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'Home with the Lost Italian': Taking a chance on chili

This week we're focusing on one of the most popular Super Bowl party foods: chili. If you're looking for a dish that is easy to prepare, can be made in advance, and will feed a lot of people, then my sister-in-law's recipe for Cincinnati Chili is...

Tony Nasello had doubts when he heard chili was on the menu
"Lost Italian" Tony Nasello had his doubts when he heard chili was on the menu for a Sunday dinner at his sister-in-law's home. But Sarah Anstett's Cincinnati Chili, shown here with pasta, quickly changed his thinking.(Photo by Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor)
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This week we're focusing on one of the most popular Super Bowl party foods: chili. If you're looking for a dish that is easy to prepare, can be made in advance, and will feed a lot of people, then my sister-in-law's recipe for Cincinnati Chili is the perfect dish for your main event.

This is no ordinary chili. Last December my sister-in-law, another Sarah, invited Tony, Gio and me over for Sunday dinner. Tony loves Sarah's cooking, and is usually up for any meal where he is not the cook, but he was a little reluctant when he heard she was serving chili.

"I'm just not in the mood for chili," he complained, even though he loves a good bowl of chili just as much as the next guy. I told him that Sarah was making her famous Cincinnati-style chili, and encouraged him to give it a try, emphasizing that this particular chili is traditionally served over pasta or hot dogs.

"I don't feel like a chili dog today, and I've never heard of chili on top of pasta," he grumbled as we walked up the steps to her house. But when we stepped inside, his comments were muted by the wonderful aromas wafting from the kitchen.

A native of Ohio, Sarah lived in Cincinnati when she and my brother, Joe, attended Xavier University and then for several years after. Feisty as most Sarahs are, she brought Tony to the stove and lifted the lid to the pot of chili. She had him lean in to smell the chili as she stirred it, and assured him that this dish, in spite of its humble origins, would be no less excellent than any other food she serves. With his mood improved, Tony sat down and began to ask Sarah (or "Buckeye" as he calls her) about her unique chili.

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Chili is a big deal in Cincinnati. The original chili parlor, Empress Chili, was founded in 1922 by Macedonian immigrants Tom and John Kiradjieff. Today, there are more than 250 chili parlors in the greater metro area, making Cincinnati a true chili capital.

Traditionally made without beans, Cincinnati Chili has a thin, sauce-like consistency more like an Italian Bolognese sauce than a traditional chili con carne, which makes it a perfect topping over spaghetti. This chili has a very distinct taste and features a unique blend of spices which includes cinnamon, allspice, Worcestershire, chili powder and cayenne pepper.

Once the pasta was ready, Sarah placed a heaping pile of spaghetti on Tony's plate and explained the different "ways" to serve Cincinnati chili, featuring variations of chili, spaghetti, grated cheddar cheese, and onions. Tony ordered his "Four-Way": spaghetti topped with chili, onions and cheddar cheese. I chose to have a Cheese Coney, which is a hot dog in a bun topped with a small amount of onions and mustard, then covered in chili and topped with a generous heap of cheddar cheese.

Tony loved that this chili is served with pasta (always a plus with my Italian men), and also appreciated the gentle heat of this recipe because it didn't "burn" his mouth or stomach. When I watched him return to the kitchen for a third serving of Sarah's amazing chili, I knew that she had won him over with her special recipe. Much more than his beloved Miami Dolphins' performance this season.

Sarah Anstett's Cincinnati Chili

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

2 lbs lean ground beef

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4 onions, small diced, divided (some is for the chili, some for the topping)

2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce

3 cups water

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1½ tablespoon distilled vinegar

¼ cup chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

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1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

5 bay leaves

2-3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Brown beef with onions (reserving one cup) and garlic in a large skillet over medium high heat, stirring to crumble, then drain excess fat. Place browned mixture in a large pot and stir in the tomato sauce, water, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, salt, black pepper, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Serve over spaghetti with reserved onions, and finely shredded, mild cheddar cheese, or over hot dogs with mustard, onions and cheese. This chili is also great over French fries or baked potatoes.

To store: Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, or freeze for up to two months.

'Ways' to order Cincinnati Chili

Two-way: spaghetti and chili

Three-way: spaghetti, chili, and cheese

Four-way: spaghetti, chili, onions, and cheese

Five-way: spaghetti, chili, onions, kidney beans, and cheese

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni.

Tony Nasello had doubts when he heard chili was on the menu
As an alternative to pasta, Cincinnati Chili can be served over hot dogs. (Photos by Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor)

Related Topics: FOOD
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