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Little Italy of The Bronx Burgers

I was born in the Bronx, New York at a time when the borough was still divided into ethnic clusters defined not just by the people who lived there but also by the food. We were one of a few Irish families in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Italian meats and cheeses hung in shops, the smells of Italy floated through the streets. We moved upstate to the "country" while I was still young, but I was drawn back to the area when I went to college, attending Fordham University. It was then that I cooked my first meal using ingredients from the still thriving Italian shops of Arthur Avenue. I learned to cook the foods of the neighborhood the same way my grandmother did when she emigrated from Ireland, by talking to the shop owners. These burgers feature flavors from "the neighborhood", my neighborhood.


1 bulb garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 (7 ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained
1 (7 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 pounds freshly ground beef chuck
8 ounces Pecorino Toscano cheese, cut into small dice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 thin slices Prosciutto di Parma
Vegetable oil to brush the grill
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, cut into 6 equal sized slices
6 Ciabatta Rolls (Focaccia rolls may be substituted), split
1 cup mixed baby salad greens


Preheat a gas grill to medium-high heat.

Place the garlic on a 6 inch x 6 inch sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle the garlic with 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Seal loosely in the foil and place on the grill rack. Roast for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally or until tender when gently squeezed. Set aside.

To prepare the Sun-dried Tomato Relish, finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes and the roasted red peppers. In medium sized bowl, stir together the sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, capers, basil and 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

To prepare the patties, break apart the ground beef chuck into a large bowl and squeeze in the roasted garlic (discard the skin). Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, the diced Pecorino Toscano cheese and the red pepper flakes; using your hands, gently combine being careful to not overwork the meat. Form the meat into 6 equal sized patties shaped to fit the rolls. Wrap each patty with a slice of the proscuitto, covering the top and bottom of each patty, pressing gently to seal.

When the grill is ready, lightly brush the grill rack with the vegetable oil. Arrange the patties on the grill rack, close the cover and cook for 5 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully flip the patties, arrange 1 slice of the mozzarella cheese on each and cook, with the grill closed, for an additional 4-5 minutes for medium or continue cooking until desired doneness. During the last two minutes of grilling, arrange the Ciabatta rolls, split side down on the outside edges of the grill and lightly toast.

To assemble the burgers, evenly divide the greens onto the bottom half of each of the rolls, top the greens with a patty, cheese side up. Spoon the sun-dried tomato relish over each, evenly dividing and top with the remaining roll halves.

Makes 6 burgers.


Tips: dice the Pecorino Toscano into 1 inch cubes for best results. If you are unable to find Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Romano, which is a bit saltier in taste, may be substituted.