Prosciutto Wrapped Burger with Asiago Cheese, Tomatoes and Olives
Italy is another one of those countries which could easily lead us astray. I can’t tell you how many people have suggested a burger with mozzarella and Parmesan and red sauce – basically the moral equivalent of burger Parmesan. Sounds dreadful to me, and boring, and not really like a good idea at all. I took a different approach to Italy than I have used in the past. For Italy, I used memory, the memory of a wonderful vacation. Eleven years ago (pre-children), my husband Paul and I spent 12 glorious days in Italy and fell in love, with the country, the wine and the food. We divided our time evenly between Rome, Sienna and Florence. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up to the basics.
Italy is a country in Southern Europe which borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. It’s a peninsula with a gorgeous coast that I fully intend to visit on some future vacation. Most of you have heard of Italy and know at least as much about the country as I do (based on the demographics of my visitors), so I’m going to skip to the food.
When it comes to the food of Italy, I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of you have eaten Italian food. So much of what we enjoy as Italian food here in the US is really more “inspired by” than authentic. The meaty red sauce that I grew up with is a cross between marinara and Bolognese. Pizza in Italy (especially in Naples where pizza was invented) is generally made with fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs and fresh mozzarella. The sauce and topping heavy pizzas we love here are very different from the flatbread delights of Naples. So ignore what you think you know (unless of course you really do know, then hopefully I won’t screw it up), and come along on a journey with me to Tuscany.
With over 60 million people living in an area slightly larger than Arizona, there’s a huge variety of regional cuisines. But since I want to live in the land of memory, I’m going to focus on Tuscan flavors and food. Tuscany is a land for meat lovers. Steak and wild boar were on every menu and the olive oil was the most fragrant and flavorful I’ve ever experienced. Fresh tomatoes, wonderful cheese (yes, they do make more than parmesan and mozzarella), cured meats and unsalted bread – these are the flavors you’ll find throughout Tuscany. And yes, I said unsalted bread.
According to a lovely women who was pouring delectable olive oil for tasting, the bread is made salt-free because the government used to tax salt and the Tuscan people decided they didn’t want to pay the tax, so they stopped using it in bread. And, they never picked it back up again – which is strange because bread really needs salt. Luckily you can dip this tasteless bread in lightly salted olive oil and everything is good again.
But I digress. The flavors of my vacation worked their way perfectly into a burger. I started with some Italian bread (salted, because that’s what they sell around here) and grilled it in the best olive oil I could find. I spread some ground up olives (because sliced olives are too messy), a tomato with a little bit of olive oil and oregano – nothing too exciting yet. Then there was the truly inspirational step – I took a thin piece of prosciutto di Parma and wrapped it around the burger patty – crazy as it sounds, it worked gloriously. Meaty salty goodness, delicious. The prosciutto gets nice and crispy and the flavor of the ham permeates the burger, it’s magical.
I tried 4 different cheeses, all imported from Italy. Spent a small fortune, but I consider cheese an investment J Even though it doesn’t melt easily, Paul and I both agreed that the asiago was the best for this burger. It has a nice sharpness like a really good Parmesan or a dry aged cheddar without a stinkiness that might overpower the meat. Whole foods had a buffalo milk cheese that was also really good, but I’m not really sure how typical buffalo milk cheese is in Italy, so we went with the asiago instead. If you want a fun cheese tasting just go to your local specialty market and buy everything they have from Italy, you’ll be amazed at the variety or flavors and textures.
The final touch on this burger is to take some high quality Italian salami (I used sopressata), slice into small pieces and fry them up for a crispy topping. Consider it an homage to the charcuterie of Italy
This burger is a celebration of meat; the prosciutto keeps the meat nice and moist and the acid in the tomato and the brine of the olives balance it out. I recommend grilling the bread pretty heavily because the juiciness of the burger soaked our first attempts and disintegrated the bread. It was a lovely reminder of a fantastic vacation and Paul has declared it “last meal worthy”, and this is a man who eats a lot of burgers!
If you like this burger you’ll probably enjoy the Andorran burger, it’s also meaty yet balanced.
1 pound ground beef 80% lean
4 cloves of garlic minced
2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar (preferably from Modena)
4 slices of prosciutto di Parma
2 ounces of asiago cheese sliced thin
2 ounces sopressata (or other high quality Italian salami)
24 kalamata olives
Baby romaine lettuce
4 slices of tomato
Mix together the garlic, balsamic vinegar and beef then form four patties out of the mixture. Wrap each patty in a slice of prosciutto.
Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Place each patty in the olive oil and fry the burgers for about four minutes per side.
Place the cheese on the burgers and cover the pan, turn the heat down to medium low and cook until cheese is melted. Remove the cooked burgers from the pan, turn the heat up and cook the sopressata until crispy (they cook fast).
To serve put one slice of grilled bread on each plate, spread some olive paste on each, then add a layer of lettuce leaves and a tomato. Sprinkle a little bit of oregano on each tomato slice and drizzle with olive oil.
Add the cooked patties and topped with the sopressata and final bread slices.
©Copyright 2013 Linda Monach