Saturday, August 28, 2010


Although I keep a well-stocked pantry and can usually cook a meal without needing to run to the store for one specific ingredient, I won't be able to do Game World Dinner Night meals without plenty of planning. I've been thinking about my bacon cheeseburger and how I want to do it.

The first thing I thought about is what a bacon cheeseburger consists of. The standard diner burger is bun, burger patty, bacon, cheddar or American processed cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and sweet pickles. I'm not making that burger. I'm making an homage to that burger because I don't particularly like the traditional diner bacon cheeseburger. I never order it when I eat out. There are too many more interesting burgers on restaurant menus these days.

I'm starting with flavors I'm in the mood for. I considered Mexican, Asian and Italian. Asian doesn't really go with bacon and cheese, so I'll use those flavors in another meal. I've been eating a lot of Southwestern spicy food the past week, so I decided to go Italian.

I come from an Italian background. My Italian-born grandmother was a superb cook, but alas, not really a teacher, so I only have the memory of the food she made, not the recipes. Traditional Italian flavors include garlic; basil; tomatoes; olive oil; and various cheeses, particularly Parmesan, mozzarella and provolone. When Americans think "Italian" they first think of pizza and pasta, particularly spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce. These days, pesto and Alfredo sauce are also common.

I could make a pizza burger or a calzone, but that strays too far from the original diner burger and defeats my purpose in doing this challenge. I want to make a bacon cheeseburger with a twist, but it has to be a burger on a bun.

Baking bread is one of my passions, so no store-bought buns for my burger. I'm thinking either a bun with semolina flour, which is what they make pasta from, or cornmeal, which is what polenta is made from. The final choice will most likely depend on the other flavors in the burger and on whether I do a pasta salad or a polenta dish as a side. The other Italian ingredient I plan to use in the bun is a hard cheese--Parmesan, asiago, or pecorino romano. I'm leaning toward asiago, which you can get as a hard cheese, which would be lovely grated in the dough, and as a softer cheese I can shred and top the buns with.

The burger itself is easy. Some cookbook writers use blends of meat. I have one recipe that's actually a grilled meatball, and it's not my favorite. I like grilled meat without eggs, bread crumbs, and other binders that are used in meatballs to prevent them from falling apart while they simmer for hours in the tomato sauce. The burger will be made from a simple lean, but not super lean, ground beef to which I will add Italian flavors.

Toppings come next. One no-brainer for me is to replace the lettuce with fresh basil, since Paul has a great container herb garden growing on our terrace. I'm replacing the bacon with pancetta. The cheese is a sticking point. I can't decide whether I want to make a pasta salad with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes or use the mozzarella in the burger. If I do the pasta salad, I'll top the burger with provolone.

The remaining ingredients are red onion, tomato, and sweet pickle. I don't think the sweet pickle will go very well with the Italian flavorings. However, I have a jar of pickled peppers leftover from an antipasto platter. I can use the red onion with sun-dried tomatoes in a pesto to replace the traditional ketchup/mayo/mustard condiments that really won't work with my burger. I'll also add the pickled peppers to the pesto because if I slice them and lay them on top of the burger, they'll tend to fall off. Things falling off my sandwiches is one of my pet peeves when I eat in restaurants and I try to create mine so people can eat them with their fingers and not have bits land on their shirt front.

I think I've got the basics for the burger. It meets my goals of making a burger on a bun with the same type of ingredients as the diner burger and using flavors I prefer to the original--the Italian twist. In my next post, I'll be figuring out the side dishes and refining the herbs and spices in the burger and pesto.

The following post will be devoted to dessert, which is a challenge because it seems the only things people can come up with are tiramisu and more tiramisu, with a side of spumoni ice cream or a canolli. Occasionally you might find a panna cotta on a menu. I need to do research because I know Italians make more than those four things for dessert and I want to do something a bit different from the usual thing. I can't look to my background, though, because my grandmother made American desserts like peach pie. The only Italian dessert I remember her making is grispelli, a fried-dough topped with powdered sugar that's like a doughnut, except you drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil. When it's done it looks like two attached balls of dough with little bits hanging on around the edges.