A wild dinner here in Neive, Italy last night. Four people in attendance, including myself, a retired American lawyer from Atlanta with a home here, and two lifelong natives of Torino, one of whom speaks almost no English. We started with the obligatory Aperol spritzoni. One of the two Torinese had just returned from Valle d' Aosta, and brought us mocetta (a cured beef or goat product somewhat similar to speck), which we drizzled with a fine, mild Sicilian EVOO, and the famous lardo d' Arnad to start with, and three cheeses (to which I added two excellent local tome) to end with, along with several of the local preserves and honeys made to serve with cheeses, such as pear and Moscato preserves and walnuts in honey. We also had fresh-picked peaches and pears from my orchard.
But what does all of this have to do with Holly, you might well ask? The entree...what we called in my childhood in West Virginia "hot dogs with everything"! The two Italians had eaten hot dogs (usually called "wurstel" in Italy) before, but never like this: chili and slaw are, as nearly as I can tell, unknown in Italy. And the ingredients, with the exception of chili powder bootlegged from the U.S. and the extraordinary demi-sel butter shipped in from Brittany that I used to grill the buns, were 100% Italian. There were Senfter's top-of-the-line "puro suino" dogs from the Alto-Adige (home of some of the finest hot dogs on earth, with crisp natural casing or skinless, as you like) , the 100%-pork hot dogs of my childhood and my dreams, but of dramatically better quality than any I had found in America in a very long time. For the chili, there was tender, intensely rich ground-to-order beef, not far removed from being veal (almost always the case here) from a great local butcher. (I probably should have used some ground pork, too, but this was, after all, a lark.) There were the legendary sweet, red/purple onions of Tropea, a very close relative of the long-lost Bermuda onions of my childhood (presumably put out of business by the ubiquitous Vidalia, Texas Grano and Maui onions), both in the chili and chopped raw on the dogs. There were Italian hot dog buns, very soft and just a tad sweet, a valiant attempt at the American bun that could not help remaining Italian. Oops, and one more American (or perhaps in this case, international) ingredient, but purchased here, French's yellow mustard. (As good as many brown mustards are with other hot dog preparations, nothing but a yellow mustard like French's will do for the melding of flavors of the classic mustard, onion, chili and slaw "hot dog with everything", at least as found in West Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s!) And finally, slaw made with a particular type of cabbage grown here for use in making kraut, which is possessed of a striking and pure cabbage taste (almost reminiscent of eating a raw turnip), a bit of julienne carrots, more for color than for taste, and a superb Italian mayonnaise called Gaia, which is sold only in butcher shops for some reason. (No reason why I could not have made my own mayo, but the Gaia is so good that I saved myself the trouble.) A pinch of sugar, a little mustard and a splash of white wine vinegar, and hot dog slaw it was.
To drink? A good Italian beer with the dogs, and a 1947 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva Rioja with the cheese course!
The result was, frankly (and to the Italians, surprisingly), stunningly good. The Atlantan, no stranger to the hot dog with everything, declared it to be by far the best that he had ever eaten, and he fairly begged for a repeat performance. Despite the strange ingredients, the Italians are both foodies, and they instantly understood the complimentary nature of the flavors involved, and why some American would have thought to gunk up a hot dog that way. The flavors of all of the ingredients retained great delicacy, as not a lot of mustard was used, and the dog remained the star of the show. I now have the distinction of having made the best pizza and the best hot dogs that my Italian friends have ever eaten. Not bad for a lifetime's work! Getting an Italian to even eat a hot dog is something of a feat, much less a hot dog with everything...
Edited by Bill Klapp, 17 August 2013 - 03:24 AM.