Hamburgers with Cheese In & Out

Burger stuffed with mozzarella & topped with fontina
Burger stuffed with mozzarella & topped with fontina

Here’s a twist to your standard hamburger. Since it’s reported that Americans eat 3 hamburgers a week I thought you’d want to customize one.

Mix in some chopped garlic, parsley and Worcestershire sauce to perk up the beef.

I stuff mine with fresh mozzarella and add nutty and creamy Italian fontina on top for more flavor punch.

The burger is fine with or without a cheese stuffing or with no cheese at all. Your choice.

With all the scares about contaminated ground beef sold on the grid the best hamburger you eat may be the one made at home with ground beef or chuck you grind yourself from your trusted local butcher.

With the start of the summer you can cook  the hamburger on your outdoor grill or in a stove-top cast iron grill pan. Some chefs think it’s best to cook hamburgers in a flat-bottomed cast iron pan so it cooks evenly and the juices stay inside.

If you’re making hamburgers at home make sure you have a good sturdy bun. I’m using a pain de mie from my favorite Bay Area bakery Acme Bread. It has a sturdy soft crust and a slightly sweet small crumb inside, a perfect hamburger bun.

Add your favorite condiments. For me, no mayo, ketchup or mustard. I prefer a grilled onion and a slice of heirloom tomato on my burger.

The toasted bun is just right for the juicy, tender burger pumped up by garlic and Worcester. The mild mozzarella oozes from the center complemented by the melted nutty fontina on top. The sweet grilled onion and summer tomato finishes the package in style.

Buon appetito!

Hamburgers with Cheese Inside and Out
 
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Fresh ground beef hamburger flavored with Worcestershire sauce and minced garlic stuffed with mozzarella and topped with fontina.
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian-American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 pound freshly ground beef
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Italian flat parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • cubed fresh mozzarella for stuffing the burger
  • sliced Italian fontina
  • 1 onion, cut in fat slices
  • 1 heirloom tomato, cut in fat slices
Instructions
  1. Heat your grill or cast iron pan for at least ten minutes over high heat.
  2. Put the ground beef in a bowl. Add the garlic, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, sea salt and black pepper and mix well.
  3. Divide the beef in to 4 and loosely roll each into a ball. Make an indentation with your finger and put a small mozzarella cube or two in the dent and cover it over with the ground beef.
  4. Loosely form the hamburger.
  5. When the grill is hot brush the hamburger with olive oil and cook to your desired doneness.
  6. At the same time brush a fat slice of onion with olive oil and cook it along side the burger.
  7. Put the burger on a round roll or bun, top with the grilled onions and tomato slice lightly sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil.
  8. Serve immediately.

 

North Beach’s Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar Opens

Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach's new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar
Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach’s new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar

A couple of months ago I told you about Il Casaro (the cheese maker), the soon-to-open North Beach pizzeria and mozzarella bar. Well it finally happened a couple of days ago and I stopped in to wish my friend Francesco “Buona Fortuna”.

He sat me at the end of the immense white marble bar. I almost cried when I opened the menu filled with Neapolitan street food (cibo da strada), fried rice balls, bacala cakes, potato crocchette. Then I saw the homemade and imported mozzarella, fior di latte, burrata and the pizza. It’s a tantalizing menu.

“Where should I start my first time here?” I asked Francesco. “Pizza” he said without missing a beat. As I glanced toward the tomato-red beehive wood-burning oven I saw that I knew the pizzaiola standing in front of it. That sealed the deal. “Pizza Norma” I told Francesco without missing a beat either.

It was Salvatore, who I knew. I waved and in his honor ordered pizza alla Norma topped with grilled eggplant. Salvatore is a very talented pizza maker. He checked my pie lifting it high in the oven a few times just before he pulled the pie out to make sure it was perfect, slid it on a plate and delivered his masterpiece to me himself.

Il Casaro's Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant
Il Casaro’s Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant

Francesco wasn’t wrong. The tender pizza came out of the oven with dark puffy blisters all around the edge. The sweet eggplant played against lightly salted homemade fior di latte mozzarella.

I ate the whole thing starting with a knife and fork that I soon abandoned. Fold the slice in half and pick it up with your hands. It’s much easier and fun that way.

Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.
Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.

