How can you describe something that is so soft, so tender, so milky, so sensuous … without wandering off topic? Just use the word BURRATA. It is a little dome of happiness, filled to bursting with a rich creamy centre, barely holding its shape, that just wants to burst open on your plate. Let it! I’ve teamed it with a quick version of caponata.
If you can't find burrata, use bocconcini.
4 burrata cheeses (or bocconcini)
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
1 large eggplant (aubergine; about 400g/14 oz)
4 Tbsp olive oil
Flaky sea salt
2 sticks celery, thickly sliced
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
300g (about 10 oz) tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 Tbsp capers, drained, moped with paper towels and roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Crusty bread for serving
1 Slice eggplant thickly then cut slices into cubes. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over medium-high heat. Add eggplant cubes and toss to coat in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Cover with a lid and lower the heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, or until tender. You want to get a good colour on the eggplant, but make sure the heat doesn’t get away on you and scorch it. Transfer to a plate and season with flaky sea salt.
2 Add 2 tablespoon olive oil to pan, turn heat to low and add celery and onion. Cover with a lid and cook for about 7 minutes until browned. Stir through garlic, then add tomatoes. Cover with lid and cook for 7 minutes, stirring often, or until tomatoes have collapsed. Return eggplant to pan, add capers, then season with salt and pepper. Splash with red wine vinegar, then cook everything together for 2-3 minutes more. Turn off the heat and serve warmish or at room temperature.
3 One by one carefully remove a burrata from its whey and transfer to a large fish slice (flat slotted spatula). Mop the underside with paper towels, then carefully slide the burrata onto plate; the thin skin of the burrata is delicate and you don’t want to burst it during this process. Serve a spoonful of caponata on the side, then drizzle the burrata with extra virgin olive oil and season lightly. Serve immediately with crusty bread.
Caponata – a bit of a cheat’s version! The Sicilians sure know how to cook eggplant. Caponata, originating in Sicily, is one of their glories. Essentially it is a stew of eggplant, onion and celery, sharpened with vinegar, and added capers and olives, but it can be much more elaborate than that. A baroque rendition sees the dish adorned with baby octopus and bitter chocolate, and toasted almonds added to the sauce. My late Sicilian mother-in-law, Mamma Rosa, was a bit of an expert on Caponata and it’s a tradition that has passed down through the family. I hardly dare make it for my husband Remo, who like his parents and siblings, was born in Palermo, because it will always be lacking in ‘something’ (probably just Mamma Rosa’s touch!). But while he is away in Italy and I’m here in New Zealand, I’ve whipped up this speedy version, without onions and olives. It’s a bit of a cheat’s caponata in a way, but do you know what? It tastes pretty good, especially teamed with milky burrata.
If burrata is not available, use buffalo mozzarella, or mozzarella bocconcini (small balls or twists).
Recipes often suggest removing the skin from tomatoes. Certain cooking practices toughen them, and in soups, stews and sauces they separate from the flesh and can float to the top of the liquid. Everyone has their own method, and here’s mine. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Have a bowl of chilled water ready to receive the scalded tomatoes. Lower tomatoes carefully into the pan of gently boiling water and count to 10 for ripe tomatoes and up to 20 for firmer tomatoes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of chilled water. Try peeling them. If they peel easily, carry on scalding any extra tomatoes, but if they’re difficult, put them back in the pan for 10 seconds more. I find this method absolutely reliable because you can adjust it to the ripeness of the tomatoes.