I have a big, fond, warm spot reserved in my belly for Italian food. Who doesn’t love at least one of the many iconic Italian dishes? Pizza, pasta, salads, soups, cheese, breads, desserts – the Italians know food. I guess though, having a culture that spans thousands of years is somewhat beneficial in perfecting a few culinary delights. But enough of me fawning over the wonders of Italian cuisine because I’m here to bastardize it by creating an Italian burger.
Like most folks, when I thought of an Italian burger I immediately wanted to slap some marinara, mozzarella, and pepperoni slices on a burger patty and call it a day. Hey, I wouldn’t snub my nose at such a thing but I also wanted to be a bit more creative. For this Italian burger I’m going to make an vegetable antipasto and pesto as my main toppings, as well as wrap the burger in one of my all time favorite cured meats – Prosciutto. And of course what’s an Italian burger without some mozzarella cheese.
Vegetable Antipasto for the Italian Burger
Fennel is a very under used vegetable in North America. Some people find the zippy black licorice/basil like flavor too strong. I believe a lot of this is to do with how it’s prepared. I find slicing the fennel thin, roasting, or grilling it tones down the potency of the flavor and makes it a great addition to salads, antipasto, or just eaten on it’s own with some salt, pepper, and drizzle of olive oil.
For the Italian burger antipasto, we’ll be combining grilled fennel with sun dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, a light dressing of olive oil and a splash of vinegar.
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (keep some of the sprigs to use in the antipasto)
- 1 small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, chopped (approximately half a cup)
- 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 clove garlic, turned into a paste
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- The only real “work” for this antipasto is grilling the fennel. Make sure to cut your fennel into thin slices, about a quarter inch thick at the most. Leave the base of the fennel on and intact to keep the slices more manageable while grilling (remove it after you’re done cooking the fennel).
- To grill the fennel, give the slices a light coating of oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat your grill on high and oil just prior to cooking. Fennel is a fairly dense vegetable so you’ll need to cook eat side for approximately five minutes to soften it up. Or if you like your fennel more crisp, just give it some quick grill marks or char to add another layer of flavor.
- Alternatively, you can roast or saute fennel to mellow out its flavor and also to soften it up a bit.
- Once the fennel is cooked, set aside to cool before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. Toss the antipasto, cover, and refrigerate. Another great thing about the Italian burger is if you have some left over antipasto it will keep for about a week in the fridge.
Making Pesto for the Italian Burger
Pesto in North America usually refers to the Genovese style of the sauce containing pureed basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil to make a “sauce”. This is the type of pesto we’ll be making for the Italian burger and using it in place of traditional condiments. You can either make this pesto in a food processor or use the traditional method of a pestle and mortar. For the sake of convenience I used the food processor.
- 3 bunches of basil leaves, stems removed
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 1/4 grated parmesan or similar style cheese (ie. Romano)
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil (approximately)
* I’m a bit of an “eyeball” measure type of cook so carelessly I just added olive oil until I got the consistency that I wanted instead of properly measuring the amount. The consistency you are looking for is a granular paste that is wet but not runny. You want to have the paste stay together but also not for it to be dry.
- In a pan on medium heat, gently toast the pine nuts. Turn off the heat immediately when you first notice a bit of color on the pine nuts and let the residual heat finish the toasting process. Set aside to cool before moving on to the next step.
- Add the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until it turns into a paste. Pesto will keep for a week in the fridge but I find it’s best used 1 to 3 days after making. You may also notice the pesto darkening over time. This is because the basil, when cut, chopped, or even bruised will turn black. The pesto will be bright and vibrant day one, but afterwards will look more bland.
Prosciutto Wrapped Beef Patty for the Italian Burger
Prosciutto (pronounced like “Pro-Shoe-Toe”) is one of my all time favorite cured meats. It’s made from a pig’s hind leg, it’s tender, it’s fatty, it’s flavorful, and unfortunately it is also expensive. But when you realize that a decent side of prosciutto takes around two years to make, you don’t feel so bad about paying a couple extra bucks.
Directions (you’ll need two slices of prosciutto per burger patty)
- For the Italian burger I decided to open my wallet a bit wider and splurge by wrapping the patty in this delicious cured meat. First though, I’m going to lightly grill the patty to add flavor and to make sure it cooks properly because once we wrap it in prosciutto, it will only take a couple minutes to finish cooking.
- Once you grill your patty, let it cool to room temperature. Lay a strip of prosciutto down on your cutting board or counter. Place the patty in the center and fold each end of the excess prosciutto over top one another. Gently rub the seams to help bind them. Take a second piece of prosciutto and do the same but first rotate the patty 180 degrees so that the exposed areas will also be covered. Try to make sure all the seams are on the same side.
- Add a couple tbsp of olive oil to a pan that is on med heat. Carefully place the prosciutto wrapped patty into the pan – seam side down. Sear the patty until the prosciutto is browned and developing a crust. Gently flip and do the same to the other side. Add some mozzarella cheese to the top and either cover it with a lid or throw it in the oven at 400 F until melted.
Assembling the Italian Burger
Since it’s an Italian burger I thought it would be fitting to use some Italian style bread and picked up some ciabatta buns. I pan toasted the buns and proceeded to spread a generous amount of pesto on the bottom half before plunking down my prosciutto wrapped patty. Next I added my antipasto topping and bada-bing-bada-boom, my Italian burger was done. There’s so much flavor to the Italian burger that I didn’t think any condiments were necessary.
Mamma Mia! (No, not the musical Abba kind of Mamma Mia)
Call me bias if you want but I think this Italian burger is pretty outstanding. I’m sure there are some Italians rolling their eyes at me but even though this may not be traditional, it still has some great Italian inspired flavors. The pesto adds a deep earthy tone to the burger. The patty has a nice saltiness to it from searing the prosciutto. The antipasto is good enough to eat on its own but when used as a topping, it gives the Italian burger a fresh, zingy flavor. Yeah, I just used “zingy”. All in all, this Italian burger may never become one of Italy’s national dishes, however, it could end up being one of my household favorites.
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