september 12, 2014
Tomato season is winding down in Virginia. Time to enjoy the last of these fruits of summer, fresh in salads and salsas or preserved with canning and slow roasting. I like to make my green tomato chutney which carries me through to next summer.
Caprese salad ordered in restaurants can be a dicey affair, since you may not be getting local tomatoes ripened on the vine, but rather tasteless facsimiles. One of the most delectable versions was enjoyed in a little French cafe in New York’s Hudson River Valley this summer. Local heirloom tomatoes were crowned with a sizable burrata, dotted with fresh basil pesto and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Memorable, and unlike any caprese salad I have experienced.
Here is my attempt to recreate that simple starter, which can be your appetizer but is hearty enough to stand alone as a light meal. No hothouse tomatoes allowed, only beautiful heirloom specimens from Origins Farm in nearby Hanover county, Virginia, and purchased during a leisurely stroll through the St. Stephen’s Farmer’s Market here in Richmond. Worth reading : Origins Farm’s Alistar Harris’ masterfully written and photographed blog This Farming LIfe.
Most of my basil, except for the hearty columnar, has been decimated by heat and drought, so Origins Farm’s generous bunches were used to make a free-form pesto which turns out fine no matter what, and freezes well. Instead of reducing balsamic vinegar to a syrup, I added some good quality aged vinegar to the fresh pesto for a chunky dressing.
The crowning jewel, of course, is burrata, a fresh cheese made by stuffing a thin shell of fresh mozzarella with bits of fresh mozzarella bathed in heavy cream. Cutting into the burrata, the creamy bits ooze onto the plate and meld nicely with the tart pesto dressing. Scattered across the top to give lift and zing are coarse flakes of sea salt and crushed red pepper.
Despite my adoration for both, I am ready to say “so long until next summer” to fresh corn and tomatoes. The wait is worthwhile. The same cannot be said, however, for watermelon. My sadness at its passing is like a heavy weight. This week there will be ample opportunity for one last party with tomato watermelon salad with feta and mint.
burrata caprese salad
serves four as a first course
four tablespoons basil pesto*
four tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
four medium large heirloom tomatoes
eight ounces of burrata mozzarella
fresh basil leaves for garnish
coarse sea salt (I like Maldon flakes)
crushed red pepper
*free-form basil pesto : loosely fill bowl of large food processor with basil leaves and tender stems; add two hands of fresh grated parmesan cheese, two hands of raw walnuts, four large cloves of peeled garlic, one pinch of sea salt and one tiny pinch of white pepper; process, and after mix appears to be finely minced, add extra virgin olive oil in fine stream through feeder tube as machine is running, until thick paste forms; this pesto lasts in the fridge for one week and freezes well.
- In small bowl, mix pesto with balsamic vinegar and set aside; may be made one week ahead.
- Slice tomatoes and arrange on platter, top with burrata and garnish with basil sprigs.
- Drizzle dressing atop individual servings and sprinkle coarse salt and crushed red pepper according to taste.