It’s been a really rough winter here so far and there are still 50 days to go. But I found a couple of ways to conjure happier and warmer days. This is thanks to the introduction of some delicious, ripe tomatoes that are widely available no matter what the weather is outside. There are several varieties of Grape tomatoes to choose from. There are also small heirloom tomatoes that are equally good at putting summer on a plate in the dead of winter. And to further the illusion, there’s beautiful, ripe Burrata cheese. And for Burrata fans fortunate enough to live near one, Trader Joe’s sells 8 onces of the cheese for $4.99 – enough for at least four salads or our second recipe for a Tomato and onion tart.
For the past two summers, we’ve been using Burrata as a stand in for fresh mozzarella. We love opening up the mozzarella-like exterior to reveal the luscious creamy center of the cheese. In fact, it is cream because Burrata itself is made from both mozzarella and fresh cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside is a mixture of both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusually soft and creamy texture. The name “Burrata” actually means ‘buttered’ in Italian and one taste tells you why. Served fresh, at room temperature, it is a perfect partner to ripe baby tomatoes, an excellent stand-in for the big boys of summer in the iconic Tomato and Mozzarella Salad. That dish is an exceedingly simple thing to put together as you will see here. The second way to enjoy these wonderful flavors together requires a little more time. It relies on roasting the tiny tomatoes and some onions then using store-bought Puff Pastry to make a tomato and onion tart that you then heap with fresh burrata. The tart not only staves off the cold, it makes a perfect appetizer or a delightful side dish.
Burrata, like all mozzarella, owes its existence to an Asian native, the water buffalo, first brought to Italy in the 15th century. Water buffalo milk is richer and higher in protein than that of cows, yielding 1.6 times more cheese. It doesn’t have the yellowish pigment found in cow’s milk, so buffalo mozzarella is pure white. True Mozzarella is made with the milk of water buffaloes; in Italy this is a legal requirement, and a similar cheese made with cow's milk is called fior di latte or fiordilatte, and not Mozzarella at all. In the US however, this cheese is often made with cow's milk and sold under the names of mozzarella and burrata. This is precisely what the Trader Joe variety is made from. I am not sure how they make it as white as it is.
Regardless of contents or national origin, these two recipes are so easy and so delicious, they really do put color and summer on your table in no time. Here are the recipes:
Recipe for Baby Tomato and Burrata Salad
1 lb container of Grape Tomatoes, Cherry Tomatoes or Heirloom Baby Tomatoes, sliced in half
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly Ground Pepper
Fresh thyme leaves (Optional)
8 ounces fresh Burrata Cheese
1. In a bowl, gently toss tomatoes, olive oil and, if using, thyme leaves together.
2. Divide among 4 plates.
3. Break open the ‘boules’ of Burrata and divide them evenly among the plates. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve at once.
Recipe for Tomato and Onion Tart topped with Burrata
1 large Spanish or Vidalia onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb Grape, Heirloom or Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet), thawed
8 ounces of Burrata
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the onion into a medium bowl. Add 1 tbsp. oil and toss to coat. Place the onion onto a baking sheet. Place the tomatoes, cut-side up, onto another baking sheet and drizzle with the remaining oil.
3. Roast the tomato and onion for 25 minutes or until the onion is well browned. Remove the onion from the oven. Roast the tomatoes for 10 minutes more. Let the onion and tomatoes cool on the baking sheets on wire racks.
4. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 12-inch square. Place the pastry sheet onto a baking sheet. Prick the pastry thoroughly with a fork. Arrange the onions on top of the puff pastry and then arrange the tomato pieces over them. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves.
5. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Remove the pastry from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
6. Divide the Burrata into four even pieces and top the tart with them. Serve at once.