created at: 2013-08-28When my roommate bought a grill a couple of months ago, I secretly and selfishly celebrated because I knew I’d get more use out of it than she would. (Sorry, Catherine!) And I was right. This summer, I’ve grilled everything I can get my hands on, from the everyday (corn, burgers, chicken) to the more unusual (pizza, Romaine lettuce, donuts). One of the items that falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes is watermelon. Because it’s so good fresh, many people don’t think to throw it on the grill. But a quick char gives it a caramelized sweetness that makes it the prime component in what has become one of my favorite side dishes to serve for friends—a unique riff on the Caprese salad.

Chances are you’ve hit your summertime quota of the tomato, mozzarella and basil combination. It’s got a stronghold on every Italian restaurant menu, and it’s a simple and tasty appetizer at outdoor parties. But making just a few modifications to this classic grouping—such as adding some grilled watermelon—can make it seem like a completely new dish.

For one, instead of using the firm mozzarella that most people are used to, I swap in burrata. Burrata means “buttered” in Italian, and you’ll see why after one bite. Lookswise, it appears to be an everyday ball of mozzarella—which it is, really. It’s actually a young mozzarella made with cream. But slice through the soft outer shell and you’ll find a creamy, stringy center with a rich, buttery flavor. It’s a perfect complement to the sweetness of the grilled watermelon and tomatoes.

Most watermelon salad recipes pair the fruit with spongy feta cheese, which lends the dish a welcome saltiness and texture. Since I prefer the smoothness of burrata, I have to get that texture from another ingredient. For that, I turn to light, crisp, Japanese-style breadcrumbs, which I toast with some butter, salt and basil.

This dish is a fresh take on Caprese and watermelon. Try it before summer’s end and you’ll never look at either the same again.

Grilled Watermelon, Cherry Tomato and Burrata Salad

Serves 4

2½-inch thick slices watermelon, cut into 4 triangles, rind removed
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon basil, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or cut into thirds
4 ounces burrata
Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

1. Lightly brush watermelon slices with oil. Grill each side over medium heat until lightly charred, about 3 minutes each side. Transfer to cutting board and cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.

2. In small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon basil, and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir constantly until breadcrumbs are toasted and golden-brown in color. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.

3. To assemble each individual salad, combine ¼ of the tomatoes and watermelon pieces in bowl or on plate. Top with 1 ounce burrata, pulled or spooned into pieces (depending on how soft it is). Sprinkle minced basil and seasoned breadcrumbs over salad. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve.