Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Today, most Americans will be grilling and BBQing. Unfortunately, we will not be (we don’t have a grill so we’ll be picnicking with pasta salad instead). If you find that you are in the same boat as us, don’t worry, I have a creative recipe for hot dogs that are actually better than any that you’d get off of a grill and can be made right on your stove top: Italian Style Hot Dogs

My dad seldom cooked, but on the rare occasion that he was in charge of dinner, we ate one of two things, Chinese Take-out or Italian Style Hot Dogs, a recipe that my dad created back in the eighties when my four brothers and I were young.

There was a period when I scoffed at the Italian Style Hot Dogs, thinking that hot dogs were inedible and mildly poisonous. This coincided with my brief vegetarian period, which I (thankfully) have outgrown. Now, on occasion, I revert back to my childhood and crave my dad’s old stand by.

He had a philosophy for cooking. “Everything is better with onions,” he’d say, and I’m sure this still holds true. My dad loves onions in any way, shape, or form. From caramelized Vadalias to raw reds, he can eat onions every night. And of course, being Italian, his love for onions is only superseded by his love for tomatoes.

These two staples, tomatoes and onions, are the basis for the dish. I can still picture him slicing the onions on a small cutting board while my brothers waited skeptically at the table, banging their forks and fighting with each other. I, being the youngest, preferred to stay right by his side, so I followed him like a miniature shadow.

The onions would sizzle as they hit the hot oil and my dad would stand at the stove, holding his arm out to block me from the heat. Next he’d slice the hot dogs on a diagonal, making them look like bits of Italian sausage. As soon as the onions were caramelized the hot dogs would join them in the pan, browning together in perfect harmony. In went a can of tomato puree; then he’d give it all a stir, cover it, and let it simmer.

Then it was my turn to help. My dad would slice the hoagie rolls in half, leaving only a bit of connective tissue to hold them together and I’d dig my little fingers into the rolls scraping out the soft insides so more hot dogs could fit. After a few minutes we’d scoop the hot dogs onto the bread in abundance. After cutting each sandwich in half, he’d serve them to my brothers who, after one bite, were no longer skeptics.

Sometimes, my mother would return mid-dinner and find us covered with sticky sauce, big smiles on our faces. Those nights, it was her turn to clean us all up.

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