Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Burrata with Red Pepper Cream and Olive "Caviar"



And here it comes, the end of the summer, bringing along a trace of sadness and feeling of loss. Year after year, it has always been the same. Not sure why. Perhaps it's the quietness that surrounds the beach, obscuring the tremble of the water and the ruffle of the pines at the shore. Perhaps it’s the realization that everyone has left for the season, that you are alone at the lake, and soon you will leave too.

I don’t understand this sadness, but I embrace it, and enjoy its way with me. This week I took time off from work to cook, write, and photograph. These are mundane activities for some, but for those with a day job – a demanding day job – they are precious. They teach us to devour a moment, drown in it, because a moment can last a lifetime. I go to the market. I buy herbs and tons of peppers, because it’s the pepper season, and because Dad and I used to do it back home. The peppers are firebrick red, glossy, and perfumed. I bet you haven’t noticed the scent of a ripe red August pepper. A faint vegetal scent with herbaceous note, and a warm undertone, a hint of smoke, and a trace of sweetness that lingers even when everything else is gone.

People say that peppers are scentless, but that’s because they have not tasted the proper ones. Or maybe because they don’t pay attention.

In August, I cook a lot of old favorites -- the summer pot of joy, garlic fried peppers, and of course, ajvar – because they take me home to Belgrade and to my family. 

I make new creations too. A white bowl is a canvas where fireworks of late August colors come together in a beautiful abstract painting. You will love this recipe, this painting. The first impression is of slow-moving sweetness: burrata and red pepper cream. (The peppers are sweet, so, so sweet, that you will need no cream at all, I promise.) So sweet, and so silky that you want to drown in it. Then, suddenly, amidst all the sweetness, you taste the bursts of deep, concentrated olive flavor, underlined with coolness of peaches and herbs.

I love this dish. It’s one of those plates, one of those spoonfuls that take you places. And if you hop on, and learn how to ride, how to devour time, and manipulate it, a moment can be longer and more fulfilling than a trip to Paris, a vacation on a Greek island, or a round trip along the US-20.



Burrata with Red Pepper Cream, Peaches, and Olive Caviar

for the red pepper cream:
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 small shallot, minces
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch thick stripes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon red vine vinegar

for the olive caviar:
1 cup kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze

to plate:
2 spheres of burrata, about 1/2 pound in total
a handful of capers
handful of kalamata olives
1 peach, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
a handful of small basil leaves (mint is nice too)
coarsely ground peppe

First make the red pepper cream. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, and peppers and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onions and peppers begin to soften. Mix well and keep the heat at the medium to prevent the peppers from crisping or caramelizing. After 10 minutes, add the sugar, vinegar, and about 1/4-cup of water. Cover halfway with a lid, and continue simmering for another 40 minutes, until the peppers begin to fall apart. Mix every once in a while and add a bit more water if the mixture becomes too dry. (Do not rush or be tempted to increase the heat, because this slow simmer is the key to releasing the sweetness and getting the creamy flavor for the sauce without using the cream).

Remove from the heat and season with salt. Let the sauce cool, then puree in a blender. It should be fairly thick sauce, say the consistency of ketchup, but if needed, add a drop of water to get desired thickness. (You can make the sauce ahead and keep in the fridge for a day.)

Make the olive caviar. Mince the olives and capers. It has to be a super-fine mince resembling the texture of black caviar. Add the balsamic and mix well. (Just like the red pepper sauce, you can prepare this ahead and keep in the fridge.)

To plate, remove burrata from water and dry well with a paper towel. Spoon about a cup of sauce into a bowl. Add one ball of burrata. Spoon about two tablespoons of the olive caviar around. Top with whole olives and capers. Add a two or three peach slices. Sprinkle with basil and some cracked black pepper. Enjoy.