When Bill and I first bought our house in Rockford, Illinois, I had the unfortunate experience of discovering a wolf spider and her babies. I saw this unusual spider in the entryway one evening when Bill was out. I decided to put it in a jar to show Bill. Its head and legs were normal size but it had a body the size of a small grape. As I tried to trap it, I bumped the body and a hundred baby spiders dispersed from the grape shape. It makes me shudder today, 27 years after that discovery.
I was reminded of this after an unfortunate cheese incident this week. Thinking a fresh ball of mozzarella, some aromatic basil, and thick tomato slices on piece of crusty bread sounded lovely, I reached for a container of two mozzarella balls as I zipped through a small Italian grocery store. I know every aisle in this local store, so as I caught sight of the familiar container in my peripheral, I hardly slowed down as I threw out my left hand at the fresh cheese shelf to snag the mozzarella balls.
That evening, the boys had a friend over. In one combination or another, I knew the ingredients for this sandwich would feed everyone. A deconstructed sandwich platter would give everyone the freedom to create their own dinner. I fished out one of the mozzarella balls to slice and dried it with a paper towel. It felt squishy – very different from the normally firm fistful-sized balls I’d purchased in the past. My knife broke open a smooth outer skin of mozzarella and hundreds of white spider-like little bits spewed forth in a creamy liquid. My stomach still lurches at the thought of it. I flopped the mess back into the liquid and put the lid on the container. The label read “burrata.”
We had crusty bread dipped in olive oil for dinner.
Like the baby wolf spider experience, a little research on burrata was necessary to calm my gag reflex. A thin layer of fresh mozzarella contains tiny cheese curds soaked in cream. That’s burrata. Why haven’t my Italian friends told me about this? Warned me? The event awakened my burrata radar: the next evening while reading a magazine before going to bed, I found a recipe for burrata over salad. My small intestines clenched. We went out for dinner the following night, and along comes a salad past our table of arugula, tomatoes, and burrata with pesto. So, it would seem that people really eat this.
I’m a junkie for food from different cultures. In our dating years, Bill and I bonded over cooking – finding recipes for entrees we’d never had and giving them a whirl. We joined another couple every month and picked a different themed food for our cooking evenings. Brazilian, Caribbean, Thai… we weren’t shy about any new ingredient.
The approach makes all the difference. I searched youtube for a video about how burrata is made. It’s absolutely fascinating and quite an artisan piece of work. Had I encountered this ingredient in a recipe, ransacked grocery stores to find it, and broken it open over fresh pasta with a dab of olive oil – one of the serving suggestions, I know my interpretation of this foreign object would be different.
Part of me wants to attempt an approach from this angle.
Then there’s the part of me who found pork chops cut Iowa-style on the meat shelf yesterday. I’ve never been happier cooking inch-and-a-half thick Iowa pork chops on the grill. And I think they were cut that way by mistake: they were the only package on the shelf, and they were marked half-price. The supermarket in my little Italian town came through with an Iowa comfort last night that soothed my mind like Pepto-Bismol.