Roasted Asparagus with Gremolata + Burrata

When I first made this dish, I reported back (as I always do) to a few of my friends who are buone forchette, food enthusiasts who humor me whenever I feel I've come across something blog-worthy. While everyone was clear on what asparagus is, the other two words in this recipe title -- burrata and gremolata -- seemed to be fuzzier: "Never heard of gremolata, can't say I've ever eaten burrata though it sounds familiar" -- commented one, while another commented: "gremolata...sounds kind of like gremlin??". 

Firstly, no gremlins were harmed in the making of this recipe, and secondly, a little background on these two ingredients: Contrary to what their respective -ata endings might lead you to believe, burrata and gremolata are actually two very different and completely unrelated ingredients. Burrata can be best explained in my opinion as mozzarella di bufala, but even better, or rather, scraps of mozzarella di bufala that are mixed with cream (!!!) and then wrapped up in a sort of little cheese bag -- see photo below if you're confused -- that you cut in to release all the incredibly rich, tasty burrata. It is the most heavenly of all cheeses, as far as I'm concerned, one that has gained increasingly popularity in places other than Italy lately -- you can now find it in lots of supermarkets, even in my state of Rhode Island. Our second lesser known ingredient, gremolata, is reminiscent of pesto, a no-cook, herb-y sauce from the Lombardy region of Italy made of garlic, lemon zest, and parsley. It is traditionally served with meat like osso buco alla milanese or scaloppine.

This dish is a sort of jumble of things; you'd be hard-pressed to find gremolata served over asparagus here in Italy, for example. Burrata is most commonly served with tomatoes, not asparagus, and while gremolata and burrata are both Italian items, you wouldn't probably see them served together; the burrata and makes this dish feel luxurious, while the asparagus and green gremolata simultaneously make the dish seem light and refreshing. But that's exactly what's so special about this dish, at least for me: its not quite the usual burrata, tomatoes, and basil I find so often in Rome, but rather something a little different, Italian-ish, at best. The ingredients combine to make something that is both rich and fresh at the same time, a mix of crisp, virtuous asparagus and soft, gooey cheese, the mildness of the cheese playing off the tartness of the balsamic vinegar in the asparagus in a lovely way. The lemon and parsley keep things bright and refreshing, and the garlic adds a little bite and spiciness to keep things interesting. This is my new favorite thing to eat for dinner or as a starter for a dinner party if my sister and I feel like sharing -- and oh, did I mention it all comes together in about 20 minutes? Yes indeed.  

A couple of notes: If you can't get your hands on burrata, you can substitute mozzarella di bufala, and if you want to take the dish in a completely different direction, you can substitute a poached egg or two for the cheese. If you're not a fan of asparagus, I imagine green beans would stand in well here as well. Feel free to grill the asparagus instead of roasting it, or substitute the basil for parsley once the Summer is here -- it won't quite be gremolata, but it will still be delicious. I used a thicker variety of asparagus here, so if you use a thinner one, be sure to reduce the cooking time accordingly as it will of course cook faster.

Looking for other Spring-y, green recipes? I've got this Asparagus with Prosciutto, this Frittata di Spaghetti con Asparagi, these Carciofi alla giudia, this Pasta with fave, pecorino, e guanciale, this Risotto with Pancetta and Peas, and this superb (if I don't say so myself) Torta Pasqualina.


Ingredients for the asparagus and burrata:
10-12 spears of asparagus
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 burrata cheese (about 250 grams)

Ingredients for the gremolata:
2 teaspoons lemon zest (from one large lemon)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 generous tablespoon parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). If you're dealing with very thin asparagus, snap off the tough ends (this will happen easily). If you're using a thicker variety of asparagus, chop off the tough ends with a knife. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a baking sheet, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, moving the asparagus around occasionally with a spatula, until it is lightly browned and can be pierced easily with a fork.
While the asparagus is roasting, prepare your gremolata. Chop up the parsley and garlic very finely, and mix with the lemon zest and olive oil along with the salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Place the roasted asparagus on a platter and spoon over the gremolata. Place the burrata alongside with a little more gremolata on the top, and dig in. Serves 2 for a light lunch and 4 as a starter.

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