I should probably divide my life into two eras: Life before I’d experienced the Iowa State Fair and Life After the Fair. I’m exaggerating, but as a transplant to this great state I’ve definitely come to love the Fair – especially its kitschier, more down-home elements, like the miniature animals, food competitions, butter sculptures and beard-growing contest.
I got to run around the fair a lot in my time as a reporter for Juice, and after interviewing fair-crazed Des Moinesians (I called them “fairwolves” in an article), I got the inside scoop on the best things to experience. One of those readers tipped me off to the goodness that is the State Fair Grinder, and I coerced Joe into coming up with a way to re-create them at home. I especially love cooking these in the depths of winter, but we made them this weekend as the Fair approaches to count down.
A grinder is essentially a loose-meat Italian sausage sandwich, with red sauce, onions and green peppers served topped with melted cheese on a hoagie bun. Here’s how to make our version at home. Note that if you live in Des Moines, there’s no substitution for Graziano Brothers Italian Sausage. It’s the best.
First, brown your Italian sausage. (If you’re wondering, yes, that is the tail end of a ceramic manatee spoonrest on our range.) Preheat the oven at 375 degrees.
Then, chop up your onion and green pepper into bite-size chunks. Add the onion, chop the pepper and then combine and cook.
Then add in your red pasta sauce and stir it all together. You can also chop up and add some garlic to taste, if you like.
While the filling is simmering, hollow out the hoagie bun a little bit. This will help prevent it from breaking on the bottom, spilling your sandwich’s guts. We had enough for four grinders, but reserved half the filling for seconds the next day.
Line a pan with foil and fill the hoagies with the sausage mixture.
Top with sliced provolone cheese, then pop in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes – enough to brown the cheese.
I wouldn’t recommend putting this sandwich on a stick. Keep a nice stack of napkins and handy and pour yourself something refreshing to drink. It’s hot and spicy.
Now there’s a little taste of the State Fair in your kitchen! What’s your favorite element of the Iowa State Fair, or the fair where you live?