Crispy Italian Ham and Kale Pesto Burger

Eater just finished up burger week highlighting the best ground-meat-patties from across the country. A photo-essay showing how Jacoby’s Mercantile makes their ranch-to-table burger was featured on the Austin page. The photos were taken by Robert J Lerma, a man who knows how to photograph meat. I ate the cheeseburger a few weeks ago, and it’s one of the finest  I’ve had since moving to Austin. It’s grilled, topped with cheese and dressed with lettuce, tomato and onion. Simple, but delicious. It was so good, I didn’t even bother to put any condiments on. The burger is testimony that high-quality ingredients don’t need to be fussed with and shine even with the simplest of preparations.


But why let Eater have all the fun? I’ve come up with my own contribution to burger week. Originally I had a different burger in mind to share with y’all. The local butcher shop was out of the cut I wanted to use for my creation so I’ll pocket that the idea for another post. In its place, my take on an Italian hamburger that reminds me of Arthur Avenue in Bronx, New York. The street is lined with Italian specialty shops and restaurants. These shops smell of huge wheels of cheese, olives and cured meats. The smell still resonates with me and makes my mouth water when I think about it.



The toppings for my crispy Italian ham and kale pesto burger were carefully chosen. Lacinato kale substitutes for basil to add bitterness which balances saltiness from the ham. The italian ham, prosciutto cotto, is a cooked ham that is fatty and crisps like bacon when pan-fried over high heat. It’s not the same as regular prosciutto which is salted, cured and aged for months. The vinegary salty peppers add acid and heat. Finally, what’s a burger without some melted cheese?


Crispy Italian Ham and Kale Pesto Cheeseburgers

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Serving Size: 4 burgers


For the burgers

  • 4 six-ounce, 1-inch thick hamburger patties
  • Kale pesto (see recipe below)
  • 6-8 ounces prosciutto cotto thinly sliced
  • 4 slices sharp provolone cheese
  • 4-6 hot cherry peppers sliced into rings
  • 4 ciabatta rolls cut in half

For the Kale Pesto

  • 2 cups tightly packed lacinato kale with stems removed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper


Crispy Italian Ham and Kale Pesto Cheeseburgers

  • Heat a large cast iron skillet or frying pan over high heat just to the point of smoking. Add a tablespoon of butter and the burgers and turn the heat down to medium-high. Cook for 4 minutes, flip and top with the cheese, cooking for another 3-4 minutes for medium-rare (130 F). Cook an additional minute per side for medium (140 F). Let the burgers rest for a few minutes.
  • At the same time, heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Place the prosciutto cotto slices flat in the pan, flipping once they begin to crisp about 2 minutes per side. Cook in batches if necessary to avoid pan crowding.
  • Assemble the burgers by filling each ciabatta roll with a cheeseburger topped with a heaping tablespoon of kale peso, crispy prosciutto cotto and hot cherry peppers equally divided between the sandwiches.
  • Have a napkin ready and enjoy!

Kale Pesto

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the kale and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain and transfer the kale immediately to a large bowl of ice-water. Once cooled, drain the kale and squeeze out any excess water. Combine the kale and remaining ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a smooth texture is achieved.


If you can’t find prosciutto cotto, substituting another fatty ham will work. Lacinato kale is also called dinosaur kale, Italian kale or cavalo negro. One of my daughters has a nut allergy so I used pumpkin seeds, but a traditional pesto would have toasted pine nuts instead.