Recipe: Italian sausage burgers with garlicky spinach

Italian sausage is the secret – and only – ingredient in these fast and flavourful burgers, perfect for a backyard barbecue.

Article content

In 2011, Seattle’s Nathan Myhrvold, a prominent scientist, technologist, inventor, author, and food photographer, released Modernist Cuisine. This extraordinary five-volume encyclopedia draws on years of scientific research to overturn widespread culinary misconceptions and set out the optimum techniques for preparing food. As one would expect, Myhrvold discovered plenty about barbecues. A crucial point being: contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter if you cook over charcoal or gas.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“There really is not a difference in taste,” he told GQ magazine. “There’s less romanticism about a gas flame, but it does essentially the same job.” Ready to grill? Here’s his hottest tips…

1. Crimp aluminium foil around the barbecue’s interior. This boosts infrared radiation, which cooks the food. Myhrvold likens the effect of the foil to looking at your reflection in a pair of parallel mirrors. “The food ‘sees’ infinite copies of the fire,” he says. “So the fire seems to extend beyond the edge of the grill.” That widens the grill’s “sweet spot” where heat is consistent, cooking your food more evenly.

2. If you’re using coals to light the barbecue, pile briquettes into a pyramid to maximize their contact with each other. Ignite them with a propane torch, putting the flame to their tapered edges to help them catch fire faster. This method removes the need for firelighters. “Lighter fluid certainly works,” says Myhrvold, “but if you put too much on, you will smell it and taste it in the food.” Once the coals have whitened, rake them out to form an even layer.

Advertisement 3

Article content

3. It’s time to cook. First, pat the food dry. “If the outside of your food has got water on it, you will expend a lot of energy evaporating that water.”

4. Cooking lean meat or vegetables? Place them near fatty meat because the “barbecue” taste comes from fat dripping onto the coals and flaring (the idea that coals in themselves produce flavour is a major misconception). If there is no fatty meat on hand, simply spray on some clarified butter. “You could squirt a little directly onto the fire,” says Myhrvold, “although the advantage of putting it onto the food is that it will drip more slowly onto the coals.”

5. For thick meat such as steak, first put a hairdryer to the barbecue’s under-vents until the coals are red hot. Next, sear the steaks on the grill before putting them in a pan and finishing in a low-heat oven. “That sounds boring, but if you like your steak something other than cremated, it’s the best way to do it,” says Myhrvold. Use a meat thermometer to determine when it’s ready. For steak, very rare is 50C (122F), rare is 52C (126F), medium-rare is 55C (131F) and medium is 60C (140F). “Above that,” says Myhrvold, laughing, “you shouldn’t be doing it.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

Italian sausage is the secret — and only — ingredient in these fast and flavourful burgers, perfect for a backyard barbecue. Because the sausage meat is already seasoned, all you have to do is remove the casings, form into patties and grill. Anchovy paste adds a fast hit of flavour to the garlicky sauteed spinach topping.

When serving condiments at a barbecue, use a jumbo muffin tin or popover pan to contain extras like ketchup, mustard, relish and chopped onion. The toppings stay together and there is only one container to clean at the end of the party.

Italian Sausage Burgers with Garlicky Spinach

Adapted from Food and Wine: Reinventing the Classics by Food and Wine Books.

10 oz (300 mL) baby spinach

2 tbsp (25 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

Advertisement 5

Article content

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp (5 mL) anchovy paste (optional)


1 lb (500 g) sweet or hot Italian sausages (or a combination of both), casings removed

4 slices of provolone cheese

1/4 cup (50 mL) sun-dried-tomato pesto

4 round ciabatta rolls, split and toasted

In a large skillet, bring 1/4 inch of water to a boil. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 1 minute; drain and press out as much water as possible. Wipe out the skillet.

In the same skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and cook over high heat, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the spinach, season with salt and stir just until coated, about 10 seconds.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Using slightly moistened hands, form the sausage meat into four 4-inch patties, about 3/4 inch thick. Brush the burgers with oil and grill over moderate heat until browned and crusty on the bottom, about 5 minutes.

Carefully flip the burgers. Top with the cheese and grill until the burgers are cooked through and the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes longer. Spread the pesto on the rolls. Top with the burgers and spinach and serve.

Makes 4 burgers.

Hack: Tagging with Toothpicks

To tell well-done burgers and steaks from medium-rare at a glance, try assigning each level of doneness a number of toothpicks. (e.g., one for medium rare, two for medium, three for well-done) and pegging the proper marker into the meat as it comes off the barbecue.

Advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.