cast iron pot, heat olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add onion and cook until it’s beginning to soften, about two minutes.  Add the radicchio and sauté for another two minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add rice and sauté for another 2 minutes, stirring periodically.  Pour in the wine and stir the rice.  Reduce heat and let simmer gently until the wine is completely absorbed, about 3 minutes.
  3. Once the wine has completely absorbed, add 1/2 cup of the stock.  Let the rice simmer gently, stirring occasionally.  Once the stock has almost fully absorbed (about 4 minutes), add another 1/2 cup of the stock.
  4. Repeat the process of adding the stock a half-cup at a time once it has almost absorbed. Continue until the rice is creamy and cooked through but still has a very slight ‘bite’ in the middle of the grains (al dente).  Stir the rice on occasion and keep an eye on it.  It will take approximately 6 to 7* additions of stock in half-cup increments (*Note: the rice may require a little more or less stock, depending on how absorbent it is).
  5. Once the rice is cooked to the desired tenderness, remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and cheese. Stir into the risotto until completely melted.  Season with salt to taste.
  6. To serve: If you want to make radicchio ‘cups’, trim off the root end of a fresh head of radicchio. Carefully peel back the whole leafs, making sure not to tear them. Arrange three or four leaves on a plate in a circle to make a cup shape. Fill with risotto and garnish with a small amount of fresh chopped radicchio.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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Radicchio and Scamorza Risotto in a radicchio cup

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





Creamy Tomato Soup

19 01 2011

Tomato Soup with a grilled cheese sandwich is a classic cold weather meal

Tomato soup is a classic winter favourite.  Paired with crackers or a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s the perfect meal on a cold and gloomy day. Canned soup is quick and easy but making your own doesn’t take a lot of effort and you can control how much salt and additives are in the finished product. It can also be made in advance and re-heated for an easy meal on busy days.

Obviously tomatoes are not in season right now but canned tomatoes work beautifully for this recipe. Try to use good quality tomatoes that don’t have a lot of added salt or citric acid. I like Aurora brand diced tomatoes because they have good flavour, don’t have any additives and are affordable.  San Marzano tomatoes are also a good choice but they tend to be a bit more expensive.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Makes about 4 servings – can easily be doubled

(Can be made VEGETARIAN)

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (use vegetable stock if serving vegetarians)
  • 28 oz. (796 g) can of tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream or evaporated skim milk
  • Pinch of sugar, to taste (optional – it’s to balance the acid in tomatoes)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated swiss, parmesan or old cheddar cheese to garnish (optional)
  1. In a large saucepan or medium enameled cast-iron pot, heat the butter on medium-high heat until melted. Add the onion and sauté until it’s just beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook for another two minutes.
  3. Pour in the stock and tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a large spoon and let the soup gently simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes (don’t let it come to a hard boil).
  4. After 20 minutes, remove the pot from the burner and let the soup cool for a few minutes.  Carefully puree the soup mixture with a hand blender until smooth (or transfer to a regular blender and puree – use extreme caution with hot liquids).
  5. Return the pureed soup to the pot and place back on the burner. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, if necessary. Add the cream and stir until combined.  Heat on medium until the soup is hot.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
  6. To serve, top with grated cheese and fresh ground pepper if desired. Serve with crackers, sandwiches or Cheddar Herb Biscuits.

A tip for freezing: Prepare the soup as directed but don’t stir in the cream/evaporated milk at the end.  Freeze the pureed tomato base.  To thaw and prepare: Defrost the frozen soup base and place in a pot.  Add the cream/milk as directed and season as necessary.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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

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How to Make Perfect Mashed Potatoes

24 11 2010

Creamy, buttery mashed potatoes are a must at any holiday table.

When it comes to favourite comfort foods, mashed potatoes are near the top of my list.  They are the perfect side to serve with gravy-based dishes such as turkey and roast beef and no holiday table would be complete without them.

The great thing about potatoes (aside from being delicious) is that they are very inexpensive and readily available year-round.  I’m from New Brunswick, Canada, which is a major potato-producing region (McCain’s, the world’s largest producer of frozen french fries, is based there). A couple of years ago, I saw a roadside sign near Fredericton advertising 50 pounds of potatoes for $9.99 so it’s no surprise that they were a staple at our dinner table almost every night.

Potatoes may not look exciting but they are very versatile.

To make smooth, creamy mashed potatoes, here are a few tips that will ensure success:

  • Choose starchy potatoes such as Russets (also known as Idaho or baking potatoes).  Yukon Golds also work well and have a nice buttery interior.  Avoid waxy ‘boiling’ potatoes such as fingerlings or red potatoes.
  • Cutting the potatoes into chunks will speed the cooking process.  You can peel them before cooking for a nicer presentation but sometimes I leave the skins on for texture and nutrients.
  • Use a potato ricer to ensure smooth, lump-free potatoes.  A potato ricer looks like a giant garlic press and you push the cooked potatoes through tiny holes, resulting in potato strands that look like rice.  Ricers are available at most kitchen stores.  Do not use a mixer to beat them – they will become gluey.
  • Season well! Potatoes can handle a lot of salt and seasonings such as garlic, horseradish or chopped herbs (see below for more ideas).  Be sure to add butter and dairy while the potatoes are still hot so everything melts and combines easily. Add seasonings gradually and taste as you go.

