Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Along the road to victory

"A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon."
— Napoleon Bonaparte

I'm not going to pretend trying to win a chili cook off is anything like trying to win a war, but you have to admit, it's a pretty solid metaphor.

Whether invading a foreign land or going after the title of best chili in Beaver, Okla., you start with a plan. You test and tweak that plan, battle after battle, batch after batch. And in both cases, some of your friends may die along the way.

OK, maybe not die, necessarily, but my recipe contains a full pound of bacon, so at the very least they are left bloated and useless.

My Italian sausage and white bean chili started as a recipe I found in an issue of Esquire, sandwiched between an article about Vince Vaughn and a full-page photo of some nearly-nude starlet.

It quickly became my go-to weekend recipe, and as such has been edited a bit along the way.

For starters, the original recipe calls for pancetta. Fuck pancetta. Pancetta is expensive, hard to find bacon, that's all.

Then there was the surprising lack of garlic. Unacceptable.

This weekend I added a can of crushed tomatoes and used uncased Whole Foods butcher counter sausage instead of the Krebs-made stuff I usually use (available at the Reasor's at 15th and Lewis).

The tomatoes ended up being a great idea, they added some much-needed color and acidity.

At the same time, the sausage took away from the texture and heat.

One of the things I love about cooking is the constant trial and error that exists in the kitchen. There just aren't that many opportunities in life to learn that way.

Here is the recipe as it stands now:

Italian Sausage and White Bean Chili

2 lbs spicy Italian sausage
1 lb center-cut bacon, chopped into small pieces
3 yellow onions, minced
1 green bell pepper, minced
3 tbsp garlic, minced or pressed
3 cups dry white beans, rinsed
3 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
1 large can rushed tomatoes
1 tbsp dried fennel seeds
1 tbsp red pepper flakes (or more for extra heat)

1. Render bacon and brown sausage in large pot
2. Remove meat, retaining grease
3. Cook onion, garlic, bell pepper and pepper flakes in grease until clear
4. Add tomato, with canning liquid, and scrape bits off bottom of pot
4. Cut sausage into thin slices and return meat to pot with veggies
5. Add fennel, beans and broth and bring to a rapid boil
6. Reduce heat and simmer around 2 hours, until chili reaches desired consistency
7. Top with cheddar cheese and sour cream

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