Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Kitchen Goddess says, “Make this salad.”
What's cooking? Burrata with Shredded Sugar Snap Pea and Crispy Shiitake Salad

A writing workshop leader once told me, “In journalism, one is a sighting, two is a coincidence, three is a trend. Write about it.” So in the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across one particular item appearing on the menu at two nice restaurants I’ve been to. Then Julia Moskin, writing in the Dining section of last Wednesday’s New York Times, published a recipe by vegetarian blogger Michael Natkin, featuring that same ingredient: burrata cheese. That makes three for me, so I’m calling the trend.

It’s not a new cheese, but it’s definitely been in hiding. The first time I saw it on a menu, I didn’t know what it was, though it sounded like an Italian cheese. The second time I saw it, I decided to order it, and I’m pretty sure I heard the angels singing as I took my first bite.

Picture a mozzarella pouch about an eighth of an inch thick; the cheesemaker then stuffs the pouch with a mixture of fresh mozzarella “scraps” mixed with cream. So the texture on the inside is very loose – almost like that of cottage cheese. But I can promise you that the rich, buttery flavor is nothing like cottage cheese.

The burrata-making capital of the world is the Puglia region of Italy. And while it’s now made even in the U.S., nothing beats the Italians. So the most important point to make in buying burrata is that it should be fresh. Ask your grocer when it came in; “Today” or “Yesterday” are good answers.

Mr. Natkin, whose blog Herbivoracious (and book of the same name) is a tremendous site for vegetarian dishes, has an obvious knack for melding flavors and textures. Every part of the salad sounded good to me – the crispy shiitakes, the lemony olive oil, the crunchy julienne of snap peas, and the toasted pignolis. And of course the creamy burrata.

I bought the burrata this morning (it came in “yesterday”), and wanted to use it at its maximum freshness, so I made the salad for lunch. And I’m pretty sure neither my hubby nor I said more than two words to each other as we scarfed it down. Those two words would be “Oh, my.”

So now you have to try it. Trust me on this.

Kitchen Goddess note: Before you start slicing the shiitakes or stringing the sugar snap peas or washing the lettuce or toasting the pine nuts, get the lemon-infused oil going. You want to give it the maximum amount of time to get the oil nice and lemony.

Burrata with Shredded Sugar Snap Pea and Crispy Shiitake Salad
Adapted from Michael Natkin's Herbivoracious blog

Total time: 40 minutes

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon (Meyer if possible)
Vegetable oil for pan-frying (about ¼ cup)
5 fresh shiitake mushroom caps, sliced about ⅛-inch thick
Kosher salt
Salad greens
1 ball of burrata cheese, about 4 ounces, at room temperature
½ cup sugar snap peas, strings removed and thinly sliced lengthwise (to a slaw-like texture)
Maldon salt or other flaky finishing salt
2 teaspoons toasted pine nuts [see Kitchen Goddess note below]

1. Start by combining the olive oil with the zest from the lemon. Using a rasp, zest the lemon over the olive oil so that the natural oils released from the skin also end up in the olive oil. You won’t use all the oil in this recipe, but it’s delicious and will keep in the refrigerator. (You can pour it over fresh tomatoes with basil or use it as a dip with crusty French bread or make a nice lemony vinaigrette. Use your imagination.) After zesting, juice the lemon into a separate small bowl.

2. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the mushrooms (carefully – there’s lots of water in mushrooms, and they’ll spatter), and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook until deep golden brown on one side, then flip and cook the other side just long enough to get some color (about 3 minutes total). Using a slotted spoon or spatula, move the mushrooms to paper towels to cool.

3. Strain the lemon zest from the olive oil. Arrange a few lettuce leaves on each serving plate and place the burrata in the center. In a small bowl, toss the sugar snap peas with a generous tablespoon of the lemon-infused olive oil, 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of the Maldon salt. (I know, there’ll be lemon juice left over, too. Try adding it to the lemon oil with your favorite herbs for a nice salad dressing.) Pour the contents of the bowl over the burrata, and sprinkle the shiitakes and the pine nuts on top. Add a few more flakes of Maldon salt and a couple of fresh grinds of pepper. Serve immediately, while the snap peas and mushrooms are still crispy.

Yield: 2 servings as an appetizer at dinner or a luncheon entrée.

More Kitchen Goddess notes:

1. Toasting pignoli nuts is easiest in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Shake the skillet frequently to ensure even browning.

2. Maldon salt is the latest candidate in the trendy salt movement. It’s a delicately flaked sea salt from England, and – surprise! – it’s expensive. If you have some, great. If not, I’d go with kosher salt, which is coarser but better than table salt.

3. The burrata I found was 8 ounces, so I cut it in half, served 2 ounces to each plate, and will eat the rest tomorrow.

4. With a nice piece of toasted French or Italian bread, this salad makes a really nice light lunch.

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