Give Your Burgers an Italian Twist With These Pepper-Crusted, Mozzarella-Stuffed Sausage Patties

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Pepper-crusted and stuffed with mozzarella, these homemade Italian sausage burgers are topped with ricotta, red sauce, and vinegar peppers. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

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The days of "official grilling weather" have waned. And while I use my grill year-round, let's be honest—it's just not the same once the weather starts to cool off. As I was musing about that fact and trying to wrap my head around slow-cooked stews, I remembered a heavily pepper-crusted burger I encountered at the butcher some time back. That got me thinking.

What if I took the idea of a pepper-crusted burger, and gave it an Italian-American twist? I decided to make homemade Italian sausage so I could tuck nuggets of mozzarella cheese into the patties, crust them heavily with pepper on the rims, and then finish them off with a dollop of creamy ricotta, red sauce sauce, and fresh basil. Perhaps best of all, though, is the garnish of vinegar peppers that roast on the grill alongside, perfect for stuffing into the buns.

Making Italian sausage requires a fair number of seasonings, but this rendition isn't tricky at all, since you're not working with casings. That said, you do need to give them at least 12 hours, in order to let the flavors marry and the salt to break down the muscle proteins. It may sound like a long time, but it's what will allow them to achieve the juicy snap of a good sausage. Most of the inclusions are typical—dried basil, fennel, garlic, and crushed red pepper—but I've also incorporated balsamic vinegar in lieu of the typical wine vinegar or water, along with some fresh parsley and cayenne.

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It's important that you completely seal in the mozzarella that fills the patties so that it doesn't ooze out during grilling. And while this may seem like an awful lot of pepper, don't worry: it's not fiery. In fact, the exterior crust mellows while cooking.

If you're feeling ambitious, a simple, homemade red sauce is best, but a quality, jarred version will do just fine. As for those peppers, they're a great way to use up end-of-season produce, and they're tasty enough to warrant making a double batch. You'll want to snack on them later.