My Rouses Everyday, July/August 2017
I’ve been teaching at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, for close to nine years.
Every year at the beginning of the semester, I try to engage the first-time students so I can get a feel for their backgrounds. For example, we play the game “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you where you’re from.” When someone says they eat fried fish with white beans and rice, I know immediately that they come from Lafourche, St. Charles or St. John the Baptist parishes. Those who love red bean gumbo probably come from St. James or Ascension parishes. Since Blue Runner Foods is based in Gonzales, I understand the locals’ affection for the bean products of this company that has been in existence since 1918.
Another item that always comes up in our discussions is weenie spaghetti. Most of the students that hold this dish in high regard are from “down the bayou.” Then I ask, “And where does ‘down the bayou’ begin?” That always stimulates a big discussion. Some say it starts at Mathews, others say Lockport and still others say Larose/Cut Off. Just for information purposes, the bayou to which we are referring is Bayou Lafourche, French for “the fork in a river or path.” The bayou is 106 miles long and is flanked by Louisiana Highway 1 on the west and Louisiana Highway 308 on the east, and is often referred to as the longest Main Street in the world. It flows through parts of Ascension, Assumption and Lafourche parishes and is not to be confused with Bayou Terrebonne.
But back to our weenie spaghetti. I can’t find very much culinary history about this dish, but I can only assume that it originated during the Great Depression, when money was tight and families had to do the best they could to provide protein in their cuisine. The preparation and ingredients are simple enough. The base of the dish is a red (tomato) gravy, probably introduced to the area by the Sicilians who settled in many of the communities along the Mississippi River and other waterways in Southeast Louisiana. Depending on who you talk to, the tomato ingredients can include canned whole or diced tomatoes, some tomato paste and sometimes tomato sauce. (These days, busy cooks opt for ready-made spaghetti sauce — Cajun Power, Sal & Judy’s™, Prego® and RAGÚ® are popular products — in a jar.) Most of the time, the dish also includes chopped onions, bell peppers, garlic and celery — but again, it depends on the cook. The most important ingredient, however, is the weenie — and everyone I talked to said the weenies must be red. According to one source, red weenies were the cheapest — so the cheaper, the better.
According to Emily Guidry, who is only a semester away from graduating from the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute and who polled some of her friends and family, the weenies must be red — each respondent mentioned that as a characteristic feature of weenie spaghetti. “Not one person gave me any measurements of the ingredients,” Emily said.
Of course, that’s not unusual for older family members. No one wrote down ingredients in the old days — cooking was done by taste, and amounts depended on how many mouths there were to feed.
Emily recalls, “My grandparents had a camp in Grand Isle, and my family spent many holidays and summers there. This was a constant favorite dish and was served often. When I was a little girl (34 years ago), I often ate weenie spaghetti with long spaghetti noodles. Now that I’m a mom, it’s easier to serve with elbow noodles. I still make weenie spaghetti often. My kids love it, and I hope they pass it down to their children.”
Here then is Emily’s family recipe; she claims that most everyone she knows includes these same ingredients.
Emily’s Weenie Spaghetti
- Bell pepper
- Minced garlic
- Tomato sauce
- Diced tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Tony Chachere’s® Creole Seasoning
- Granulated sugar
- Black pepper
- Elbow Macaroni, cooked according to package
- RED HOT DOGS (the cheaper, the better),
- cut crosswise into 1/3-inch slices
- Sauté the onions, celery and bell peppers, then add garlic. Next, add all tomato products. Season with a little Tony Chachere’s, and if it tastes too acidic, add sugar and let cook for a while. Emily cooks her sauce for as long as possible. After about 1 hour, she tastes it and adjusts seasonings, then 10-15 minute before she’s ready to serve it, she adds the hot dogs to the sauce.
“No one wrote down ingredients in the old days — cooking was done by taste, and amounts depended on how many mouths there were to feed. ”