Grilled Flap Meat; Asparagus and Speck Pizza (photos by Donna Currie)
One of the cool things about shopping at Whole Foods is that I'm constantly finding things that I seldom (or never) see anywhere else. Whether it's a different cut of meat, a specialty cheese, an interesting condiment, or an unusual vegetable, there's always something that sparks my imagination.
Some items are familiar to me because I've seen them mentioned on cooking shows or in cookbooks, and I know exactly what to do with them. Others, the names are familiar, but I'm less sure of how to use them. Sometimes I'll see an item and think, "Oh! I've been wanting to try that for a long time!" Others I'll be less excited about, but still curious. No matter what, it makes shopping there a little more fun, because I never know what I'm going to find -- or bring home. Here are my latest discoveries.
Part 1: The Food
Burrata is a cheese in the mozzarella family, with a mild, creamy flavor and a soft interior. The exterior of the cheese is actually a thin shell of mozzarella. The interior is bits of mozzarella mixed with cream. Because of its gentle flavor, I didn't want to pair it with anything that would overwhelm it.
You can certainly cook with Burrata, or put it on top of hot pasta just before serving and let it melt a little. But even that seemed like a little too much manipulation for this specialty cheese. Instead, I opted for a very simple preparation: Burrata surrounded by small quartered heirloom tomatoes. A sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper finished the dish.
I could have gone one step further and drizzled a little olive oil and vinegar over the top, but it didn't need it. The tomatoes provided the sweet acidity and the cheese provided the richness. Crackers or thin, toasted baguette slices would make a nice accompaniment for this dish.
Prosciutto is commonly paired with asparagus, but when I saw speck at Whole Foods, I knew I had to try it. It's a lot like prosciutto, but it's smoked.
For the pizza dough, you can make your own from your favorite recipe, or you can buy it already prepared. For the asparagus, I think thick spears work better for this type of recipe, but it's up to you.
Asparagus and Speck Pizza
1 recipe pizza dough
Asparagus, peeled and cooked until just done
Cultured cream cheese
Even if you've never heard of flap meat (it sounds weird, doesn't it?) you might think it looks familiar. Flap meat looks very much like skirt steak. Okay, maybe you've never cooked skirt steak either, but it still might look like something you've seen before, since skirt steak is commonly used for fajitas.
Both skirt steak and flap meat benefit from short, high-heat cooking, being served somewhat rare and sliced against the grain. Done properly, it's a flavorful and tender cut.
You can marinate the meat if you want to add flavor, but it's not necessary. Since I wasn't looking for a particular flavor profile, I went with a very simple preparation.
Grilled Flap Meat
Serving size will vary by the amount of meat prepared
Burrata with heirloom tomatoes; neon dragonfruit innards (photos by Donna Currie)
For a side dish, I went with something incredibly easy (and no, not something I recently discovered) -- broccoli and cauliflower florets. Since I didn't want an entire bunch of broccoli and a whole head of cauliflower, I picked up the pre-cut florets in the Produce department. And for those who dislike the stems, the florets are a bargain. While I never buy the bagged pre-cut vegetables at other stores, I'm more confident that the bulk pre-cut produce at Whole Foods is fresher.
Have you ever looked in those bags and seen brown or soft spots on the vegetables? Yeah, I can do that sort of damage in my own refrigerator. But if I'm buying fresh vegetables, I prefer them to be reasonably fresh when I'm spending the money.
So, okay, pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower florets don't qualify as an unusual find, but they're a convenience item that I normally wouldn't purchase. And I was more than happy with the quality. That's surprising, considering how picky I can be.
My cooking method was simple: I steamed the vegetables in salted water until they were almost done but still vibrantly colored. I shocked them in cold water to set the color. Then, just before serving, I gave them another quick steam bath to heat them up.
While my point in doing this was to keep the broccoli bright, this is also a great way to cook for company. It takes no time at all to reheat the vegetables, so you don't have to worry about cooking them from a raw state when the rest of the meal is ready to go.
If you don't want steamed vegetables, you can heat a bit oil in a pan and give them a quick sauté, or finish them in the oven or on the grill. I finished them with...well, nothing. The cooking water was salted. I didn't even add butter or oil. Sometimes a simply steamed vegetable is all I really want.
Part 2: The Drink
I thought that something light and a little fruity would pair nicely with the steak and vegetables. Nodding briefly to fall (which I'm not completely ready to acknowledge yet) I picked up some hard cider. But instead of apple cider, this is a pear cider. You see, you can even find different things in the Whole Foods Pearl Street liquor store.
Instead of making a mixed drink, I thought the cider would be just fine on its own. A simple beverage to go with a relatively simple meal. However, cider in a glass is not all that photogenic.
To compensate, I picked up what might be the most spectacular garnish ever. I'd heard of this, but never saw it for sale anywhere. And I had no idea what it tasted like. It's dragonfruit.
Now, I'm not sure if dragons eat this fruit, or grow it, or pick it. Maybe they hatch from it. All I know is that the outside looks like a less threatening and more colorful artichoke.
At checkout, I was told that dragonfruit can be white inside, but it's considered lucky to get a pink one. "Do you feel lucky?" I was asked.
I was quite lucky, as a matter of fact. And I wouldn't just call that "pink." Magenta, maybe. Stunning, definitely. The fruit texture was sort of like watermelon, but not quite that crisp. Not as hard as an apple, and nothing like a peach or plum. Sort of melon-like. Juicy, as you can see, with tiny black seeds.
As far as taste, it was a little sweet and very mild. Not strongly flavored at all. But with the color, flavor wasn't a worry. A slice of that on the rim of a glass makes any drink a celebration. Can you imagine it in a fresh fruit cocktail, or sliced as the garnish of a savory dish? I'm so glad I discovered it!
Like this post? See what Donna made last week: Small Plates: Sweet and Savory.
Donna is a Colorado food writer and the inventive blogger behind Cookistry. If she's not in the kitchen, she's likely shopping for intriguing new edibles.