That single pizza was a wonderful trip around southern Italy. I started with a Neapolitan pizza that swung by Sicily to pick up the classic alla Norma eggplant topping and finished in Calabria after Francesco doused my last 2 slices with that tiny red-hot Calabrian pepper and its oil.

Before I left Francesco gave me a plate with ribbons of shaved raspadura, a delicate, nutty, young grating cheese. Once the paper cups arrive you can get curly shavings to eat while you roam North Beach. If you sit where I did you can watch them shaving the big cheese wheel with a special thin metal band.

I’ll return to Il Casaro soon. I gotta continue eating my way through the menu. Wanna join me? 5 stars so far in the early Yelp reviews.

If you’re inspired to make pizza at home my Pizza Margherita episode will show you how.

Did you see my new pasta primavera episode we released yesterday? You gotta make this easy, simple spring vegetable pasta dish part of your kitchen repertoire.

Buon appetito!

North Beach Shopping Spree Ends with Shadow Ravioli

Homemade ricotta & mozzarella ravioli in a San Marzano basil sauce
David Fagan’s shadow pic of homemade ricotta & mozzarella ravioli

“Make homemade ricotta ravioli for Saturday’s dinner,” my Seattle friend told me before she boarded her plane. And so started a day of shopping and eating in North Beach with friends.

Those are my shadows on the dining room wall. I’m holding a tray of ricotta & mozzarella ravioli while tallying how many ravioli each of the 7 friends at my table would eat.

These are big ravioli. Most chose 2 or 3.

Early Saturday morning we headed down the hill to North Beach to buy what we needed for dinner. Santo let us use Cavalli Cafe on Stockton Street as our staging area.

As we sipped our coffees Santo packed up cannoli ingredients for us to assemble after dinner. We didn’t want the shells to get soggy if they were filled too soon before we devoured them.

We left the fruits and vegetables from Union Produce with Santo and headed to Molinari deli for the antipasti fixings. We dropped the bags back at Cavalli and crossed the street to Little City Meat Market for 3 types of sausage to roast and serve with the ravioli.

Italian wines from Coit Liquors and Acme bread from Little Vine and we were ready to head back to my place. My friends insisted that we had too many bags to carry up the hill. We hailed a cab. How civilized, a ride right to my front door.

Back in my kitchen, we got the San Marzano basil sauce going and left it to simmer. Then 3 of us made the pasta dough and ran it through my hand-cranked pasta machine until we had long, wide pasta sheets.

As the sheets dried we whipped up the simple creamy ricotta and mozzarella filling. My friends jumped in and made one sheet of ravioli under my careful supervision. We ended up with 27 large ravioli.

Watch my fresh ravioli with San Marzano sauce video episode and make some yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Antipasti Platter
Antipasti Platter

Here’s the antipasti platter that started off our meal. It’s a good example of what you can put together for your next holiday party.

Starting with the top middle dish:

Marinated mixed olives and black oil-cured olives; sharp provolone & a young pecorino with pistachios; marinated giant Corona beans; homemade pickled eggplant; gorgonzola dolce; taralli; steamed green beans with lemon & olive oil. In the center dish: prosciutto di San Daniele, mortadella and coppa picante.

Use my pickled eggplant recipe to make some to have handy in your fridge.

My green bean salad recipe is quick and easy. Add something fresh and delicious to your antipasti platter too.

Remember those cannoli fixings Santo packed up for us?

Three and a half hours after the meal started and 6 bottles of wine later, I just passed the shells, filling, chocolate chips and orange peel syrup around the table for each my guests to make their own cannolo. They didn’t mind doing it themselves. Santo’s cannoli are fantastic and the crispy shells shattered with each creamy bite.

Champagne grapes and roasted chestnuts ended our meal. A wonderful evening with friends at my table.

Treasure your times together around the table this holiday season.

Buon appetito!

Lazy Lasagna Ready in an Hour

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
Ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

I promised to make a lasagna for our office potluck lunch Thursday. As I got ready for a trip to LA I tried to beg off making the lasagna.

I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to make a lasagna because I was flying back Wednesday night.  My office mates wouldn’t let off the hook.

I was stuck. After I unpacked I dashed off to the market to get everything I needed.

I was making a “lazy” lasagna. No homemade pasta sheets. No long-cooked sauce. This puppy is in the oven in a half-hour.

