Traveling Foodie | Cincinnati Chili

In 2010, I had the great pleasure of visiting Madison, WI, on two separate occasions. Madison is probably one of the only cities in the Midwest to where I would wholeheartedly move – such liveliness and charm! There’s a restaurant downtown called The Old Fashioned, a place that ranks in my top 10 of favorite dining establishments. The beer cheese soup! The cheese curds! The cherry and blue cheese salad!

Ahh, anyway, my immense love for this restaurant will be left to a later blog, as this one is all about a dish I saw on The Old Fashioned’s menu: Cincinnati Chili. To sum up, it’s a giant bowl of chili with the works (onions, sour cream, cheese)…ON TOP OF SPAGHETTI. Yes, yes, you read that right – chili spaghetti. Apparently, Cincinnati Chili is a big deal – a quick Wikipedia search rendered multiple recipes, photos, and instructions for ordering the dish (bowl, 2-way, 5-way, etc.). I will admit that my original thoughts on chili spaghetti were strangely close-minded. Honestly, it just sounded weird.

A few months after my second visit to The Old Fashioned, I decided to taste test this Cincinnati Chili at home. I was admittedly nervous – how odd, too, for the ingredients add up to carb-and-comfort-food heaven, a place I like to visit often. In a bowl, I layered steaming spaghetti, shredded cheddar, piping hot chili, and topped it off with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of scallions. As the sour cream melted and oozed over the surface of the chili, I jabbed a fork into the mix and twirled. The cheese, trapped between tendrils of pasta and chunks of chili, had melted into a delightfully gooey sauce.

Oh, my.

One perfect bite and my mouth was filled with an amazing combination of textures and flavors. I cannot even accurately explain it other than to ask you to imagine all of the components of comfort food (soft, warm, cheesy, creamy, hearty) in one place at the same time. I’m not sure what is more unbelievable – that such deliciousness exists from such simple ingredients, or that I lived 33 years of my life without this dish.

Suffice to say, Cincinnati Chili is now a year-round staple in my kitchen, though I especially love it in the autumn and winter seasons. I made it for Morgan a few weeks ago, and he wasn’t quite as impressed…he prefers regular, tomatoe-y spaghetti. So now I just freeze single servings of chili, which make for a quick trip to carb-and-comfort-food heaven on any chilly eve.

It should be noted that an authentic Cincinnati Chili recipe includes cinnamon, cloves, and chocolate, but I’m partial to my own chili recipe. Also, the picture above is not my own – I’ll be sure to update with a photo of my version when I make it again.

Cincinnati Chili

For the chili:

1½ lb. ground beef or turkey

2 pkg. chili seasoning (low sodium)

1 red pepper

1 green pepper

1 jalapeno pepper

1 clove garlic

2 cans kidney beans

3  15 oz. cans tomato sauce

1 can sliced black olives

1 T. sugar

Dice all three peppers and mince the garlic. Brown meat in a large Dutch oven and drain fat. Add pepper and garlic to meat; cook on med-low for 5 minutes. Sprinkle chili seasoning in and stir to coat. Add beans, sugar, and tomato sauce. Simmer on low for 2-3 hours, adding water in small amounts if chili gets too thick. Add the olives in the last hour of cooking.

Now, layer the following items in a bowl, in this order:

– whole wheat spaghetti, cooked/drained

– shredded cheddar

– chili

– sour cream

– scallions

This dish is massively filling, so go easy on your portion sizes at first. Allow to cool just enough to eat without scalding one’s tongue, and enjoy!

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