Tuscan Wild Boar and Porcini Burgers with Basil Aïoli
On our last trip to Italy, we spent ten peaceful days in a thoughtfully converted farm structure in the middle of a vineyard just outside San Donato in Chianti, about 15 miles south of Florence. It was October, and as the sun came up through the mist over the vines we could hear the dogs and shouts, and occasional rifle shots, as the men of the village hunted wild boar - cinghiale - in the vineyard's hills and adjacent olive groves. In the little restaurant in the village we had the product of the hunters' labors, roasted over a wood fire: succulent slices served alone on a plate, in its own juice, in the Italian tradition of a separate meat course. The relationship of the cinghiale to pork, its industrialized cousin, was distant and distinct: a rich, complex, satisfying meat, as opposed to the bland, bred-to-be-lean pork we have to doctor and sauce and flavor elaborately to make interesting.
This is another in the series of experiments with the basic burger that I went through this summer, in a sort of mini-rebellion against the boredom and repetitiveness of cooking beef burgers on my grill for decades. This rich mixture of wild boar meat and earthy porcini mushrooms, with the flavor deepened by other vegetable ingredients, red wine and herbs, was particularly successful. It has a complex flavor, more like a rich stew or interesting country paté, while still retaining the texture and heft of a burger.
The basil aïoli, fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil leaves -- and the use of focaccia squares for buns -- transport this burger from the realm of American backyard fare to Tuscan delicacy, especially since the meat is cooked on a live fire, as the cinghiale usually is in Tuscany.
There's no doubt this is a LOT more work than dividing up a lump of chuck into burgers and slapping them on the grill, but what I was out to do was to bring the flavor of more interesting, complex foods to the fun of the backyard burger. With the burgers made ahead, some fresh corn on the cob, a salad of baby greens fresh from the garden and a bottle of Chianti classico or two, this makes an elegant but still casual cookout for a few good friends.
Tuscan Cinghiale / Porcini Burgers with Basil Aïoli and Mozzarella
Makes 6 burgers.
6 oz pancetta, cubed
18 oz wild boar loin (cinghiale), cubed
6 oz beef fat trimmings, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, fine dice
1/2 medium onion, peeled, fine dice
1 medium rib celery, fine dice
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled, minced
1 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
1/2 C full bodied red wine, preferably a good quality Chianti
6 T panko flakes
2 T fresh flat-leafed parsley, minced
1-1/2 tsp fennel seed, freshly ground
1 bay leaf, crumbled
2 tsp salt
1 tsp hot sauce
1/4 C crustless stale white bread, cubed
1 T milk
1 egg yolk
2 T lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 C fresh basil (packed), minced
1/2 C canola or other vegetable oil
6 burger-size squares rosemary focaccia, split horizontally
12 slices fresh mozzarella
6 slices ripe tomato
24 leaves fresh basil
Grind pancetta, boar and beef trimmings, first through a 1/2" grinder disk, then through a 1/4" grinder disk. Keep refrigerated until needed.
Sauté the carrot, onion, and celery in 1 tablespoon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes. In a small bowl, mix the carrot, onion and celery with the garlic and set aside.
Soak the porcini in the hot water for 15 minutes. Carefully lift porcini from the water with a slotted spoon, reserving the soaking liquid. In a colander, toss and rinse the porcini under running water to remove any grit. Strain the soaking liquid through a fine sieve, leaving the last tablespoonful of liquid, with any accumulated grit, in the soaking bowl. Roughly chop the porcini, add the nutmeg and sauté in 1 tablespoon of oil until the porcini start to dry out. Add the wine and the reserved soaking liquid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is almost gone and the mushrooms are coated with a syrupy glaze.
Place the ground meats, the diced vegetable mixture, whole egg, mushrooms, panko, parsley, ground fennel seed, crumbled bay leaf, salt and hot sauce in a bowl and mix well. Divide into 6 equal portions and form into patties. (Can be done ahead to this point and refrigerated until needed.)
Place the cubed crustless bread, basil, milk, egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, hot sauce and salt in a food processor with a steel blade. Process until smooth, about a minute. Leaving the processor running, slowly add the vegetable oil and process until well emulsified, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate until use.
Bring meat to room temperature, then grill burgers on a medium hot charcoal grill, with a few chunks hardwood added for smoke. Grill 5 minutes on one side and 4 minutes on the other. Remove and cover with foil while you toast the focaccia squares on the grill until browned, 2 - 3 minutes.
To assemble and serve, place patties on focaccia bottoms. Lay two slices of mozzarella on each burger, followed by a tomato slice and 4 basil leaves each. Spread basil aïoli on each focaccia top and place on the burgers.