Thursday Dinner: Paesano Burger

How does one put an Italian twist on an American favorite?

If you subscribe to facts of American history, you may know that Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Conn. claims the mantle of “The Birthplace of the Hamburger Sandwich.” Legend has it that a customer in rush came into the restaurant looking for something he could eat quickly. Louis Lassen cooked some ground steak and slid it between two slices of toast. And that was that. Many have tinkered with the classic hamburger, but no one has put a truly ethnic twist on the traditional American burger. A few blocks away and 25 years later, Frank Pepe would start making the world greatest pizza (excuse me, apizza) and it seems like a crime that Louis and Frank couldn’t get together on something (Louis died in 1935; Frank in 1969).

Bridgids Restaurant in Philly makes a Paesano burger that has way too much going on: gorgonzola, bacon, caramelized onion, garlic mayo, and fries. Flipdaddy’s in Cincinnati offers one with prosciutto, tomato, mozzarella, basil, aioli… Again, too much stuff.

So, as I was planning out my attempt I kept coming back to the underlying flavors of the Italian food I like and thought that pancetta would do it. In lieu of mozzarella, I went with fontina cheese since it has a more fuller flavor.

WHAT WORKED: Pancetta always works. The fat didn’t render completely all the way through, but it did create a juicy burger. I can see where the aioli would come into play for flavor, but good beef will take care of that. Next time, though, I might use a tomato jam as a topping.

WHAT DIDN’T: I handpacked quarter-pound burgers like I always do, and this time was disappointed that the burgers shrunk. So, what I do is make a tightly-packed ball and press down on them slightly. Then, when they get to the grill, I flatten them some more. I don’t know if it was the addition of the pancetta or the beef itself (I used Trader Joe’s 85% grass-fed beef).


EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy. Burgers shouldn’t be difficult.

BEST FOR: The night when beef on its own is just too boring for you.

SERVE WITH: A good quality roll. Not the flimsy store brand stuff, but a thick brioche roll.


The Al Dente Paesano Burger
  • 8 oz. high-quality ground beef (no leaner than 85%)
  • 3 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 2 thick slices fontina cheese

Preheat your grill to at least 600 degrees.

Combine beef and pancetta in a medium mixing bowl. Using your hands, mix the meats thoroughly so that the pancetta is evenly distributed. Break the beef into two even portions. Roll each portion into a tightly-packed ball, then lightly press with the palms of your hand to flatten.

Turn half of your burners to high and half to medium-low. Place the burgers over the high heat and flatten with your grill spatula. Cook two minutes each side over the high flame before transferring to the lower heat. Cook 3 to 4 minutes each side. With 2 minutes remaining, set one slice of cheese on each burger. Melt the cheese and serve hot on a roll.

By Jared Paventi

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1 Comment

  • Melissa says:

    There used to be a burger at BSpot (Michael Symon’s burger places in Cleveland) that came with provolone, crisped prosciutto, and arugula. NOM.

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