When I was a child growing up in Denver, Colorado, it was a tradition to attend and help out at an annual Italian fair. The fair, which is still a North Denver institution, is called St. Rocco's Feast, and it is sponsored by the Societa di Nativi di Potenza, a fraternal social club whose members are descendants of immigrants from Potenza, Basilicata, Italy. My great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all active members of this organization. The celebration of St. Rocco's Feast starts with a Catholic mass and a procession, where the right to carry a statue of St. Rocco is bid upon. (St. Rocco was a twelfth-century French priest who went to Rome and devoted himself to plague victims, performing many miraculous cures.) After the mass, an Italian street fair is held, complete with live music, raffles, and games of chance. Prizes center around Italian food, such as a gallon of olive oil, a salami, a round Provolone cheese ball hanging from a string, or even a homemade cake. Hot dogs, homemade popcorn balls, and sausage and fried pepper sandwiches are also sold to fair-goers.
When I was a child, I was happy enough to eat a hot dog and a popcorn ball. But when I was a teenager, I developed a fondness for the sausage and pepper sandwiches. These were not the ubiquitous link sausage sandwiches commonly served in a hot dog bun. No, these sandwiches resembled hamburgers; bulk sausage was shaped into a patty, then grilled. The sausage was spicy and the sandwiches delivered an extra kick thanks to mouth-tingling fried Italian peppers and a smear of yellow mustard. I hadn’t thought about these sandwiches in years, but when the Your Best Fair Food contest was announced, I wanted to pay homage to them.
Instead of using actual Italian sausage, I opted to make the meat mixture myself so that I could add my own flavorings. For the best flavor, I recommend using really good quality pork, preferably purchased from a butcher. I experimented with some different cuts of pork, but found that using a mix of sirloin and shank delivered the best flavor. You don't want your pork meat to be too lean or it will taste dry. As for the peppers, a sweet pepper such as a bell pepper is simply too mild -- you want something with a little bit of heat. And while you could serve these sandwiches with plain mustard, relish, or even ketchup, it doesn't take much effort to whip up some fennel-onion mustard. The inspiration for the mustard comes from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. Keller has recipes for several vegetable mustards. He recommends using any vegetable that can be cooked and puréed, and then simply blending it with vinegar and bottled mustard. I decided to use fennel because I love the flavor combination of fennel and pork. While I have borrowed some of Keller's basic mustard-making technique, I have opted to use my own flavorings, such as fennel pollen (which I am drying in copious amounts from my garden), olive oil, and mustard seeds. The result is pretty tasty and would work well on all sorts of sandwiches and grilled meats. —cookinginvictoria
WHO: Cookinginvictoria is an editor, writer, and mom living in British Columbia.
WHAT: Sausage shouldn't be confined to links; make your own, and put it on a sandwich.
HOW: Blend sautéed fennel and onion with Dijon mustard and fennel seeds for a homemade mustard. Next, make a “sausage” mixture from alliums, pancetta, herbs, and pork. As you grill the meat patties, roast the peppers until charred. Now all that’s left to do is make a sandwich with the mustard, meat, and peppers on grilled buns .
WHY WE LOVE IT: No matter how much you love grilling, sometimes everyone needs a break from the standard hamburgers and ketchup. This fennel mustard alone is great to add your grilling repertoire, and it acts as a perfect complement to the flavors of Italian sausage and the slightly spicy peppers. —hardlikearmour