Chicago's Monteverde's Can't Miss Dish Isn't Pasta At All

Chicago's Monteverde is a James Beard Award-winning restaurant in the West Loop of Chicago. It's a restaurant and pastificio (pasta factory) famous for its handmade pasta (which you can watch being made via the restaurant's pasta window.) Chicago food lovers flock to the restaurant to dine on award-winning pasta, vegetable dishes, and exquisite meat dishes, but if you're lucky enough to snag a table there, you must try the ham e burrata appetizer. In my opinion, it's the best thing on the menu.

The appetizer arrives at the table looking like a work of art. At the center of the plate is a gorgeous serving of burrata that is drizzled with olive oil and garnished with salt and pepper. The beautiful cheese is flanked by slices of prosciutto on one side and a very unique Italian bread called tigelle on the other side. The plate also comes with a seasonal mostarda — when I was there it was a strawberry rhubarb mostarda. We also opted to add the prosciutto butter for an extra four dollars, and it was an excellent decision. Diners can also add slices of pistachio mortadella as well for an extra five dollars. Pairing burrata and prosciutto is nothing out of the ordinary, but what makes this dish so special is the way you eat it.

What makes this appetizer so unique

The ham e burrata is the most unique offering on the menu because it's multifaceted, a symphony of opposing flavors and textures that somehow work in perfect harmony. And the most unique element of the dish is the rosemary tigelle, which is a type of bread from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. 

Tigelle is thought of as street food in Italy, but here Monteverde presents it as a beautiful appetizer that gives diners a chance to be creative, building the dish however they choose, a rare treat when dining out. The texture of the tigelle is divine. While Italian pizza crust has a wonderfully crisp and chewy texture, and focaccia has a thick, homey texture, tigelle has a cloud-like texture on the inside, but a firm, crunchy texture on the outside. Each guest gets to slice open the tigelle like an English muffin and then build a sandwich with the other ingredients on the plate.

I cannot dispute the fact that Monteverde's seasonal pastas are incredible. I tried the chicken and asparagus ravioli and the gnocchetti with deconstructed pesto, and they were both fantastic. With that said, you can get delicious award-winning, handmade pasta in many cities in the US, as well as nearly anywhere you might travel in Italy. This appetizer is unlike anything I've ever had before so make sure you order it as soon as you're seated.

Playing with food

In general, if you're eating food prepared by a James Beard Award-winning chef, you want to eat it exactly as they prepare it. In the case of this appetizer, however, you get to choose the flavor combinations for every bite. You might start simply by spreading some burrata on the inside of the tigelle just to taste those two ingredients together. Then try adding more ingredients from there. 

I tried dressing up the tigelle in as many different ways as I could think of. With a little mostarda, and then a lot of mostarda, then with extra prosciutto butter, and with extra burrata... This dish's flavor and texture change depending upon what you put inside the tigelle. It's not only tantalizing for both the mind and the palate, it's great fun. The dish is delicious, and it's a wonderful way to begin the meal and get the conversation flowing at the table.

A family affair

While dining family style is a particularly wonderful element of dining in an Italian restaurant, this unique appetizer is not only shareable but so unique you won't be able to shut up about it. It's a conversation starter and an amuse-bouche of sorts. It's fun to make the dish yourself and to try different flavor combinations among the group. It's sure to leave everyone at the table talking and excited for what's to come. It truly sets the tone for an incredible dinner at Monteverde. And even though in its simplest form it's a plate of meat, cheese, bread, and condiments, it's so light and airy that you won't feel heavy and full after eating it.

Many appetizers that you'll get in an Italian restaurant are heavy, greasy, or oily and they can leave you too full to get excited about the main event. Monteverde's ham e burrata is simply better than any fresh bruschetta, suppli, or frito misto I've ever eaten in Italy or at Italian Restaurants in the U.S. It's a perfect gateway into the restaurant's selection of pasta, vegetable, and meat dishes. Or it's paired nicely with the restaurant's appetizer salad options or asparagus fritti.