Friday, August 19, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Italian Burgers (and that's not all!)

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

Last week, I was working with items that were on sale at the local Whole Foods, and I'm continuing with that project this week. The sale items I used this week were the Italian sausage, cluster tomatoes, long-stem artichokes, Seaside cheddar, and the French baguette. And the rest of the products came from Whole Foods, as well.

It was like my personal version of the TV show, Chopped, trying to use as many sale ingredients as possible in a way that made sense. I like a challenge.

You've probably had Italian sausage, but have you ever tried Italian sausage burgers? It sounds like such a simple concept, but somehow the change in shape makes the sausage different. I'm more likely to be creative about toppings when I'm making a sausage burger than when I'm cooking a link sausage.

You can buy bulk sausage, if you like, or buy links and remove the meat from the casing - it's the same meat, so either way works just fine.

The Boulder Whole Foods store just finished a big expansion and remodeling project, and hosted some tours of the store. Crazy, huh? Tours of a grocery store. But I actually learned quite a few interesting things. Like about sausage.

Well, not actually about sausage, but about sausage at Whole Foods. That stuff is being made all day long. Somewhere in the store, there are people grinding and spicing meat and stuffing it into casings. All day. Crazy.

Have you ever peered into a meat case and wondered how long the sausage has been sitting there? I mean, when you buy it in the pre-wrapped packages at other stores, there's a sell-by date that's a few days away, correct? So how long could it be in the meat case at Whole Foods before you buy it? This would make a great trivia question, and I'll bet most people would get it wrong.

At Whole Foods is that they try to make only as much as they think they will sell that day. Whatever doesn't get sold by the end of the day gets pulled out of the case and is cooked into soups or used for other cooked items in the store. So when you buy that raw fresh sausage, it's less than a day old. I was amazed by that.

Oh, and if you want to think about portioning, the individual links of sausage weigh about 1/3 pound. They're not exactly the same, since they're made by hand, but the guys making the sausages are pretty good at making them consistent.

For this recipe, I used the mild Italian sausage, but you could use the hot, if you prefer it. For the fire-roasted pepper, you can roast your own, or you can buy them in a jar or in the prepared food section. I used a green pepper because I liked the color, but red would be fine; yellow would also be very pretty. You could use sweet peppers, or one with a little bit of heat. The mango salsa I used was spicy, but not searing hot - I'll leave that salsa choice up to you, but I do suggest you try the Gilberto's salsa. It's pretty good.

Italian Sausage Burgers
for each burger:

1/3 pound Italian sausage
Burger bun
1 slice tomato
Seaside cheddar cheese
Gilberto's Sorta Hot Mango Salsa
Fire roasted pepper

If you bought link sausage, remove the meat from the casing. Form the meat into a patty that's wider that your bun. See, that's the great thing about making your own patties - you can make them to fit whatever bun you have. The meat will shrink in width and get thicker when it cooks, so keep that in mind.

Sear the meat on both sides, and continue cooking until it is cooked through. Remember that this is a pork sausage, so you don't want it rare. If you prefer your cheese melted, put thin slices on top of the meat before it's fully cooked.

The cheese will melt better if you cover the pan while it finishes cooking, but no matter what, aged cheddar doesn't melt as easily as something like mozzarella or Jack cheese. If you want a very melty, oozy cheese, you can add one of those cheeses along with the cheddar - but I liked the stronger flavor of the cheddar, so I wasn't as concerned about how it melted.

To assemble the sandwich, place the tomato slice on the bottom bun, add the sausage burger with its cheese, add a dollop of the salsa, and top with the fire-roasted pepper.

Stuffed Long Stem Artichokes

Did you know that years ago, the stem was the part of the artichoke that people ate? It has a thick, fibrous skin that needs to be peeled away, but the tender center is very much like the artichoke heart.

These take a bit of time to prepare, but you can cook the artichokes a day ahead, if you prefer. They take longer to heat up if you're starting with refrigerated artichokes, so keep that in mind.

2 long-stem artichokes
Juice of 1 lemon, divided
4-inch piece of French Baguette
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Olive oil (optional)

Have your cooking pot standing by filled with enough water to immerse the artichokes. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon to the water. Artichokes, like many other vegetables, turn brown when they're cut. The lemon will stop the browning.

Cut the stem off the artichoke, leaving a flat bottom for it to stand on. Cut the stems to fit the pot and toss them in. With a serrated knife, cut the top 1/4 to 1/3 off the artichoke and discard.

The tips of the leaves have little spikes. You can leave them as is, but I think they are friendlier - and look better - if all the leaves are trimmed. It's easiest to do this with a pair of sharp scissors. Work quickly, and drop the artichoke in the lemon water as soon as you're done. If you see them start to darken as you work, dip them in the water, then continue trimming.

When both are trimmed, put the pot on the stove and heat to a slow boil. Cook the artichokes until one of the bottom leaves will pull off very easily.

Drain the artichokes. You can refrigerate them at this point, or just let them cool until you can handle them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

In the center of the artichoke is the fuzzy inedible choke. This needs to be removed. To get to it, you'll end up removing some of the inner leaves, and then remove the choke with a spoon. It will separate cleanly from the heart. Rinse the artichoke, if you've left stray bits of fuzz inside.

Peel the stems. The very center - the soft part - is the edible part. Chop that edible part of the stem and put that in the center of the artichokes.

Melt the butter. Cut the piece of baguette into several pieces and put it in your food processor. Process until you have coarse bread crumbs. Add the butter and oregano and pulse until it's combined. No food processor? You can grate the bread instead.

Put a couple tablespoons of the bread crumbs into the center of each artichoke and put the rest between the leaves of the artichoke. You can add more to the center, if you like. Drizzle the lemon juice over the artichokes and sprinkle with the grated cheese, if desired.

Put the artichokes into a baking dish and add about 1/4 cup water to the bottom of the dish. Bake at 350 degrees until the artichokes are warmed through and the cheese browns a bit - about 45 minutes if the artichokes were chilled when you started. You could also heat the artichokes in the microwave, or on the grill.

Serve with wedges of lemon, if desired.