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Burrata or Bust

Yes, it tasted as good as it looks. Both the burrata and the tomatoes. Forget the plastic plate. It’s the cheese here that matters. I had been yearning to find some burrata from the moment we arrived in Puglia last month. I had eaten it in that Southern Italian region for the first time years ago, and Puglia’s reputation for producing the best burrata is definitely warranted. Burrata, made with mozzarella on the outside, and cream on the inside, has a buttery, rich flavor. Not surprisingly, the word burrata means buttered in Italian. It’s become easier to find here in the states, but to savor it where it’s made, still warm and oozing with creamy goodness, surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of Italy, is an unforgettable taste sensation. So when we found ourselves in the white-washed town of Ostuni last month, I had burrata on my mind.

 

Up and down the streets we roamed, in search of burrata, before finding some at a little hole-in-the -wall that even boasted a trip-advisor sign. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but I was too busy scarfing down the lovely silken cheese to note its name.
The region of Puglia is largely unknown to most American tourists, who stick to the major cities of Rome, Florence and Venice. They’re all wonderful places too, but there’s a whole lot of beauty awaiting farther afield. For instance, Puglia boasts a unique UNESCO World Heritage site in a town called Alberobello, known for its conical shaped houses called “trulli.” We stayed in this one (below) at the end of the row and it was completely enchanting. The town is definitely not undiscovered. There are tourists everywhere, but the majority aren’t Americans.
Puglia also has miles of coastline with both sandy and rocky beaches to choose from. This beautiful beach was outside our hotel near Gallipoli and provided the perfect place to decompress for a few days.

But back to the cheese. On this latest trip, I ate more burrata and mozzarella than my waistline was happy about. But my feeling is when in Italy, throw caution to the wind and repent at home. So I forged ahead and ordered the mozzarella whenever I could. If I get grilled veggies with it, doesn’t that balance the calories from the cheese? Don’t answer that. I don’t wanna know.

The best mozzarella di bufala (water buffalo, folks, not the “home on the range” type) is produced in areas from Rome, in the region of Lazio — to Paestum (near Salerno), in the region of Campania. Paestum is also known for its three Greek temples, in a remarkably good state of preservation, considering they date back to 200 B.C. All along the roadway into the town, you’ll see signs saying “latticini,” the name for a place that makes dairy products,  including mozzarella. You won’t get it much fresher, so go inside and buy some. It’s best eaten within hours after it’s made. But if you’re in Paestum, visit the temples first. They are astonishing.
You can can get good mozzarella in Rome too. We found some great mozzarella at Obicà, a “mozzarella bar” in the Campo dei Fiori. They’ve got two locations in Rome, plus a handful of other locations around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Dubai and London. This was what I ate for lunch at Campo dei Fiori location and the mozzarella and everything else were perfect. (See, I got the grilled veggies again. Shouldn’t I be losing weight by now?)

 

Their salumi, burrata and flatbread are really worth seeking out too.
There’s been an Obicà mozzarella bar in New York City for a while now, in a building atrium on Madison Ave., but it has a very limited menu. Last week, a new Obicà opened in the Flatiron district (They recently changed the spelling from Obikà because some people thought it was a Japanese firm.) It’s got a sexy, sleek look to it and the menu is much larger than the uptown eatery. On our way to dinner at another place downtown, we stopped in to see how the mozzarella stacked up against the version we had at Obicà’s Rome location. They import it twice a week from Italy, but it’s not the same as eating it within hours of being made.
The verdict is that it wasn’t exactly as transcendent as what we ate in the Campo dei Fiori, but it was delicious nonetheless. And the bellinis and aperol spritz were great too. I’d go back in a heartbeat to sample the fuller menu next time.
At home with our unbeatable Jersey tomatoes, I’d say mozzarella eaten with these heirloom beauties picked from my backyard garden also has to be one of my favorite lunches.

Mozzarella is commonly used in so many cooked foods too, but for some reason, I am reluctant to cook burrata, since it’s so ludicrously delectable in its raw state. But once I tried this burrata in guazzetto at Le Virtù in Philadelphia, I changed my mind. Spread this luscious melted burrata on toasted bread, and you’re on another planet.

 

So I tried to duplicate it at home – easy as can be. It’s hardly worth printing out a recipe, but I’m giving you one just in case. Cut some burrata and place it in an ovenproof bowl, along with some roasted cherry tomatoes, olives and some seasonings. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes and ecco — a drool-worthy appetizer to serve with that prosecco.

Burrata in Guazzetto
printable recipe here

1 ball of burrata cheese
olives (green or black)
olive oil
roasted cherry tomatoes (or regular tomatoes)
basil
Take one ball of burrata and cut into pieces in an ovenproof dish (right in the dish so you don’t lose any of that milk). Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over it, then add the tomatoes, a handful of olives and some dried basil (or fresh if it’s summer.) Place in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until everything is melted.