I am inveterate collector of food books. In fact, I am obsessive about collecting, despite having food books spilling out of bookcases and stacked all over the house, little land mines to trip my sous chef and elicit four and five letter words that are less than endearing. I get all tingly when I read about the publication of a new tome by some culinary genius like Robuchon or Keller, or Food Network personality like Lidia or Nigella, or some less known chef whose name or book title appeals to me (such as Flying Pans). To avoid missing out, I will pre-order even though the book will be widely and readily available on the release date through a local bookseller like Barnes and Noble.
My most recent holy grail of food books is The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton. Mozza Restaurant is an iconic dining spot in Los Angeles where lengthy advance reservations are essential. I enjoy food books from such culinary temples for it allows me to enjoy the experience without enduring the reservation process and arduous drive. I pre-ordered this book four months in advance, then suffered my sous chef’s droll comments when delivery was finally made a full week after the book’s release. But after a seeming eternity of anticipation, I was not disappointed. The Mozza Cookbook is just full of superb photos and exciting recipes.
For our Italian-themed Christmas Eve Dinner, I chose the Burrata with Speck and Peas. This is a great starter as it is full of flavor and very refreshing. The recipe calls for shucked English peas and thinly sliced snow peas. As most of you know, I live in the grocery wasteland called the Coachella Valley, hence my reliance on the Internet for my most creative dishes. In this area, English peas are apparently only found in schoolbooks between “O” and “Q.” Necessity begets adaptation, so absent English peas I shucked the snow peas instead. No small task, but it proved worth the effort.
Burrata is a cream filled mozzarella sack. It is a newcomer in the world of cheese as it was only invented about 40 years ago in the Puglia region of Italy. Burrata came about as a way to use the scraps of curds left over after twisting balls of mozzarella. Thank goodness someone found a “way” to use the curds. The result is a hedonistic, creamy cheese that oozes goodness as it is sliced.
Speck is an Italian cured, smoked meat that is native to the Alto Adige, a region that straddles Northern Italy and Southern Austria. A boned pork leg is cured in salt and spices, then intermittently slow-cooked for several months using pine or juniper wood. The resulting product is deep red in color with heavily marbled traces of fat and a wonderful smokiness. Like prosciutto, it is served thinly sliced or used to flavor cooked dishes.
The speck is arranged on the plate like a four pointed rosette (or, alternatively, like a wavy ribbon around the plate), a slice of burrata is gently placed in the middle and topped with a mixture of peas, mint and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, with extra virgin olive oil sprinkled over and about for good measure. My mouth waters just typing these words. Every bite of this dish brings a new flavor to your palate – smoky, creamy, slightly salty, refreshing bites.
Burrata with Speck, Peas and Parmigiano-Reggiano (as “adapted” from The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton):
Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper
1 Package Fresh Snow Peas [Note: if you can find English peas, then use one package of fresh English peas and one package of snow peas]
20 Medium Mint Leaves (chiffonaded)
1/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano + an additional ¼ cup for garnish if desired
2 Tablespoons Finishing Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
16 Thin Slices of Speck or Prosciutto
1 Package Burrata
Shell the snow peas (or English peas if you have them; in which case you thinly slice the snow peas on the diagonal) and place in a small bowl. Add the mint leaves, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil and stir to combine.
For each salad plate, use 4 slices of speck or prosciutto and shape as a rosette or a ribbon around the plate.
Slice the burrata into quarters and place one piece in center on top of the speck or prosciutto.
Top the burrata with the pea mixture, and adorn with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired.