Homemade Italian sausage is formed into patties and stuffed with nuggets of mozzarella cheese. Then, the burgers are heavily pepper-crusted on the rims and finished with a dollop of creamy ricotta, red sauce, and fresh basil. Perhaps best of all, though, is the garnish of vinegar peppers that roast in the oven (or, alternately, cook in a tin right on the grill).
Why this recipe works:
- Coarsely ground pork is packed with Italian spices and spiked with balsamic vinegar before it rests 12 hours in the refrigerator for maximum flavor and juiciness.
- Bell peppers get vinegary and smoky as they marinate and cook on the grill.
Note: For a faster version, use 1 1/2 pounds store-bought Italian sausage, removed from its casing.
- For the Sausage:
- 1 1/2 pounds coarsely ground pork
- 1/2 tablespoon cracked black pepper, plus 1/4 cup for crusting, divided
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
- 3 cloves garlic, very finely minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, lightly toasted and ground
- 1/2 tablespoon dried basil
- 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 (1/2-by 2- by 2-inch) squares mozzarella cheese
- For the Peppers:
- 4 large bell peppers, seeds and stems discarded and cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- To Serve:
- 4 crusty rolls
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought red sauce
Combine pork, 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic, fennel, basil, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, parsley, and vinegar in a large bowl. Combine using hands and kneading to evenly distribute spices. Place in a resealable bag or container and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
The next day, place remaining 1/4 cup black pepper on a plate. Remove Italian sausage from the refrigerator. Form four equally divided portions around a nugget of mozzarella, creating patties with thick, flat sides. Make sure they are sealed very tightly around the mozzarella. Roll the edges of the patties through the black pepper to crust. Set aside on a large plate.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over half of coal grate. Alternatively, set half the burners of a gas grill to high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.
Place bell pepeprs peppers in a 13- by 9- disposable aluminum baking pan. Add olive oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Transfer to the cooler side of the grill. Cover and cook until tender, about 25 minutes.
When peppers are about half done, place Italian sausage patties on hot side of the grill. Cover and cook until well charred on first, side, 5 to 8 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until cooked through and cheese on the interior is melted, another 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a large plate.
Toast rolls over fire until crusty. Remove from grill. Place burger patties on bottom buns. Slather with ricotta, top with red sauce, basil leaves, and peppers, close burgers, and serve immediately.