Here on Two Lazy Gourmets, we talk a lot about how easy it is to cook simple yet surprisingly delicious dishes, but here’s a secret: sometimes being a Lazy Gourmet means not cooking at all. And no, I don’t mean “making reservations,” as the old joke goes. I mean simply choosing an intriguingly unusual, outrageously delicious ingredient and serving it with simple adornments—a drizzle of olive oil, some good fresh bread, and a few sprigs of fresh herbs, for example.
I was reminded of this kind of brilliant “cooking” one recent warm evening when I just didn’t feel like cooking and suggested to my husband that he stop by one of our favorite gourmet food shops (The Pasta Shop, for you locals) on his way home to pick up something interesting. What he came home with was an unassuming blob of cheese called burrata (pronounced boo-RAH-tah, it’s Italian for “buttered”). It’s a fresh, un-aged cheese (it only takes about eight hours to make it from fresh cow or buffalo milk) with an extremely short shelf life. Because it doesn’t travel well, until recently it was rarely found outside of its native region of Apulia in Southern Italy. Now that celebrity chefs have “discovered” it, high-end restaurants and gourmet retailers have it delivered fresh straight from the producer (in the case of our burrata, Gioia Cheese Company in El Monte, CA) and sell it to hungry foodies within hours of its arrival.
While it doesn’t look like much—in the US, it usually comes in a plastic bag and looks like fresh mozzarella—burrata is luscious and crave-worthy. It starts out, in fact, as fresh mozzarella that’s formed into a pouch, stuffed with a mixture of heavy cream and mozzarella scraps left over from the cheese-making process, and then cinched up with a top knot. This may sound a bit like putting lipstick on a pig, but rest assured, a good burrata is far more glamorous than the sum of its raw ingredients. As Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Parsons has said, “burrata is to mozzarella as foie gras is to chicken liver.”
To serve, the pouch is sliced open, allowing the thickened cream to run out, the whole thing oozing into an irresistible pool of cheesy, creamy goodness. While you might want to serve it as an appetizer or cheese course, at our house, we indulge in burrata as dinner from time to time. The “recipe” goes something like this: Place burrata on a plate, snip an “X” into the top with kitchen shears, drizzle a good fruity olive oil over the top, and sprinkle it with a bit of coarse sea salt. The only truly necessary accompaniment is bread. We like a basketful of thick slabs of rustic fresh levain or herb-flecked focaccia that have been brushed with olive oil and grilled, perfect for slathering. If you want to be a little virtuous, serve it with a green salad tossed with vinaigrette or, even easier, just a handful of fresh basil leaves and a few sun-ripened cherry tomatoes. A small bowl of cured olives rounds out the meal perfectly. Offer glasses of crisp Prosecco to wash it down and your guests will think you are a culinary genius.
Where to buy burrata?
Ask for it at any fine Italian deli or gourmet specialty shop; specialty cheese shops; or order it online from Gioia Cheese Company.