burrata with lentils and basil vinaigrette
Although I will happily eat burrata — that lush mozzarella-on-the-outside, creamy-ricotta-center cheese from Puglia’s Razza Podolica’s cows by way of skilled craftsmen — with a knife and fork, quartered on a plate, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, flaky sea and pepper with or without a few tiny tomatoes all around and sometimes even some basil from this day until the end of days and never want for anything else, two small things about this will forever plague me: this is an expensive undertaking and when I’m done, I will still probably be hungry for dinner.
What’s a girl to do when she likes fancy things but doesn’t have the trust fund to support it? I may approach the subject jokingly, but as any of us who has attempted grocery shopping on a budget knows, the struggle is real. Do you save your favorite ingredients for special occasions? Do you save it for cooking-for-one nights, to limit the financial hit of it all? My way is instead to try to stretch things, forever looking for ways to turn luxurious appetizers like this into a full, actually sating, meal.
If burrata — which, by the way, means “buttered,” in case you weren’t yet convinced you needed it in your life — is such a star, why not let it carry a dish? I found my a-ha moment in the Polpo cookbook from the eponymous London restaurant I fell in love with a few years ago. (I talk about it more, by way of spinach pizzettes, over here.) Here, atop an excellent warm lentil and vegetable salad, the burrata is treated the way a poached egg would be elsewhere, allowed to break open and spill out, enriching everything around it. I took a few liberties with the recipe; I merged the basil oil and mustard vinaigrette into one thing, because who wants to make two dressing on a weekday night and I swapped the carrots and celery for the zucchini that’s everywhere right now, but kept what I felt was the essential part: luxury in a wholesome weeknight format.
Burrata with Lentils and Basil Vinaigrette
As discussed, burrata can be a bit of an investment. This dish is stunning, absolutely luxurious with 2 large 8-ounce balls of burrata over it (it also makes a 6 meal-sized portions; I show it up top with 1/2 the lentil portion and about 5 ounces burrata) but should the price of this give you a small panic, you can also use half as much for a still lovely but less posh meal.
If you think you’re not a lentil person, have you tried lentils de puy? Tiny, almost nutty in flavor and keeping intact when cooked, they’re so wonderful in salads, warm and cold, I’m convinced that they can convert anyone. Sure, they’re a household staple in France, but here they can be found at a lot of grocery stores or ordered online.
- 1 1/2 cups dried lentils de puy or other small green lentils
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium zucchinis (about 6 ounces each), diced
- 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, diced
- Leaves from 3 fresh sprigs thyme
- 2 small or 1 large garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 cups fresh basil leaves
- 2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons red or white wine vinegar
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large balls of burrata (or 4 smaller ones), at room temperature (see Note up top)
- Sea salt and more black pepper
- A few small basil leaves for garnish
Cook lentils: Pick over and rinse lentils. Place them in a medium saucepan and cover with 3 inches of cold water, seasoned well with salt. Simmer the lentils over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until firm-tender. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, make vinaigrette: Blend basil, mustard and vinegar together in a food processor. With machine running, drizzle in olive oil in a thin stream. Season well with salt and black pepper. You’ll need to scrape the machine down a few times to get all of the leaves minced. No food processor? Very finely mince leaves on a cutting board with a sharp knife. Place in medium bowl and whisk with mustard and vinegar. Drizzle in olive oil in a thin stream, whisking the whole time. Season well with salt and pepper.
In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion, thyme, salt and pepper and cooking, stirring frequently, until softened and just barely picking up color, about 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add cooked lentils back to pan and stir to mix and re-warm; you can add a splash of water if they’re sticking. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Assemble: Transfer lentil-vegetable mixture to a large, wide serving bowl and stir in 2/3 of vinaigrette. Place intact* burratas on top and then cut into quarters with a sharp knife so you don’t miss any of the wonderful stuff that spills out. The warmth of the lentils will melt it further. Drizzle with a little extra vinaigrette, a few pinches of sea salt and a couple extra grinds of black pepper. Scatter basil leaves over and dig in.
(* Unless you’re me and tripped walking home from errands yesterday because you were carrying too much and smashed blueberries, cherries, heirloom tomatoes and burratas and now I am grumpy despite having a Muppet bandaid on each knee.)