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Little Italy's Moo Moo Panini

Growing up in Rhode Island, we were graced with myriad ethnic foods within a very small driving radius. Federal Hill was the "little Italy" of Providence, where you could feast on rustic Italian favorites, or shop the authentic Tuscan deli for making your own creations at home. So naturally, when I moved to Massachusetts, the open air markets of Boston's "North End" or as the locals affectionately call it "Little Italy" became my local grocer.

In the spirit of fusion cuisine, the legendary burger is blended with the vibrant fresh flavors one might find while dining under the Tuscan sun. In this recipe, we transform the almighty American burger into a panini style sandwich, infused with an intense sun dried tomato/basil/garlic tapenade, roasted red peppers, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese...finished off with a sweet and savory balsamic reduction. After each mouth watering bite, if your taste buds aren't singing, then they're not working!


Roasted garlic
2 large heads of garlic
Foil (2 sheets @ 12 inches long each, third sheet to line your baking dish/pan)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/8 Tsp salt

Balsamic reduction
1 Cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 Cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/4 Tsp salt
up to 1 Tsp water (optional)

Roasted garlic paste
1 head roasted garlic cloves (from above, skins removed)
1 stick unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 Tsp sea salt

Sun dried tomato/basil/garlic tapenade
1/2 Cup packed minced sun dried tomatoes (that were jarred in oil)
1 head roasted garlic cloves (from above, skins removed)
1 Tsp sea salt
3/4 Cup loosely packed (stemmed and minced) fresh basil leaves

2 1/2 Lb ground chuck
1 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp freshly cracked black pepper
6 squares of wax paper (each measuring 5 inches x 7 inches)
Foil (piece large enough to cover a plate holding your cooked burgers)

vegetable or canola oil (for brushing grill grate)

4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (for brushing the bread)
12 slices from Tuscan bread loaf (1/2 inch thick slices) [loaf approximately 6 1/2 - 7 inches wide x 3 1/2 - 4 inches tall]

Burger toppings
whole milk fresh mozzarella cheese (1/4 inch thick slices ~ about 1 Lb)
fresh basil leaves (stemmed) ~ roughly 1 1/2-2 Cups loosely packed
1/2 large Vidalia onion (sliced into 1/4 inch slices)
roasted red peppers (24 oz jar)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling during assembly)
sea salt (1 pinch per burger applied during assembly)



- Preheat grill to medium high heat

Roast the garlic
- Take one head of garlic, cut off the top 1/3rd and place both top and bottom sections on a piece of foil. Drizzle 1 Tbs oil and sprinkle 1/16th Tsp salt on top. Place the cut top back on the head and wrap with the foil. Repeat with other head. Line a metal pan or Pyrex dish with the last piece of foil. Put both heads in the pan/dish, place it on the grill, close the grill cover and roast for 45 minutes or until the cloves are soft and golden/light brown in color.

Balsamic reduction
- Place balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and salt in medium sauce pan on top of the grill grate. Once it reaches almost to the boil, it should simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes more in order to reduce to a thick syrup. Stir occasionally while it reduces. Allow to cool completely. If you find that the sauce thickens too much once cooled, just add water 1/4 Tsp at a time and reheat a little on the grill until it becomes more fluid.

Roasted garlic paste
- Mix garlic cloves, butter and salt into a paste until well incorporated. This can be done either in a food processor or manually in a bowl using a whisk. You might want to smash the garlic cloves on a cutting board prior to adding them to the bowl for the garlic to incorporate easier.

Sun dried tomato/basil/garlic tapenade
- Blend sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic cloves, salt, and basil into a paste until well incorporated, either with a food processor or manually in a bowl using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. You might want to smash the sun dried tomatoes and garlic together on a cutting board prior to adding them to the bowl so they incorporate easier.

- On a clean flat surface, break the hamburger up into a single layer and sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly on top. Divide into 6 equal portions. Shape into 3/4 inch thick oval patties (matching shape of bread slices) on the wax paper sheets, handling carefully to avoid compacting the meat. With your thumb, press a 2 inch diameter round circle in the middle of each patty, reducing the thickness there to 1/2 inch (prevents burger from becoming a round hockey puck when cooked).

- Brush grill grate with oil and grill burgers 3-5 minutes per side or until cooked between medium rare and medium (they'll cook a bit more while resting on the plate). Remove burgers from grill, place on a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Grill the bread
- For each set of bread slices used per burger, brush extra virgin olive oil lightly (up to 1 Tsp worth) on the outside of each slice...and slather 3/4 Tbs of the roasted garlic paste on the inside of each slice
- Place bread on grill butter side down and on the diagonal. Grill for 30 seconds with the cover closed.
- Flip over and with extra virgin olive oil side down on the diagonal, cook for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes more (grill cover closed) or until nice grill marks appear (gives bread exterior the characteristic lines from a panini maker)

Assembly instructions
- Slather 1 1/2 Tbs tapenade on the butter side of a piece of bread
- Add burger patty
- Add enough slices of cheese to cover burger
- Drizzle 1 1/2 Tsp balsamic reduction
- Add a layer of basil leaves
- Add about 3-4 onion rings, broken up to cover evenly
- Add a layer of roasted red peppers
- Lightly drizzle 1 Tsp extra virgin olive oil over peppers
- Add small pinch of sea salt
- Place top slice of bread butter side down

Makes 6 burgers.


Hi...just wanted to comment that the info i put in the "introduction" and "instructions" text boxes (when i look at it with the PREVIEW button) takes my well formed paragraphs and dash (-) delimited bullet points and jams them all into one monster paragraph. Not sure that's what it will look like when you guys review it but didn't want you to think i'm an idiot or that I don't have a grammatical bone in my body!!! If the instructions look garbled in this compacted format when you review it, please email me and i can either email you the full recipe or snail mail it. I'd just hate to lose a shot at this contest because of the way this html text box formatted my instructions. Thanks for listening!!!