Slow cooking, big results: Break out your Dutch oven for Sarah’s Texas-Inspired Chili

Serve Sarah's Texas-Inspired Chili with corn tortilla chips. David Samson / The Forum

If Tony had given me a Dutch oven as a birthday gift when we were first married 25 years ago, I’m not sure I’d still be Mrs. Nasello today.

As it happens, that’s exactly what he gave me this year. I have secretly (I thought) wanted one for years, and I’m still basking in the glow of this surprise. Dutch ovens are a wonderful piece of cookware as their ability to maintain even and consistent heat makes them ideal for dishes that require braising, roasting or, in this case, slow-cooking.

I decided to christen my new vessel with a big batch of what I call Sarah’s Texas-Inspired Chili (calling it straight-up Texas chili seems just a tad presumptuous for this North Dakotan).

For this chili, I prefer to use ground beef that is 85 percent lean, 15 percent fat. This combination allows the beef to better retain its moisture and flavor, whereas a leaner cut will often produce a chili that is dry and tasteless. While there are endless kinds of Texas chili, the prevailing conviction is that a real Texas chili does not have beans of any kind. Thankfully, this dish is excellent with or without beans, which can be added during the final minutes of cooking.

This chili has a mild, spicy heat which can be adjusted up or down by the amount of cayenne pepper added. In keeping with their nature, my mild-mannered men don’t care for a lot of heat, and this chili is just right for them. We enjoy it as a main course with a variety of garnishes, and as a hearty topping for nachos. Tony, ever the Italian, will even add it to a plate of pasta.

My chili is full of flavor thanks to a robust blend of vegetables and spices. I saute onions, garlic and a mix of peppers (bell, poblano and jalapeno) until the onions are soft and translucent, and then add the ground beef and cook until it is browned. Next, I sprinkle the entire mix with a blend of spices including chili powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika and cook for a couple minutes more before adding the liquids. This last step allows the spices to fully infuse the beef, increasing the chili’s depth of flavor.

The chili cooks for about 90 minutes until it has reduced by approximately a third or more, and then I add two tablespoons of masa harina (corn flour). The corn flour will thicken the chili quickly and give a lovely hint of corn to the flavor profile. I’ve learned from experience that corn flour can clump when added all at once, so I sprinkle it evenly over the chili in stages, stirring as I go.

An assortment of garnishes can balance and contrast this robust chili. Sour cream, cheddar cheese and cilantro will temper the spices, and thinly sliced jalapeno peppers and green onions will bring a touch more heat. For a lovely burst of acidity, mash a thin slice of lime into the chili and let it linger on the bottom as you eat.

This recipe can be easily doubled, freezes well and is perfect if you have a houseful of company this weekend. Enjoy.

“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello @gmail.com.

Sarah’s Texas-Inspired Chili

Serves: 4 to 6

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, small-diced

1 poblano pepper (use Anaheim for spicier version), small-diced

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1½ pounds ground beef (I use 85% lean)

1½ tablespoons chili powder

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon cumin

1½ teaspoons smoked paprika

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 cups chicken stock (or water), divided

1/3 cup tomato paste (about 3 ounces)

1 teaspoon hot sauce (like Tabasco)

1 cup red wine, divided

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons masa harina (corn flour, to thicken)

1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional, for bean lovers)

Garnishes:

Sour cream

Shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Fresh cilantro leaves

Fresh jalapeno, thinly sliced

Fresh lime, thinly sliced

Green onions, diced

Directions:

In a Dutch oven or large stock pot, heat the canola oil over medium-high until it shimmers. Add the onions and reduce heat to medium; cook for 5 minutes, then add the bell, poblano and jalapeno peppers. Continue cooking over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute. Add the ground beef and cook over medium heat until evenly browned — no pink should remain. Drain the fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pot.

Return pot to the stove over medium-low heat and sprinkle the chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin and smoked paprika evenly over the beef mixture, stirring to combine. Cook for about 2 minutes to allow the beef to absorb the flavors.

Add the crushed tomatoes, 1 cup of stock, tomato paste, hot sauce and half a cup of red wine and stir until well combined. Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the remaining cup of stock and half-cup of wine and continue to simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the beef from sticking to the bottom.

Sprinkle the corn flour evenly around the chili and stir until well combined. Stir in the beans, if using, and cook for about 10 minutes until the chili appears rich and thick — if too thick, add water until desired consistency is achieved. Serve immediately with garnishes on the side.

To store:

Once cooled, transfer chili to an airtight container and refrigerate for several days or freeze for up to 3 months.

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