We’re obsessing over peeled tomatoes. Jody has even made a convert of me, Mr. No-Fuss-No-Muss. Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers might well have begun Peeled Tomato… By the end of the summer you’ll either be slipping tomatoes out of their skins quicker than a fast-change artist in a costume shop. . . or you’ll be reading another food blog that doesn’t ask so much of you. But if you do, you’ll miss the supple sensation that is a tomato without its skin, as well as a remarkable esthetic experience. I, for one, had no idea how ordinary tomatoes metamorphosed into the Betty Grables of the garden without their skins. They’re gorgeous.
And nothing makes it worth the effort – trifling as it is – of removing a few tomato skins than pairing the tomatoes with burrata, the really hot cousin of bufala mozzarella. Burrata registers in consumer awareness, I think, about where bufala mozzarella did twenty years ago. That is, you needn’t be Italian or a card-carrying member of the culinary über-cognoscenti to have heard of it, but it hasn’t quite hit the dairy aisle of the local Giant either. A brief recap. Bufala mozzarella is an unaged cheese (“fresh,” get it?) made from the milk of the Mediterranean water buffalo. The cheese-making process, known in Italian as “pasta filata,” involves curdling water buffalo milk and then transferring the new curds into a warm bath of salt water or whey. The curds are quite elastic and after repeated stretching they’re formed into balls. As the balls cool, the exterior portion forms a delicate skin. Ideally, fresh mozzarella should be eaten within a few hours of its making. Milky and mild, with a few acidic notes, the flavor would seem to make fresh mozzarella an ideal candidate for the world’s most most boring cheese, yet the opposite is true. Well made fresh mozzarella is addictive. I spent a week in Puglia last year eating fresh mozzarella or burrata at least twice a day and never tired of them. In fact, on returning to the US I found I’d brought a burrata-shaped monkey on my back.
Okay, so let’s guild the lily of fresh mozzarella. There are inevitably shreds or bits of curd that never join their cousins in the whey vat to form curds large enough to attract the cheesemaker’s fingers for stretching, or that break away in the stretching. Burrata evolved as a way of saving these bits. The cheesemaker stretches the curds, but instead of forming them into a ball (or animals or bells, etc.), he shapes them into a pouch. The pouch is then filled with the curd bits that might otherwise have been lost and the contents are topped off with cream–oh yes–then the neck of the pouch is tied or sealed. It really does taste as luscious as it sounds. That’s one approach. Others fill the pouch with butter (“burrata” means “buttered”) or mascarpone. Although tasting burrata on its home turf is a special privilege, it is now made in this country, usually with cow’s milk. We’re fortunate in Boston to have a couple of great local sources for burrata–Fiore di Nonno and House of Mozzarella*, where mozzarella and burrata are made by hand. Now you understand why it’s worth helping those tomatoes slip into something a little more comfortable. Enjoy. Ken
*Currently redoing their website, but you can read about them in Edible Boston.
Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers
Makes 6 antipasto servings
- Kosher salt
- 2 pounds summer tomatoes, use a variety for flavor, texture, shape and color
- ½ cup small pitted black olives, Gaeta, Tajia, Nicoise
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- ½ cup torn basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons rich vinegar, cabernet or balsamic
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ pound buratta or soft mozzarella, you should have 2 pieces
- 1 cup arugula leaves
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Wash the tomatoes. For any cherry sized tomatoes, remove the stem and cut in half. If they are really tiny, just remove the stem. For the larger tomatoes, use a sharp knife to make a cross through the skin at the bottom of the tomatoes.
- Set up a bowl of ice water.
- Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water, count to 10, and then remove from the water with a slotted spoon or a sieve and immediately plunge into the ice water. They should cool quickly. Slip off the skins.
- Remove the cores and then cut the tomatoes any way you want. They can be slices, wedges, or chunks, depending on your preference and the size of the tomato. Put all the tomatoes into a large bowl. Add olives, capers, basil, vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently.
- Cut each burrata into 3 pieces. Arrange a piece on each of 6 plates.
- Distribute the tomatoes around the cheese. Sprinkle with arugula.
All of the different tomatoes you see in these pics came from Allandale Farm. They’re tomato masters. I feel like it’s incumbent on me to eat as many local tomatoes as I can for as long as they’re around. The last time I made this salad we had quite a bit left over (and no remaining burrata). By the next day, a pool of fresh tomato juice and vinaigrette mingled in the bottom of the bowl. I added a few slices of stale bread, let them soak for a bit, then pureed the whole thing and let it chill overnight. It made an awesome gazpacho. We took it on an early morning boat ride for breakfast.
P.S. Don’t forget to remove any unpitted olives from leftover salad before pureeing.
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