Tuesday, August 2, 2011

orecchiette with grilled eggplant and burrata

So eggplant probably wouldn't win the vegetable popularity contest. When cooked, it usually ranges from spongy to slimy. It has lots of seeds. It can be bitter. It takes on a weird brown color. Can you tell I don't cook it very often?

But while flipping through a copy of the new Martha Stewart Living, I saw a recipe for pasta with grilled eggplant, burrata cheese, and mint and promptly dog-eared the page. It looked so summery and delicious and you don't have to ask me twice to eat something with burrata in it. Burrata is one of the most delicious foods on the planet. Seriously.

The fancy food market in our neighborhood puts witty little labels on all of their cheeses. Burrata is described as the "Hostess cupcake of cheeses," and that's exactly right--it's a soft globe of milky mozzarella containing a semi-liquid center of buttery cream and cheese. When you cut into it, the cream oozes out and it's so incredibly decadent...mmm. I think I read that Gabrielle Hamilton served it instead of wedding cake at her wedding. Dan and I served mini Key lime pies, but if I had to do it again, I might go with cheese.

The thing is, burrata is expensive. It's often flown from Italy, where it is made according to all sorts of stringent rules. I just discovered that it's also made in Vermont, which brings down the price quite a bit, but it's still a luxury item, as far as cheese goes.

I justified paying about $13 for it the other week because it was the center of a meatless recipe. If I had bought a steak or ice big piece of fish, I'd probably spend close to that amount. (This is like how people justify spending hundreds of dollars on shoes by dividing the cost by the number of times they will wear the shoes.) That said, this eggplant pasta is a once-in-awhile type of a recipe--perfect for dinner parties or one special summer meal. Both in price and calories, you probably wouldn't want to eat it all the time.

But back to eggplant. The recipe called for grilled eggplant, chopped coarsely, sauteed with garlic, chili flakes, and mint. Then you tear up your lovely globe of burrata into the chunky eggplant mixture, and the center of the cheese melts into it, making a creamy, silky sauce with bits of firm mozzarella throughout. You toss this sauce with hot pasta (I used orecchiette) and that's it! Simple and delicious--the best sort of summer cooking. It might even make you a fan of eggplant. Or at the very least, a burrata addict. (Sorry.)
Orecchiette with grilled eggplant and burrata
As gorgeous and inspirational as Martha Stewart publications are, the recipes often don't work at all. My advice is to read them carefully, then improvise and do what you think makes sense. In this case, the way the recipe instructs you to grill the eggplant is totally crazy. So I've tweaked the instructions somewhat. I used a grill pan on my stovetop, but an outdoor grill would work just as well, if not better.
(Serves 4 people)

8 oz. (or so--one round) burrata
2 medium-sized eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wide slices
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 clove garlic, minced
Red chile flakes
Mint leaves from about 5 sprigs of fresh mint
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 lb. pasta, such as orecchiette, penne, or ziti

Over a medium sized bowl, use your hands to tear the burrata into small pieces. Use the bowl to catch the cream and liquid center. Set the cheese aside in the refrigerator.

Place the eggplant rounds on two cookie sheets in one layer. Salt generously and set the eggplant aside for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, drain off any water that has come out of the eggplant. Drizzle the eggplant slices on both sides with olive oil.

Heat your grill pan to medium high heat. Cook the eggplant, in batches, on both sides until it is soft and caramelized. Set each batch of cooked eggplant aside on a large platter. While you're grilling the eggplant, boil a large pot of salted water and cook your pasta.

When the eggplant is done, chop it coarsely. In a large skillet, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile flakes and saute until the garlic just turns golden and aromatic. Add the chopped eggplant and stir until combined. Add the mint and the torn burrata and cream and stir until combined. Let it cook for one minute, then remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Drain the pasta and add it to the eggpant sauce, stirring to coat. Serve immediately.


Margaret Pinard said...

I love eggplant, but it is true, there are a few very specific steps a cooks needs to take in order to coax out the gorgeous smoky flavor.
Burrata- enough to make one want to experiment with cheese-making at home! (heavenly :)

Daniel said...

This recipe is awesome.

Does anyone know why eggplant is called eggplant? What's egg-like about it?

Unknown said...

Burrata is something that I need to experience now. Probably just shut my eyes and take it to the counter so that I don't have to see the cost.

Judy said...

I want burrata too. Sifton mentioned it in a restaurant review in the Times on Wed. It's in the air. Wonder where I can get it in West Palm.

I think eggplants are ideally shaped like eggs.

Lisa said...

Margaret: Yeah, I wonder about making it at home. Seems possible?

Daniel: I think because it's shaped like an egg?

Tender Branson: You'll forget about the price once you eat it. :)

Judy: I bet Carmine's sells it. Maybe Whole Foods? It's so good, even served in a caprese or something really simple.

Daniel said...

I don't think I've ever seen an eggplant shaped like an egg.

Vanessa said...

My friend invited me over and we made fresh mozzarella and burrata in his backyard! I want to say it was easy, because it was pretty simple, once it was all set up. But if I'm being honest, the setup seemed like a giant pain. And pretty expensive, what with the ingredients involved, come to think of it. So maybe it's worth it to spend the money once in a while!

Health Insurance said...

Yummy recipes. that's good look and superb posting

violarulz/ducksandbooks said...

WOW! We made this with regular mozzarella and a pat of butter last night (and weird S shaped pasta that was penne length, from Costco). YUM! I ate 2 servings over arugula and it was AMAZING! Thanks for sharing your kitchen adventures with everyone :)


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