The Godfather

Pairs well with:


Bright and full-bodied, this Zinfandel wine is a curious contradiction in tastes.

I am taking it to the mattresses with this delicious Italian-inspired bacon, arugula and sundried tomato pesto filled cheeseburger topped with caramelized fennel, onion and peppers on focaccia garlic toast. No one is able to “refuse” its fabulous flavor!


3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

12 strips smoked bacon
4 cups baby arugula leaves
8 drained sundried tomatoes packed in oil
2 tablespoons oil from sundried tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 pounds ground sirloin
6 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 slices provolone cheese

Focaccia Garlic Toast:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft or melted
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 bun-sized fresh focaccia bread sections (preferably topped with sundried tomatoes and Italian cheeses), split in half horizontally

18 large fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

Prepare topping: Combine butter and oil in a large flame-proof skillet; place on grill rack. Add fennel, peppers and onion; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden brown. If mixture appears too dry while caramelizing add more butter. Add vinegar and thyme; stir 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, prepare patties: Arrange bacon in an even layer in a large flame-proof skillet; place on grill rack. Cook, turning as needed, until just crisp. Remove skillet from heat; transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Break up into bacon into pieces and place in a food processor. Add arugula, tomatoes, oil from tomatoes and garlic; process until a thick paste is formed. Scrape paste out into a large bowl; add sirloin, onion, Parmigiana-Reggiano and pepper. Stir until well mixed, taking care not to overwork. Gently form mixture into 6 equal-sized patties, approximately the same size as the focaccia sections.

Place patties on grill rack. Cook until done to preference, about 5 minutes on each side for medium. Top each patty with one slice of provolone during last minute or two of cooking time, placing grill lid down until cheese is melted.

While patties are cooking, combine remaining oil, butter, garlic and salt in a small bowl. Brush cut sides of focaccia lightly with mixture (all may not be needed). Place cut side down on the outer edges of grill rack until lightly toasted.

To assemble burgers, place one bottom slice of focaccia, cut-side up, on each of 6 plates; top each with 3 basil leaves and 1 patty. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, place an equal amount of topping mixture over each patty; sprinkle each with 2 teaspoons Parmigiana-Reggiano. Add focaccia tops, cut-sides down; serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings.