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The Garlic Street Burger

Folks are quick to name the neighborhoods of Arthur Avenue (The Bronx), The Northside (Boston), and The Hill (St. Louis) as bastions of Italian-American culture and cuisine. If asked to identify such a neighborhood in Connecticut, most people would scratch their heads. But according to the New York Times and the 2000 Census, Connecticut has more Italian-Americans per capita than any other state in the nation! I present this recipe to the 2008 Better Burger Contest to give credit where credit is due.

I am from the city of Stamford, Connecticut. Beginning in the early 20th Century, Stamford was home to several ethnic groups, and Italian neighborhoods dotted the city, especially on the West Side. These areas slowly became more diverse, but a handful of first and second generation Italian families remained neighborhood fixtures. The Italians flavored daily life with their big voices, their big cars---and, of course, their BIG GARDENS.

My family and I moved to the corner of High view Avenue and Ceretta Street when I was eight years old. In the 1950s and 1960s, Ceretta Street had affectionately been called "Garlic Street" for the stinking blooms that grew copiously in Italian-American gardens. But during the 1980s reminders of Italian culture were scarce. Condominiums sprouted on every block, and Japanese cars replaced every boat-mobile.

The exception was Old Man Falzone from Naples. He listened to opera, had an obscene amount of Christmas lights, and hung his rosary beads from the rear view mirror of his 1964 Cadillac. Naturally, he tended an immaculate garden. My friends and I played Whiffle Ball in the lot next door, and the scent of fresh tomatoes, oregano, and basil made for frequent strike-outs. Sometimes Old Man Falzone roasted his fresh-grown garlic. On those days, the spirit of "Garlic Street" was alive and well.

As a salute to my childhood neighborhood, the Italian-Americans of Stamford, and, of course, Old Man Falzone, I present "The Garlic Street Burger."

Ingredients 

Roasted Garlic Spread
- 20 cloves of garlic, un-pealed but with hard tips cut off
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (preferably Colavita)

Patties
- 1 pound ground chuck
- half pound ground sirloin
- half pound ground round
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 tsp salt
- 4 tsp fresh oregano leaves, minced (or 2 tsp dried oregano if necessary)

Pesto Spread
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 and a half tbsp pine nuts
- 3 tbsp fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp fresh grated Romano cheese
- 7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (preferably Colavita)

Bun and Toppings
- 6 Ciabatta rolls
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for brushing on insides of ciabatta rolls and on grill rack
- 6 slices of Fontina Cheese (preferably from L&G Italian Deli in Stamford, Connecticut)
- 6 pieces of Romaine lettuce cut to fit each ciabatta roll
- 6 slices of prosciutto (preferably fresh from L&G Italian Deli in Stamford, Connecticut)
- 6 slices of cantaloupe melon prepared about a quarter inch thick and cut to fit the size of the burger patty

Instructions 

Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill equipped with a cover.

Place the 20 cloves of garlic in a porcelain ramekin and coat with the 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Cover the ramekin with aluminum foil and place on grill rack. Close grill cover and let roast for 35 to 40 minutes until soft.

While garlic is roasting, combine chuck, sirloin, round, garlic, salt, and oregano in a large mixing bowl. Mix ingredients and let stand in bowl at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

While patty mixture is standing, prepare the pesto spread by combining basil, pine nuts, parmesan, and Romano in a food processor. Drizzle olive oil on top and process for about 10 seconds or until mixture is a thin paste. Set aside.

Prepare meat mixture into 6 patties while handling the meat as little as possible. Use your thumb and forefinger to create a circular dent in the center of each patty (as the burger cooks, the shape will normalize). Set aside and loosely cover with plastic wrap.

Slice Ciabatta rolls. Brush each half with a thin coat of olive oil. Set aside.

Remove ramekin of garlic from grill. Remove foil and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

While ramekin of garlic is cooling, leave grill open to re-heat and re-ignite coals. Brush grill with olive oil and place patties on rack directly over heat source. Cover grill, and cook, turning once, until done to preference. Six minutes on each side should make the burgers medium.

During first six minutes of burger grilling, squeeze roasted garlic cloves from the opposite end of the cut tips into a new empty ramekin. Mash together with a fork to create spread. During the last four minutes of burger grilling, place the olive oil coated buns, cut side down, on the grill rack to toast. During the last two minutes of grilling, place fontina cheese slices on burger patties.

Assemble the burgers by first smearing a layer of the roasted garlic spread on the bottom bun half, then place a piece of romaine lettuce over the spread. Place the cooked patty on the bottom bun half with the melted fontina cheese facing up. Layer a slice of prosciutto followed by a slice of melon on top of the patty. On the top bun half, smear the pesto spread. Add the top bun and serve immediately.

Makes 6 burgers.

Comments 

Others have placed melon wrapped with prosciutto on a burger before. However, recipes typically call for grilling it first. I recommend the melon and prosciutto cold for a more refreshing taste.