Preparing Mashed Potatoes in Advance

Trying to drain and mash potatoes when you have guests waiting for dinner can be messy and cumbersome. Luckily, mashed potatoes can be prepared in advance and kept warm or re-heated. There are two methods that work well:

  1. Place mashed potatoes in a metal bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Cover loosely with foil. Stir occasionally and check moisture and seasoning before serving.
  2. Cooked mashed potatoes can be kept warm in a slow cooker set to ‘Low’. Check and stir on occasion, as they can become dry around the edges.

Optional Additions

While plain mashed potatoes are a delicious on their own, they can be further enhanced with some of the following (measurements are approximate – add to taste):

  • Grated horseradish – 2 to 3 Tablespoons or to taste
  • ¼ cup of sour cream plus ½ chopped green onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 head roasted garlic, squeezed out of its skin
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Mashed Potatoes

Evaporated milk or regular milk can be substituted for the cream but the results will not be as creamy and rich.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

(VEGETARIAN)

  • 6 large russet potatoes (about 2-1/2 lbs.), peeled and cut into thirds
  • ½ cup heavy cream (whipping cream), heated
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into pieces
  • Salt, to taste
  • A large stockpot with a lid
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • Water, to cover potatoes
  • Potato ricer
  1. In a large stockpot, add potatoes, 1 Tablespoon salt and enough water to just cover the potatoes. Cover and bring water to a boil.
  2. Remove cover and reduce heat to medium-high. Gently boil until potatoes are very tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Check with a sharp knife periodically to determine tenderness.
  3. Drain cooked potatoes. Place two or three potato chunks in the potato ricer. Working over a large bowl, press potatoes through ricer. Repeat with all potatoes.
  4. Quickly add butter and cream to hot potatoes. Stir until combined and the potatoes are creamy. Add salt to taste. Add any optional seasonings and mix until incorporated.
  5. Serve with your favourite dishes such as braised short ribs, roast chicken or turkey with gravy.

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

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.

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Stuffed Butternut Squash

2 11 2010

Butternut squash can be stuffed to make an elegant vegetarian dish

My brother-in-law Dan is a vegetarian so I’m always trying to come up with interesting dishes so he’ll have something special to enjoy at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I enjoy the challenge and it encourages those of us who eat meat to try some new dishes as well.  I made this butternut squash stuffed with wild rice and herbs last year and it was a hit.  It makes quite a bit so you should have plenty to serve as either a vegetarian main course or as a side dish.  It is delicious with pork, chicken or turkey. I can easily be adapted for vegans- just follow the substitutions at the end of the recipe.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

(VEGETARIAN)

Makes about 8 to 10 servings as a side dish or 4 to 6 servings as a main course

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil such as safflower

Stuffing:

  • ½ cup raw wild rice
  • ½ cup raw white rice
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • ½ medium onion, finely diced
  • ½ cup red pepper, finely diced (about ½ a large pepper)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  • ½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter OR margarine OR oil such as safflower or olive
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Using a large sharp knife, cut the butternut squash lengthwise down the middle and separate the two halves.
  3. Scoop out any seeds and discard. Rub each half of the squash with the oil (1 teaspoon per half). Place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 45 minutes or until tender. Check tenderness with a sharp knife – it should be soft enough to scoop out with ease.
  4. While the squash is roasting, prepare the stuffing ingredients. In a large saucepan, heat 2 cups vegetable stock until boiling. Add wild rice, cover tightly. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Add white rice to the pot and continue to cook the rice mixture for another 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the stock has been absorbed.
  5. In a large bowl, add onion, red pepper, garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme. Once the rice mixture has cooked, add it as well.
  6. Remove baked squash from the oven and let cool slightly. Using a large spoon, carefully scoop the flesh out of the baked squash halves, making sure to leave about ¾” of a ‘wall’ intact so the shells will hold together. Add the scooped squash to the rice/stuffing bowl.
  7. Stir the cooked squash into the rice stuffing mixture until it is thoroughly combined. Add melted butter and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Scoop the stuffing mixture back into the squash halves. Top each half with parmesan cheese or bread crumbs (1/4 cup per half).
  9. Bake stuffed squash for 20 minutes or until the cheese is beginning to brown on top. Garnish with a sprig of sage if desired.

*Vegan Adaptation:

Substitute vegan-friendly margarine, olive oil or neutral oil (canola, safflower, etc) for the melted butter. Top with ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs that have been tossed with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs. Bake stuffed squash for 20 minutes or until crumbs begin to brown.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

This recipe first appeared on Suite 101.com.

Stuffed Butternut Squash, garnish with a sprig of fresh sage