Don’t be intimidated. This is a simple recipe for a weekend meal or even for a leisurely weeknight dinner.

I used no-boil lasagna sheets, sausage  browned out of its casing and a ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino filling. Canned San Marzano tomatoes made the quick tomato-basil sauce a snap. Leave out the sausage and you have a delicious vegetarian lasagna.

First start the sauce. It will be ready in about 30 minutes. Cook the sausage at the same time. In the meantime whip up the ricotta and mozzarella filling. When the sauce is ready assemble the 3-layer lasagna and bake it in a hot oven for about a half-hour.

How easy is that? You’ll be ready to eat in about 60 minutes start to finish.

The ricotta filling encased in tender pasta sheets is creamy and rich. The perky sausage layer bathed in the sweet tomato-basil sauce is a zesty counterweight. I savored every bite. 2 of my lucky mates snagged the leftover lasagna for their lunch the next day.

Serve the lasagna with a simple salad and a bold red wine. Have some crusty bread handy to wipe up the sauce left on the plate. You won’t have to wash that dish before you put it back on the shelf.

Buon appetito!

Lazy Lasagna with Tomato-Basil Sauce
 
Prep time
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Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian-American
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 1 box oven-ready (no-boil) lasagna sheets
  • 2 pounds ricotta, drained
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino or parmigiano, plus more to sprinkle on top of the lasagna
  • ¼ cup fresh Italian flat parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound Italian mild sausage out of the casing
  • 2 28-ounce cans imported San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut in small cubes
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put the canned tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them with you hand. Discard any basil in the can and any skin or tough stems.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil and garlic in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Cook the garlic until it takes on a light tan color.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and sea salt to taste. Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer.
  5. Add the basil, reduce to low heat and stir the sauce occasionally for about 30 minutes. The sauce will thicken a bit as it simmers.
  6. As the sauce simmers put a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the sausage and brown. Break up any clumps as you cook the sausage.
  7. Drain off the oil in the pan and set the sausage aside.
  8. In a large bowl beat the eggs then add the ricotta, most of the shredded mozzarella, pecorino, parsley and black pepper. (Set aside a ¼ cup of the shredded mozzarella to spread on top of the lasagna.)
  9. Beat well with a fork or whisk.
  10. In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish spread a cup of sauce evenly over the bottom.
  11. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter.
  12. Lay down a single layer of lasagna sheets to cover the bottom of the dish.
  13. Add half the ricotta filling and spread it evenly over the lasagna sheets.
  14. Add another single layer of lasagna sheets on top of the ricotta filling. Spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  15. Add the browned sausage in an even layer over the lasagna sheets.
  16. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  17. Spread the remaining ricotta filling evenly over the sheets.
  18. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  19. Sprinkle with the reserved shredded mozzarella and some grated pecorino.
  20. Dot with butter.
  21. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more to lightly brown the cheese on top of the lasagna,
  22. Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before cutting the lasagna. (I usually make 3 cuts the length of the lasagna and then 4 cuts across the width to form 3 x 3 inch pieces.)
  23. Put any remaining sauce in a sauce bowl should your guests want to add more to their lasagna.
  24. (The lasagna is even better the next day.)

 

 

Calzone From Leftovers

Calzone with Escarole and Calabrian Sausage
Calzone with Escarole and Calabrian Sausage
Calzone with Escarole and Calabrian Sausage

I had dough left over from the Sicilian Semolina bread I made last week and escarole left over from when I made soup the other day. Both were sitting idle in my fridge for days until I was inspired — combine the two leftovers and make calzone, those delicious bread turnovers with a savory filling.

This is a version of Wimpy Skippy from Caserta Pizzeria on Providence’s Federal Hill Italian-American neighborhood. They make it with spinach sauteed with garlic, pepperoni and mozzarella. I kicked it up a notch or two.

If you don’t have any dough in your refrigerator and you’re making the calzone from scratch use either my pizza dough recipe that takes about 90 minutes to make or the semolina bread dough recipe that takes about 2 and a half hours to make. (The prep time includes the time it takes the dough to rise. Mixing everything together takes about 15 minutes for both.) You can make the dough in advance and keep it in the fridge. Just let it sit out to come to room temperature before making the calzone.

Either recipe works well. The semolina dough turns a pale yellow from the durum wheat flour.

