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Born in Berkeley Burger (a.k.a. Bacon Cheeseburgers with Aged Teleme, Arugula-Fig Topping, Pepper Bacon & Lemon-Grilled Fennel)

I am always drawn to recipes that reflect where the recipe creator is from, so I decided to follow that mode when I invented this burger. Although I recently moved to East Texas, I was born in Berkeley and grew up in the SF East Bay—this burger is really me, and captures many of my food experiences, food memories and favorite ingredients growing up there, such as picking Meyer lemons, herbs and tomatoes out of my parents’ garden, shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables with my mom at Monterey Market, discovering and sampling all varieties of locally produced (e.g., California Teleme) and exotic cheeses at Berkeley’s Cheese Board Cooperative, and grilling burgers with my dad in the backyard (often a teeth-chattering summertime experience, thanks to the evening fog—we would huddle around the grill for heat!). A bacon cheeseburger is the very best kind of burger in my book; this just has what I consider my own East Bay spin.


(1) 2 pounds ground chuck
(2) 3/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
(3) 3/4 cup chopped (drained) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
(4) 1/2 cup grated onion
(5) 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
(6) 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
(7) 3 medium-size lemons (Note: preferably Meyer lemons, but any kind is fine)
(8) 4 medium-size fennel bulbs, tops removed, sliced into rings
(9) 4 tablespoons Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt
(10) 12 slices thick-cut black pepper bacon (Note: regular thick-cut bacon can be substituted)
(11) 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
(12) 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
(13) 6 fresh figs, stemmed and sliced lengthwise
(14) 3 cups pre-washed bagged baby arugula, roughly torn
(15) 3/4 pound aged Teleme (semisoft) cheese, sliced thin-ish (Note: Camembert, or even Brie, could be substituted)
(16) 6 good-quality hamburger buns (Note: not too hard—should be able to get your teeth through without working up a sweat!)
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil for brushing grill rack


In a large bowl combine the ground chuck, basil, sundried tomatoes, onion, garlic and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, handling as little as possible, until combined. Shape into six patties to fit bun size. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Prepare gas grill to medium-high heat. Grate 2 teaspoons lemon zest from the lemons. Juice the lemons to yield 2 tablespoons of the juice. Put the fennel rings in a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Put the fennel in a grill basket and grill, shaking basket occasionally, for about 10-12 minutes until soft. Wrap in foil to keep warm, sprinkling with the 2 teaspoons zest before closing the foil. Heat heavy large nonstick skillet on the medium-high heat grill. Cook the black pepper bacon in skillet until crisp; remove to paper towels. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Wrap in foil to keep warm. Drain off bacon fat and wipe out pan with paper towel; set back on heat. Toast the walnuts until golden and fragrant; set aside. Keep grill set at medium-high heat. Whisk the vinegar with the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl; season with salt to taste. Combine figs, arugula, and toasted walnuts in medium bowl. Toss with just enough dressing to coat. Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the burger patties on the grill rack, cover, and cook, turning once, until done to preference, 5 to 7 minutes on each side for medium. Place the cheese slices on burgers during last 3 minutes of grilling. Place the buns, cut side down, on the outer edges of the grill rack to toast lightly during last 2 minutes of grilling. To assemble the burgers, place equal portions of warm grilled fennel on each bun bottom, followed by a cheese-topped burger patty, 2 bacon slices, and an equal portion of fig-arugula mixture. Add the bun tops and serve. Makes 6 burgers


Even though this has several steps, none of the individual steps are difficult, and most all of the prep work can be done well ahead of time. You can (and I have!) cook the bacon ahead, too, and if you’re having friends over, have them help with some or all of the chopping and slicing—it makes for a great party.