The first week of school has come and gone and went to bed. That being the case, and with a wonderful friend in town, Friday afternoon happy hour was without question the right thing to do. N. and I frequently enjoy a weekend happy hour of some sort, whether that involves a decadent spread, or just a few nubs of cheese and some almost-not-stale-yet crackers with a handful of dried fruit. Either way, there’s something tasty, something to sip, and a breezy deck to sit on.
This week, though, called for something special. I had an alliterative crostini concoction in mind – a brash combination of burrata cheese, broccoli rabe, and a thick drizzle of balsamic vinegar all smeared atop a perfectly toasted slice of baguette. As these things usually turn out, however, ruled by what was on the shelves in the produce section, I had to make an adjustment or two. But I think what I ended up with was just as good – maybe even better.
Let’s talk ingredients. Have you had burrata cheese? Think fresh mozzarella, but then one-up the creaminess and milkiness and melt-in-your-mouthiness, and you’ve got something like burrata. It’s a globe of fresh mozzarella cheese, filled with a mixture of curds and cream. When you cut into one of these fragile little blobs, what emerges looks something like ricotta in texture, but it’s all mozzarella freshness on the tongue. It’s a very sexy cheese, and a smear (don’t even think in terms of slices) atop some well-oiled, well-toasted bread sounded dreamy. I found some in my Trader Joe’s, but I think most specialty or upscale grocery stores – or maybe even your usual haunt with a well-stocked cheese counter – would have it.
Though I wanted broccoli rabe for its bitterness, I settled instead on some upland cress, which I assumed was another name for watercress. A shamefully lazy internet search (read: Wikipedia) has taught me that though they look similar, upland cress is part of the landcress, rather than the watercress, family. I didn’t know there was such a thing. Regardless, either one has the necessary peppery bite to offset the creamy sweetness of the cheese. In a pinch, I bet arugula would work too.
To put it all together, I decided I wanted a play of temperatures. After a liberal bath of olive oil, I toasted thin slices of bread – mine was in the ciabatta family, with its floury crust and moist, springy interior. A gentle smear of burrata on this warm toast, followed by a few sprigs of cress wilted into a resistless pile, all topped with a definitive drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Done. The cheese melts a bit into the bread; the cress and the balsamic and the residual olive oil flavors melding together create a kind of salad component. They are, I hardly need to say, delicious. I couldn’t stop sampling. It’s not just a nice play of flavors, but a good study in textures. I am criminal at over-toasting my bread, and this batch was just on the edge of being servable. But against the softness of the cheese and the pleasingly stringy feel of the wilted greens, the aggressive crunch of extra toasty toast was right.
I’d recommend a light, crisp wine to pair with this; something sparkling would be extra nice. I’d recommend a sun hat and sandals, if you have the option, and a few friends to laugh with. And I’d recommend making a bit more than you think you want, because you’re going to eat it all.
Burrata, cress, and balsamic crostini
Ingredient quantities are a bit fast and loose here, because your demands for how much cheese, how many greens, and how liberal a drizzle of balsamic may be different from mine. And depending on how many people are clamoring for a taste and what size loaf you’ve bought, you may need more or less bread than I used. What seems most important is that one bunch of cress was enough to top 8 or so slices of crostini.
8-10 thin slices ciabatta or other fresh, artisanal bread
Olive oil, to drizzle and to cook the greens
1 bunch upland cress or watercress (or, as noted above, arugula)
Salt to taste
8 ounces burrata cheese
* Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
- Preheat your broiler. While it warms, arrange bread slices on a sheet tray and drizzle with olive oil on both sides. Broil until deeply golden. Depending on your broiler, this could take anywhere from 2-5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it. When it is well bronzed and crisp, remove and set aside.
- While your bread toasts (if you’re a successful multi-tasker), prepare your greens by slicing off the bottom inch or two of stem (there may be an attached root bundle at the bottom too). Warm a teaspoon or two of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet and add the cress with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon or tongs, until the cress has wilted down but is still bright green. It will have lost much of its crunch, but that’s okay. We are looking for tenderness here.
- Just like that, we’re ready to assemble. For each piece of toast, cut a wedge of burrata and scoop onto the bread. Be sure you get the outside coating of mozzarella and the creamy curds inside. Top the cheese layer with a few sprigs of cress, then drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the whole thing and serve immediately.
* Note: if your balsamic vinegar is thin, or is more tart in flavor than you enjoy, try this – heat about ¼ cup of balsamic with 2 teaspoons brown sugar in a small saucepan until it simmers. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and allow it to reduce almost by half, so you have barely more than 2 tablespoons. This will thicken and sweeten the liquid, making it more of a glaze. It will still be plenty strong, though, so you’ll only need a little bit for each crostini.