The last thing you’d expect from an Italian food and wine lover is a pairing of burgers and Freisa — an antique grape widely believed to be the parent of the Nebbiolo grape, which itself, is an Italian red wine grape associated with the Piedmont region of Italy. But that’s just what Amanda Courtney of Amanda’s Wine Adventures, a wine and food tour company based in Piedmont, picks when I ask about her favorite pairing.
Hailing from New Hampshire (ah … it makes a little more sense now), Amanda started studying wine when she moved to Los Angeles and worked at Mozza (coincidentally one of my favorite restaurants in the world). Soon thereafter, she started visiting Italy to work harvest, which sounds impossibly romantic and exhausting: harvest is when a vintner decides the time is right to pick the grapes off the vines. Traditionally, grapes are harvested by hand, with workers armed with only a pair of shears and a basket. When their bins are full, they empty them into a tractor or truck, which then delivers the grapes to the winery to be crushed.
“I did harvest at one winery that exported 400,000 bottles, which meant we were crushing 8-10 hours a day,” recalls Amanda. “We would have to lift these massive baskets filled with grapes and transfer them to the machines that would de-stem them and then gently crush them. It was exhausting.”
Annnnnnd the romantic part?
“One harvest, I met a winemaker, who today, is my husband.”
Amanda now lives with said husband in the Langhe region of Piedmont where she runs tours for visitors to the area. But her love of Italy has not superseded her appreciation of a good, old, American-style hamburger. So, if you’re not quite ready to pack your bags and head to harvest, do the next best thing: grab a bottle of Freisa, make a burger, and invite that hot Italian you met in the dog park over for dinner.
What you need:
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 oz. pork, ground
6 oz beef, ground (if you’re in the mood you can also throw in a bit of sausage)
Red chili flakes
Cheese, any kind, if desired
How to prepare:
Place all ingredients in a bowl. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and a few dashes of Tabasco. Season generously with salt, pepper and red chili flakes (depending on your level of heat).
Mix gently until ingredients are well incorporated. Then make 4-5 balls and flatten to approx. an inch thick, taking care not to make them too flat — you want big juicy burgers!
Let these sit for a moment as you fry up some bacon nice and crisp in a pan, then set aside on a piece of paper towel to drain. Use this same pan to fry the burgers — it will incorporate all those yummy bacon flavors.
The trick to making the perfect burger (I don't know if I’m supposed to tell you this, as it’s my dad’s trick), flip the burgers only when you start to see juices coming out of the top, then cook approx. 2 more minutes and voila! They’re done!
If you’re adding cheese, put it on top of the burger while the second side is cooking.
Assembling is a matter of taste (no pun intended). For example, my husband keeps it simple: burger, bacon, maybe cheese on top. Me? Mayo, spicy sauce, cheese, bacon, burger, tomato, lettuce, and onion.
To each his own!
Makes 8 buns
What you need:
3 tbsp. warm milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 1/2 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter,softened
Sesame seeds (optional)
How to prepare:
In a glass measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.
In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until dough forms.
Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side, so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get.
Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk — 1-2 hours (in my freaky, warm apartment this only took an hour).
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise, again, in a warm place for 1-2 hours (chances are you’ll also only need 1 hour for this second rise).
Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. This creates steam in the oven, so you get a nice shiny crust on your bun. If you have a steam oven, then you don't need the pan of water.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
As for the Freisa
“Freisa has a lot of acidity and tannins and if you have it young, can be a bit rude,” says Amanda. “Pairing it with something fatty and juicy like a nice, bacon hamburger and it doesn’t get any better. Here are some I really enjoy.”