Though Texas lacks a strong depth of Italian heritage, that doesn’t keep Italian cuisine from being a universal favorite, and Marshall and I love to cook it at home. Marshall’s years of living in the north — mostly in Ohio and Massachusetts — meant he was surrounded by excellent Italian food much of the time. He brought his recipe for his beloved spiedies home with him, and I’ve added my Italian spins on slaw and bean salad, as well as the cocktail. The skewered caprese salad is as colorful as it is delicious, and it makes an easy tailgate, picnic or cocktail party nibble. This is one of our most popular tailgates of the season, so our recipes are sized to serve a crowd.
This is a Marshall K. Harris specialty of the first order. Here’s how he describes his longtime relationship with this distinctive specialty sandwich:
“I was first introduced to spiedies (called ‘the best sandwich you’ve never heard of’ by Bon Appetit magazine in 2017) when I lived up north in the 1980s. I was visiting family living in Binghamton, N.Y., who took me off to a corner deli when I admitted I’d not heard of spiedies. There I was introduced to this delicious delicacy, as well as to the proper way to eat them. They are as simple as they are satisfying: You take a skewer of grilled marinated meat in one hand and a slice of fresh Italian bread in the other and use the bread to remove the meat from the skewer. The only addition required is maybe some additional spiedie sauce. One never asks for condiments, such ketchup or mustard, if one wishes not to be labeled a heretic. But if you’re really hungry, you can have your spiedie meat piled high in a fresh hoagie roll — again, sans any fanciness like peppers and onions, if you want to be authentic. I suppose if you are serving them outside of Binghamton, you can add what you wish, but these morsels of marinated yumminess really require nothing else.”
Be sure to have on hand either 8-inch metal skewers or 8-inch wooden skewers that you’ve soaked in water for 30 minutes just before grilling. The marinade doubles as the dressing that’s drizzled on at serving time, so you’ll need to reserve half of it for later before you marinate the meat — reusing anything that’s been exposed to raw meat is a food-safety no-no.
Yield: 20 servings
5 pounds cubed meat (chicken thighs and/or breasts, or beef sirloin, lamb loin or pork loin, or a combination, cut into 1-inch pieces)
4 cups olive oil
1 cup red-wine vinegar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 cup chopped mint leaves
6 bay leaves
12 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
8 teaspoons dried oregano
8 teaspoons black pepper
8 teaspoons sea salt
4 teaspoons dried thyme
4 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoon dried basil
Pinch dried rosemary
2 loaves Italian bread, sliced
Place meat in a large sealable container.
In a very large bowl or pitcher, mix together all remaining ingredients except for the bread. Stir well, then reserve half the mixture for serving, storing it in a covered container in the refrigerator. Pour the remaining marinade over the meat and marinate overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to cook, prepare grill to medium-hot and drain marinade from the meat, discarding the marinade. Skewer 4 to 5 pieces of meat on each skewer and grill just 3 to 4 minutes in all, turning once, until evenly browned but still juicy inside. To serve, wrap a slice of bread around the skewer and pull the meat off the stick, enfolding the meat in the bread to make a sandwich. Drizzle with additional sauce, if desired, and enjoy.
Tuscan Bean Salad
A bean salad this good can be a meal in itself, but it’s also the perfect complement to the grilled spiedies. The white balsamic vinegar is a hidden key; in play with the Dijon and fresh herbs, it gives a lot of layered flavor that’s really satisfying. Your vegetarian guests will be thrilled. Just halve the recipe for a smaller crowd.
Yield: 24 servings
1 cup olive oil
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 (15.5-oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 red bell peppers, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 tablespoons basil leaves, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons capers
Vinaigrette: Combine ingredients for vinaigrette in a bowl; whisk well. Set aside to allow flavors to meld.
Salad: In a large bowl, combine beans, red bell peppers, red onion, herbs and capers. Toss to mix well. About 1 hour before serving, pour dressing over beans and mix well.
Sweet & Sour Italian Slaw
The combination of crunch from cabbage, carrots and apple make this salad irresistible. Add to that the play of sour against sweet from two vinegars, piqued by just a hint of hot pepper, and you’ve got a slaw like no other. Personally, I like this on top of the grilled spiedie meat, with or without the Italian bread.
Yield: 24 servings
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white-wine vinegar
1/2 cup rice-wine vinegar
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 head purple cabbage, thinly sliced
8 medium carrots, peeled and grated
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and grated
6 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 cup packed Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Dressing: Combine dressing ingredients in a bowl, whisking well. Set aside.
Salad: In a large bowl, combine cabbages, carrots, apple, green onion and parsley. Toss to mix. An hour before serving, whisk dressing again and pour over slaw mixture, tossing to mix well.