26 November 2011

I have an apology to make.

Not to you, to bocconcini. Those small, white, rubbery balls that masquerade as cheese. Bouncy and flavourless, I have never understood their place in the culinary universe.

For years I have derided them, questioning their right to claim the honoured mantle of ‘cheese’, preferring to class them with a variety of hardware items, most of which are used in the waterproofing of bathrooms. And yet, as damned fortune would have it, I was wrong.

That’s right, wrong. Scream it from the hilltops if you must.

Bocconcini has a purpose. Texture.

It seems that Karma has run over my dogma – whilst ridiculing bocconcini I had simultaneously been explaining to all who would listen that great food requires four key characteristics. Colour, flavour, texture and shape. Within the sphere of texture you need crisp, soft and elastic, and elastic is the hardest to achieve. ‘Elastic’ can be stretchy, rubbery, bouncy or goopy, they’re all different, and each has a unique role in dishes.

Bocconcini is rubbery when cold, but gloriously goopy when heated. So it’s not just useful, it’s multifaceted.

This style of cheese has many variants throughout the Italian peninsula. Mozzarella in the north, fior di latte in centre, and bocconcici and trezzine in the south. All are fresh stretched curd cheeses made traditionally with buffalo milk (although cows’ milk today) and are stored in brine or whey to prevent them from drying out.

In Italy bocconcini are also known are ‘uova di bufala’ (buffalo eggs), a most unfortunate name as I’d be very reticent to eat any egg a buffalo laid!

Good bocconcini should be firm to touch and have a solid structure. If the surface of the cheese has become loose and chalky, then the it has begun to age and is past its prime. The liquid in which it is stored should never smell sour.

To make the most of bocconcini you need to get involved. Marinade the balls in olive oil and herbs, or slice them finely and dress with good balsamic vinegar and lots of fresh herbs.

Otherwise stir them through your favourite pasta creation in place of parmesan for a deliciously different take on the Italian kitchen.
Potato gnocchi with creamy capsicum sauce and bocconcini

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