Roast your favorite Italian sausage in a 425 degree oven, turning them once, until they are browned, about 30 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool. Slice the sausage into 1 inch thick discs. Set aside.

While the sausage is roasting make the dough.

Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Form each into a ball.

Stretch each ball into a flat round about 10 inches in diameter. Set the rounds aside covered with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel so they don’t form a dry crust.

Turn your oven up to its highest setting. Mine goes to 550 degrees.

Place the dough rounds on a well-floured work surface. Scatter about 4 tablespoons of sauteed escarole on the bottom half of the dough round, leaving a half inch border at the edge. You want a layer of escarole about an inch and a half high. (The sauteed escarole recipe excerpted from my free Italian Vegetable eCookbook is below.)

Top the escarole with 6 sausage slices. Use enough so that you get some sausage in every bite.

Cover the the sausage and escarole with slices of fresh mozzarella.

Fold the top half of the calzone over the bottom half with the filling to form the turnover-shaped calzone. Line up the edges and press down with you finger to seal the dough tightly so that none of the filling leaks while baking.

Brush the calzone lightly with EVOO.

Place the calzone on a well-floured pizza peel and at a 20 degree angle slide them from the peel onto the baking stone. (If you don’t have a baking stone put the calzone on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake on the middle shelf of your oven.)

You may have to turn the calzone once if they are not baking evenly.

Bake until the calzone are golden brown about 10 minutes.

Let them cool a bit before serving.

Here’s the sauteed escarole recipe excerpted from my free Italian Vegetable eBook.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:80]

 

Menu: Il Pranzo

Il Pranzo

Il Pranzo

This is the menu for a recent lunch I prepared for about a dozen work colleagues, evenly divided between Bay Area and NYC residents.

I wanted this meal to feature the best of slow food in the Bay Area for our NY guests, so I served Fra’Mani salami made in Oakland and used only organic farmer’s market produce. Italian prune plums had just arrived in the farmer’s market near my office and the strawberries were just about done for the summer season so I had to use them both.

I rounded all of that out with the best of imported Italian products that I could find in Gianni’s North Beach and at A.G. Ferrari near my office too. I wanted to include a Jewish dish and chose the stuffed artichokes in the style of the Roman Jewish ghetto. Besides my mother’s lasagna, the lasagna al forno con balsamella is the one that my family and friends most often ask me to make for them so I had to include it in this menu.

Check out the wines. They either mirror or contrast the major flavors in each course. Let me know if you want me to show you how to make these dishes or want me to post some of the recipes.

Antipasti

  • Carciofi alla Romano. Artichokes with a breadcrumb, minced mint, parsley, garlic, and anchovy stuffing poached in EVO and water. (The star of the course. All the rest of the stuff could be eaten after the last bite of the artichoke went into your mouth.)
  • Prosciutto di Parma
  • Fra’ Mani Toscano Salami (locally produced)
  • Boschetto al Tartufo. Cow and sheep milk semi-soft cheese with white truffle from Toscano.
  • Robiola Bosino. Cow and sheep milk soft cheese from Piemonte.
  • Cipolline en agrodolce. Flat caramelized Italian onions in a balsamic and chestnut honey sauce.
  • Olive Calabrese. Olives, roasted red peppers, garlic cloves, Calabrese chili in an EVO marinade.
  • Focaccia. Homemade, topped with EVO, sea salt, dried Sicilian oregano. A Neapolitan favorite.
  • Vino: Alice Ose vino spumante. A sparkling rose from the Prosecco region of the Veneto that pairs well with this broad array of fairly bold flavors.

Primi

  • Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
  • Insalata mista. Baby field greens, edible flowers dressed with “La Mola” extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamico and fiore di sale (the very top crust of sea salt beds).
  • Vino: Badio e Colibuono Chianti Classico 2006. Had to go with a Tuscan to stand up to the lasagna and this is a great bottle. Not as good as the 05, but a very close runner-up.

Dolce

  • Crostata di prugne con crema. Free form tart with fresh Italian prune plums with a dollop of whipped cream on the side of each slice.
  • Liquore di fragole. A homemade strawberry liqueur. Had to make this with the last of the summer’s small, dark red strawberries. In Italy, this liqueur will keep the strawberries in your heart until the first harvest next spring.

Sparkling and still Italian mineral waters.