Friday, August 30, 2013


Stuffing something inside of something else seems awfully trendy these days. Pie inside a cake, or a cookie inside another cookie, or a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey.

People are mashing up foods right and left, like the croissant donut or the brownie tart. It's great if it works.

But the pizza burger isn't a new thing. Not at all.

When I was a teen, I'd go to a local mall with a girlfriend to do back-to-school shopping. Or any shopping, really. And in the corner of the mall - and let's be clear here - it was so long ago that it wasn't really a mall. It was a shopping plaza.

But I digress.

In the corner of the mall, there was a restaurant. And whenever we went to the mall, we treated ourselves by going to the restaurant. And for all the times over all the years that we went to that restaurant, I don't think I ever ordered anything except the pizza burger.

Basically, it was a burger topped with a pizza-like sauce with melted white cheese on top. It really wasn't a stellar sandwich. Barely even good. But it was the first fusion food I'd ever eaten. A burger that's like a pizza! Woah.

With this burger, I went one step further ... the burger itself is a common pizza ingredient - Italian sausage. Yup, it's a sausage burger filled with ingredients you'd find on a pizza - cheese, of course, and I chose provolone - and then mushrooms, onions, and green pepper. To give it a good punch of tomato flavor without being super-wet and sloppy, I used tomato paste.

It's a little messy, but it's really good.

This post originally included information about how to season a cast iron pan, but it made this post waaaay too long. I moved that information here.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large green pepper, cored, seeded, medium dice
1 large onion, medium dice
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced or roughly chopped
1 tablespoon Penzey's Pizza Seasoning*
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
Salt, to taste
2 pounds bulk Italian sausage**
Provolone cheese

To make the filling:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, green pepper, mushrooms, and pizza seasoning. Cook, stirring as needed, until the vegetables soften and lose their moisture, then continue cooking until the moisture is mostly gone and you have an almost-dry pan.

Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Cook for another minute or two, then taste. Add more seasoning or salt, as desired.

Set aside until you need it. You can make this ahead of time, if you like, and refrigerate it until you need it. But if you fill your burger with a cold filling, it's going to take longer for the burger to cook all the way through and for that cheese to melt. Not a big problem, but keep in in mind, Or, heat the filling just a little before you stuff.

With the vegetables I used, this made about a quart of filling - your amount could be different, depending on how big your vegetables are.

This was waaaaaaaay more filling than I needed for the burgers I made, but it's a perfect topping for personal pizzas and English Muffin pizzas. You could also use it as a topping for regular burgers. Or just make a LOT more Italian sausage burgers.

To make the burgers:
Divide the two pounds of sausage meat into four half-pound(ish) portions. you don't need to be exact, but try to get them to look about the same size. We'll be making half-pound burgers. Yes, they're big.

Take about 1/3 of one of those portions and form it into a flat patty using a burger press (you can also do this all by hand. Set that aside. That will be the top of the burger. Take the other 2/3rds of the portion and put that in the burger press. You want a little more meat here, because you're making the bottom of the burger, and the sides of the burger.

Flatten it like you did with the first piece, then use the other side of the pusher to create a well in the meat.
We're gonna fill that well with pizza-y goodness....
Fill with the well with the tomato-vegetable mixture. Hey, there should be a photo here of the filling on the middle of the meat. But I forgot to take a picture. Or maybe the camera ate it.

Imagine this filling right in the center of that meat inside the burger stuffer tool, filling it to just about the top of the well. You don't want to overfill, but you can be generous.

Here's the filling. But see how DARK my grill pan is?
Then top with slices of provolone cheese. I considered grating the cheese or making little cubes of it and mixing it into the filling, but I finally decided to make slices.

Try to keep the fillings away from the sides of the meat - you want to get a decent seal all the way around.

Put the top patty on top of the filling, then press the edges down around the outside to start to seal that edge. Remove the patty from the press and make sure the edge is completely sealed. You still might end up with a blowout or maybe a few little dribbles of cheese, but you don't want this separating into two patties. The goal is to have the filling enclosed completely. Mostly.

Heat your grill pan (or you can do this outdoors on a grill) on medium heat and brush it with a little bit of oil. When it's hot, add the burger. If you're not using a cast iron grill pan, you might need to turn up the heat a bit higher. You'll get a great sear on medium with a cast iron pan, whereas you might need to crank up to high for a stainless pan.

Burger in a grill pan. How much better can it be?
Cook on medium to sear both sides of the burger, then turn to low and continue cooking, flipping the burger as needed, until the burger is cooked all the way through. Since Italian sausage is made from pork, you want it cooked well, and you want the filling hot and the cheese melted. It's a little hard to tell by looking or touching. Even if you cut it open, it's a little difficult, because that red tomato sauce can fool you into thinking the meat is still red-raw.

Your best bet is to measure the temperature with a thermometer to make sure you're not serving undercooked pork sausage.

Look at it sizzling in that hot pan!
You might get a little seepage of cheese or tomato sauce through the burger - don't worry about that. When the burger is done, put it on a bun. Let it rest a minute or two before serving - that cheese and filling will be screaming hot.

Or, slice it to serve so no one accidentally bites into molten cheese.

*I don't usually use a lot of spice blends, but I got the Penzey's Pizza Seasoning as a free sample and I have to say that I really like the "tastes like pizza" flavor it imparts. If you don't have it, you can use any Italian blend you have.

The major flavor components in the seasoning are fennel, oregano, basil, garlic and a few types of pepper. And salt. So, if you want something similar, use 1 teaspoon dry oregano, 1 teaspoon dry basil, 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, a few grinds of black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes. You'll need a little more salt than if you didn't use a seasoning mix.

** If you can't find bulk (unstuffed) Italian sausage, you can buy regular sausage and remove it from its casing.