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Say Cheese: Fresh Burrata; Chevre Challenge, Part II

A happy sign. (La Fromagerie)

Here's a tasty morsel for those of you who love burrata, mozzarella’s dreamy cousin: The fresh, oozy cheese is available on Fridays and through the weekend at La Fromagerie in Old Town Alexandria.

Owner Sebastien Tavel says the burrata is flown in each week from Puglia, the region in southern Italy where it is made. A few weeks ago, when he put the sign (pictured above) in his shop window announcing the burrata's arrival, customers in the know began snatching up the cheese and others began inquiring about it.

Recipe Included

Burrata is yet another example of Italian culinary resourcefulness. The cheese was invented in the 1920s as a way to use up scraps of mozzarella. Cheesemakers fill pouches of still-hot buffalo mozzarella with the scraps and with cream. The bundles are tied and moistened with whey. A ball of burrata looks very much like a ball of mozzarella, but when you cut into it, the rich filling oozes out. In texture the interior is a little bit like fresh ricotta, as a friend of mine observed the other evening.

I served the burrata as an antipasto, with an accompaniment of finely diced tomatoes marinated in olive oil and balsamic and red wine vinegars spooned around it. Needless to say, it was a hit.

As if the news of burrata weren’t good enough, Tavel is also selling my other favorite summer cheese: sheep’s-milk ricotta (which I have written about previously in this blog). Best to catch both now, if you can; Tavel plans to carry the burrata ($8.99 for one 6- to 8-ounce ball) for another couple of months, for as long as fresh tomatoes are available to pair with the cheese.

The sheep's-milk ricotta costs $17.50 per pound, though he is looking at another supplier that may allow him to bring the price down to around $12 per pound. Tavel says he will continue to stock that for as long as he can get it, maybe even year-round.

And now, on to the final results of my fresh goat cheese challenge:

Dana Jones's version of Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad. (Domenica Marchetti)

Last week, I shared three recipes from friends whom I had asked to come up with creative ways to use an eight-ounce log of chevre (goat cheese). Here are the final two:

The first comes from my friend Dana, a talented and precise cook. Dana always follows a recipe, and yet whatever she makes always seems to turn out even better than what the original recipe intended; ingredients turn to gold beneath her deft touch.

“I immediately thought of an asparagus and goat cheese salad that I made earlier this summer,” she said. The recipe comes from a Nordstrom cookbook, and pairs a salad of romaine lettuce and asparagus with tangy goat cheese and a sweet vinaigrette made with cherry preserves and balsamic vinegar. It’s fresh-tasting and a great party dish for late summer and early fall.

My friend Susie, another creative home cook, took a practical approach to the challenge, with excellent results. “I was about to order takeout for my family tonight,” she wrote in an e-mail, “when suddenly I decided to see what I could do with what I had in the fridge.” What she came up with was a pasta dish featuring orzo, chicken sausage, red bell peppers, and, of course, goat cheese. Perfect family fare.

-- Domenica Marchetti

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad
12 to 14 servings

MAKE AHEAD: The recipe for this salad's dark cherry balsamic vinaigrette recipe yields about 2 1/2 cups, so you will have some left over; it can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Use on other salads, or drizzle over grilled shrimp or lobster.

Adapted by Alexandria cook Dana Jones; from a recipe in "Nordstrom Entertaining at Home Cookbook: Delicious Recipes for Memorable Gatherings," by John Clem, Michael Northern and Nordstrom (Chronicle, 2005).

For the vinaigrette
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cherry preserves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup canola oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad
2 pounds asparagus
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves separated, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
10 ounces mixed baby greens
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted (see NOTE)
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette: Combine the balsamic vinegar, sugar and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has reduced by half. Add the cherry preserves and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, then whisk in the red wine vinegar and then the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad: Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes.

Select a skillet or saute pan large enough to accommodate a single layer of the asparagus. Fill the pan two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus, or trim those ends so all the spears are a uniform length. Add to the boiling water and cook uncovered for 3 to 6 minutes (depending on the thickness of the spears), until bright-green and crisp-tender. Test for doneness by inserting a paring knife into the thickest part of a spear or, easier still, by tasting one. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to the ice-water bath; let them cool for 1 to 2 minutes, and then drain and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the asparagus on the diagonal into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

To assemble: Have ready chilled salad bowls or salad plates.

Combine the chilled asparagus, romaine, mixed greens, most of the pine nuts and most of the goat cheese in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 cup of the vinaigrette over the salad and toss gently to coat evenly. Season with salt and pepper and pepper to taste.

Use tongs to transfer the salad to the bowls or plates, building height in the center and arranging the more colorful salad ingredients on top. Garnish with the remaining pine nuts and goat cheese. Serve immediately.

NOTE: Spread the pine nuts on a small baking sheet or in a pie plate. Toast in a 350-degree oven for 6 or 7 minutes or until golden brown. Watch closely, because they burn easily. Let cool completely.

Per serving (based on 14, using 1 cup of the vinaigrette): 191 calories, 6 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar

Orzo With Chicken Sausage and Goat Cheese
6 to 8 side-dish servings

From Alexandria cook Susie Gordon.

1 pound dried orzo pasta
5 or 6 (about 1 1/2 pounds) cooked or grilled Italian chicken sausage links, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
2 medium red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
1 cup pitted kalmata olives, cut in half
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup loosely packed basil leaves, chopped, plus a few whole leaves for garnish
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions. Drain and let cool slightly, then place in a large bowl.

Add the sausage slices, diced red bell pepper, olives, goat cheese and basil to the orzo. Drizzle the oil over the ingredients, then toss gently until evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the whole basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 8): 520 calories, 26 g protein, 47 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 112 mg cholesterol, 733 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  September 1, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese  
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