With recipes at the end.

For the past decade, Chicago civic leaders have labored to reinvent the city’s culinary image from the home of heart-attack-inducing pizza and sausages to a global center of chic, high-class dining.

A city hall-appointed director of culinary arts and events works to help attract foodies and chefs from around the world. Months after a national magazine deemed Chicago the nation’s fattest city, the city council is considering banning some restaurants from cooking with trans fat.

While Chicago has increasingly garnered worldwide attention for its haute cuisine, the city’s crowning culinary achievements remain hot dogs, deep-dish pizza and other blue-collar, gloriously unhealthy dishes that most self-respecting five-star restaurants wouldn’t be caught dead serving.

But in his new self-published book “Street Food Chicago” (LBCM Publishing, 2007, $25.95), Chicago native and chef Mike Baruch offers a trove of recipes and stories about this cuisine, enjoyed for generations by Chicagoans who wouldn’t know al fresco from Al Capone.

“With Chicago street food, we have our own taste and flavor — there’s that working-man feel about it,” Baruch said. “Street food is something where you can walk in the joint and eat it standing up, whether it’s pizza, hot dogs or whatever.”

On a recent trip through Eastern Europe and Russia, Baruch said once chefs there found out he was from Chicago, they would immediately demand recipes for Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs.

But the cuisine that made Chicago famous is increasingly under threat, Baruch said, as old neighborhood restaurant owners retire and are replaced by more gentrified establishments.

“Mom-and-pop joints are just getting edged out by Starbucks and the big corporations just taking over,” Baruch said. “(Street food) is never going to disappear, but I wanted to give an accurate representation of how to make an Italian beef, or an Italian ice or a hot dog.”

To do this, Baruch, who grew up on Chicago’s Northwest Side and now lives in San Diego, spent two years asking family, friends and cooks about the various dishes served in Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods (or “community areas”) and by the dozens of ethnic groups living in the city.

Naturally, hot dogs and pizza have their own sections, and Baruch includes what he says is the first recipe ever published for Italian beef — a sandwich of sliced beef served between a hard roll along with a liberal helping of au jus. Also included are recipes for tamales, gyros, borscht, spring rolls, naan and other dishes from Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods.

There also are recipes for lesser-known treats, like a “mother-in-law,” a tamale on a hot dog bun topped with chili. And in a section titled “Weird Stuff Behind The Bar In Jars,” Baruch offers instructions on making fried pork rinds and Polish red pickled eggs.

Along with the recipes, Baruch offers stories, history and commentary about the food and the city, from Chicago’s brewing history to advice on how to pick a quality restaurant. (If city street and sanitation workers are eating there, it’s a good sign.)

But even Baruch had to make concessions to Chicago’s new culinary image: He removed all recipes that require deep-frying.

“Chicago is trying to get away from the kind of food that I’m writing about,” he said.
Even so, Baruch predicted, “there will always be street food” in Chicago.

“We can’t get away from Chicago pizza, hot dogs, Italian beef,” he said. “It’s been there so long, you couldn’t say, ‘Oh, we’re not into that anymore.’ ”

Mama D’s Meatball Sandwich

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 small onion, minced

1 pound ground round beef, 85 percent lean

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup pecorino Romano cheese, shredded

1/4 cup parsley, minced

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 large whole egg

4 ounces whole milk

Topping:

2 cups tomato sauce

1/4 cup pecorino Romano cheese, shredded

1/2 cup hot Italian giardiniera

4 (6-inch) Italian rolls

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In small skillet, heat olive oil and saute garlic and onion 3 to 4 minutes until nicely softened. Set aside to cool.

In large mixing bowl, place the rest of the ingredients for the meatballs. Add the onion-garlic mixture and thoroughly knead until combined. Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, evenly scoop out about 18-20 meatballs.

Carefully, using lightly floured hands, gently roll the meatballs into a nice round shapes, place onto nonstick sheet pan and bake in the hot oven 25 minutes only. When meatballs are cooked, place them into a medium-sized saucepot and cover with tomato sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, partially covered, for another 10 minutes to warm through.
While meatballs are cooking, slit rolls and lightly crisp. To serve, place 4 meatballs onto each roll, cover with extra sauce and sprinkle on some extra cheese and giardiniera.

Makes 4.

Per sandwich: 760 calories, 58 g protein, 53 g carbohydrate, 36 g fat, 190 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 1,910 mg sodium.

“Mother-in-Law”

4 tamales

4 hot dog buns

2 to 3 cups chili

Sport peppers or chopped onions

Steam tamales over hot water for 30 minutes. Place each tamale in a hot dog bun. Top with chili and peppers.

Makes 4.

Per sandwich: 410 calories, 26 g protein, 46 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 920 mg sodium.


Jeremy Pelzer can be reached through the food editor at 217-788-1520.