I recently discovered a really tasty burrata cheese made locally here in Florida that surprisingly is very reminiscent to the one we buy from a small store in Umbria that carries products from Campagna. It isn’t cheap at almost $10 a ball, but as a special treat, especially for a meatless meal, it is worth the splurge every so often. Burrata is a fresh cow’s milk cheese that is quite soft and very creamy. The cheese originated in Puglia although it can now be found across Italy. Inside a covering of fresh mozzarella sits a creamy center made of whey and cream so that when you cut into the cheese, the creamy center actually oozes out. Typically in Italy it can be identified by the knot at the top that is tied off.
I could easily just eat this cheese exactly as it comes after seasoning it with salt and pepper and a a big drizzle of our own recently harvested olive oil, but it is also delicious on pasta or bruschetta. I will always remember a very simple pasta dish that I enjoyed many years ago when we were exploring the Almafi coast. The pasta was tossed with fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes seasoned with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil leaves. The tomatoes softened when tossed with the hot pasta, exuding a completely intoxicating aroma, and then the dish was served topped with a piece of fresh homemade burrata cheese that oozed its creamy interior goodness all over the pasta. This to me is Italian simplicity at its very best, and I have made this pasta countless times since, with a few minor changes.
Although it is best to use only fresh, ripe, locally grown tomatoes whenever possible, during winter months that is impossible for most. Luckily, the cherry tomatoes that are sold in most grocery stores, though imported, are pretty flavorful. I often buy a couple of pints of cherry tomatoes and then leave them in a bowl by my window to fully ripen in the sun for a couple of days before I use them. Though it would always be preferable to grow your own tomatoes, or buy your tomatoes from a local green grocer that grows his own, that just isn’t realistic for most, and you do what you can when you have to. To ensure my tomatoes have the most flavor, I place them in hot olive oil to warm them, then add just a little balsamic vinegar to sweeten and add a little complexity of flavor.
This pasta dish works with just about any variety of pasta, both short and long though I have used stringozzi pasta, a typical Umbrian pasta in my photos. For this particular pasta dish I would recommend fusilli or spaghetti though again, any pasta would work.
Deborah Mele 2014
- 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 Garlic Cloves, Peeled & Minced
- Dash of Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 Pints Ripe Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
- Salt & Pepper
- 4 Tablespoons Slivered Fresh basil Leaves
- 1 Teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 Pound Pasta of Choice (See Notes Above)
- 1 (Around 10 Ounce) Ball Burrata Cheese, Cut Into 6 Wedges
- Fresh Basil Leaves
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- In a small pot, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil until lightly smoking over medium heat, then drop in the garlic and pepper flakes if using. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the chopped basil and the balsamic vinegar, then set aside.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water until it is “al dente”.
- Drain the pasta then return it to the pot.
- Pour the tomato mixture over the pasta and toss to mix well.
- Serve the pasta in individual bowls topped with a wedge of the burrata, a sprinkling of baby basil leaves, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.