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Villa Italiano Burger (with Warm Grape-Olive-Walnut Tossed Arugula and Honey Kissed Lemon-Saffron Aioli)

Several years ago, my sister opted to enroll in a student exchange program through the university she attended. She was given several options as to European cities where she could continue her studies. She had never been to Italy, and so decided to make this her place of study for at least one year. In the end, she stayed more than one year and in her own words, "learned to live to eat."


Honey Kissed Lemon-Saffron Aioli:
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch of saffron, threads crumbled
1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 pounds ground beef chuck
1/2 cup sundried tomato pesto
2 tablespoons finely chopped oregano leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
3 tablespoons Sutter Home Zinfandel
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground McCormick Peppercorn Medley

Warm Grape-Olive-Walnut Arugula Salad:
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
3 tablespoons Colavita Extra Virgen Olive Oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup pitted, coarsely chopped nicoise olives
1/2 cup seedless, coarsely chopped green grapes
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups arugula
1 tablespoon Colavita Raspberry Basalmic Glace

Vegetable Oil, for brushing on grill rack
6 slices Capicola
6 slices Fontina cheese
2/3 cup shredded Asiago cheese
6 ciabatta bread rolls, split


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

To make lemon-saffron aioli: In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and saffron; let sit about 10 minutes. Add mayonnaise, honey, and lemon zest. Stir until combined. Cover; set aside.

To make patties: In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, sundried tomato pesto, oregano, shallots, Zinfandel, salt, and pepper. Handling the meat as little as possible to avoid compacting it, mix until just combined. Form the mixture into 6 equal sized patties to fit the bread rolls. Cover; refrigerate or place in cooler next to grill.

To make Grape-Olive-Walnut Arugula Salad: In a large fire proof nonstick skillet (with a lid), add walnuts. Cook, shaking skillet occasionally, over medium-high heat until walnuts are toasted, about 4-5 minutes. Immediately, remove from skillet; transfer to a bowl and set aside. In the same skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add garlic, olives, grapes, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, and salt. Cook, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant and grapes are soft, about 4-5 (making sure that garlic does not start to burn or it will be bitter). Transfer skillet to coolest part of the grill. Immediately, stir in arugula, raspberry balsamic glace, and toasted walnuts. Toss to mix. Cover to keep warm.

Brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, turning once, until done to preference, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium. During the last few minutes, place the bread rolls, cut side down, on the outer parts of the grill to toast slightly. Also during last few minutes of grilling, top each patty with a slice of Capicola, a slice of Fontina, and equal portions of Asiago. Cover grill; cook until patty is cooked to desired doneness.

To assemble burger: Spread a small amount of lemon-saffron aioli on cut sides of top and bottom buns. Top each bottom bun with a beef patty and arugula salad, dividing into equal portions. Close with top buns. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 burgers


This burger is a delicious rendition of the wonderful flavors of the Italian countryside and a testament to my sister’s spectacular experience abroad. In my burger, the toasted Ciabatta rolls are spread with a sweet, yet tangy aioli. The golden honey that is added to the mayonnaise base adds just the right amount of contrast to the lemon’s acidity. The burger is given an instant burst of flavor with the sundried pesto, while the oregano and shallots add an earthy texture. A splash of Sutter Home Zinfandel adds a fruity flavor, and reminds us once again, how wine and burgers can shine as a perfect pair! One of my most favorite components of this burger is the arugula salad. First, the walnuts are toasted to achieve a stronger, bolder flavor. Then, garlic, olives, and grapes are sautéed until just soft and tender with a good quality Italian extra virgin olive oil. A hint of lemon zest brightens the flavors in the salad. The warm mixture is then tossed with arugula and a raspberry-infused balsamic glaze. The patties are topped with a peppery Capicola , while the contrast between the milder, creamier Fontina and nuttier Asiago showcase the spectacular cheese Italy has to offer. Buon appetito!