Tuscan Olive Burgers

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Every year, usually in May, I begin a whirlwind of kitchen activity that's triggered by the opening of the Build a Better Burger Contest. The economy and changes in advertising strategy rang the death knell for many of the big contests, but BBB is one of the few to survive with its award structure intact. Its $100K prize make it a plum for those who enjoy cooking competitions. While I've never won, I continue to try and went ahead and created two recipes for the contest this year, only to find that our revised holiday plans would have us out of the country at the time the contest would occur. I'm not really good about saving recipes for another day, so I though I'd share one of them with you today. Before I go into the multiple steps required to get this burger on the table, I want you to know that my favorite burger is simply dressed and charcoal broiled. Were it not for contests, I would never go through this rigmarole. While I may prefer my burgers naked, judges don't and that makes multi-step preparations a necessity for contests. If you analyze winning recipes, you can see the steps required to get to the competition. You'll need a sauce or spread for the rolls and layers of toppings that will make your well-seasoned burger unique. The folks at BBB maintain a huge database that you can scan for ideas if you are at all interested in entering the contest. I decided to make a Tuscan-style burger as my first entry this year. I had been working with tapenade and thought it would be a wonderful way to season my burgers. Once my theme was chosen, I rapidly moved through the toppings and spreads that I would use to accompany the patties. I decided to use a fennel-flavored mayonnaise and smoked cheese and proscuitto as toppers. To make the burgers even more singular, I made a fennel slaw to finish the package. In tonight's photo, I've used a simple olive salad in place of the fennel slaw. To be truthful, I had no fresh fennel in the house, so I took the line of least resistance and used olives which I have in abundance. This is a bold burger with strong flavors. If you like strongly flavored food, I think you'll love these. I have one caution to share with you. Be careful with the salt shaker. The tapenade and proscuitto are very salty and you won't need a lot of additional salt. Here's the recipe for those with adventuresome spirits.

Tuscan Olive Burgers...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite
2 pounds ground chuck
1 cup green olive tapenade (recipe can be found here)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 slices smoked Provolone or Gouda cheese
12 slices proscuitto, lightly fried and warm
6 top-quality hamburger buns, split
6 leaves curly lettuce
Fennel Mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 cup mayonnaise
Fennel Coleslaw
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or to taste
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 lb fennel (about 1-1/2 large bulbs)

1) Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
2) To make patties: Combine ground chuck with tapenade and black pepper, handling as little as possible. Shape into 6 bun-size patties. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
3) To make fennel mayonnaise: Combine ground fennel with mayonnaise. Mix well. Set aside.
4) To make fennel slaw: Whisk together all ingredients except fennel. Trim fennel stalks flush with bulb, discarding stalks, and remove any discolored outer layers. Halve fennel through root end and discard core. Thinly slice fennel with a mandoline or other manual slicer. Toss fennel with enough dressing to coat, then season with salt and pepper.
5) To grill: Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Place patties on rack, cover, and cook, turning once until done to preference, 5 to 7 minutes on each side for medium. Place cheese slices on patties about 3 minutes before grilling is complete. Place buns, cut side down on outer edges of rack to toast lightly during last 2 minutes of grilling.
6) To assemble burgers. Spread top and bottom of burger buns with fennel mayonnaise. Cover bottom half of each bun with a lettuce leaf. Cover with a patty. Top each patty with two slices of warm proscuitto and about 2 tablespoons of fennel slaw. Add bun tops and serve. Yield: 6 burgers.

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