RECIPES: Recipe Details

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South Philly Burgers with Broccoli Rabe & Sweet-Hot Pancetta

After we were married (over 41 years ago), my husband and I lived with his parents in their South Philadelphia rowhouse (just about 20 minutes from where we live now) for 4 years. Although I am a Western Pennsylvanian of Hungarian descent, I was quickly assimilated into his large Italian family and learned to love their foods. I had never had broccoli rabe before in my life because the cuisine that I grew up with didn't include that, but it soon became one of my favorites. This burger is a tribute to those foods that I was introduced to by his family, including fresh basil, fresh mozzarella cheese, fennel seeds and pancetta.


1 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 cups finely chopped basil leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 pound very thinly sliced pancetta
4 teaspoons light brown sugar (preferably granulated brown sugar)
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound bunch broccoli rabe
2 pounds ground beef chuck
1/4 cup Sutter Home White Zinfandel
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, ground medium-fine in a spice grinder
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
6 round ciabatta rolls or round Italian sandwich rolls, split


Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover or heat a gas grill to medium-high.

To make aioli, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until needed.

To make pancetta, separate slices (they needn't stay intact) and place on a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the grill. Grill until beginning to crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Combine brown sugar and cayenne and sprinkle on pancetta. Continue grilling until very crisp, 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Trim large stems from broccoli rabe and coarsely chop tops. Bring heavily salted water to a boil in a medium heat-proof 3-quart saucepan on the grill. Add broccoli rabe and boil 2 minutes. Drain immediately. Let cool then squeeze out liquid with a dish towel; set aside.

Place ground chuck, wine and garlic in a large bowl. Combine the fennel and next 4 ingredients and add to bowl. Handling meat as little as possible, mix well and shape into 6 patties, formed to fit the rolls. Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Place patties on rack and grill, covered, 4 to 6 minutes per side, for medium, or to desired degree of doneness. During last 3 minutes of grilling time, place cheese on patties and grill until melted. Also during last few minutes of grilling time, lightly toast both sides of rolls on edge of grill.
To assemble burgers, spread basil aioli on cut sides of rolls. Place on patties on bottom halves, top with broccoli rabe and a generous amount of pancetta and replace roll tops.

Makes 6 burgers.


The very slightly bitter broccoli rabe is a nice foil for the salty, sweet & hot pancetta. The spicy hotness of the burger is cooled by the creamy fresh mozzarella.