If there’s one thing I’ve proven over the years, it’s that I have zero qualms about actually eating a regional dish like Cincinnati Chili before reproducing it at home. I’m not going to go all the way to Minneapolis before I make a Juicy Lucy (although if I ever go there I’ll be sure to try the original).
I’ve gotten some flack for this over the years but I’ve also gotten a lot of good meals out of it so… I don’t care. What I have learned though is that a lot of times regional dishes are good but not exceptional. They are exceptional only because of their history to a specific location.
The juicy lucy, in other words, is a good burger, but it’s not the best burger I’ve ever made.
So I was expecting something similar with Cincinnati chili. After all, it sounded kind of weird. Chili and spaghetti? Is this really a good idea?
Well, it turns out that Cincinnati really outdid itself on this one. It’s not only a good idea. It’s an amazing idea.
If you think about it, there’s a very fine line between a good chili and a classic Italian bolognese sauce. Maybe some spice differences (and some very American toppings like cheddar cheese and crackers).
But believe me when I say that it all works. It’s a big, hearty plate of food and I can’t think of a much better way to eat my way through a cold winter night.
1) In a medium pot, add oil over medium heat and cook onions and garlic until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Then add in all the spices and stir to combine.
2) Add beef to the pot and break up beef as it browns. Cook it for 5-6 minutes until it’s well browned and cooked through.
3) Add diced tomatoes and bay leaf and bring chili to a simmer. Turn heat down to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf.
4) Add chocolate, worcestershire sauce and drained and rinsed pinto beans to the chili. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
5) Cook spaghetti in salted boiling water until it’s al dente. Drain pasta and divide between plates.
6) Top each plate of spaghetti with a big heap of chili and all the toppings. Serve immediately!
Really Good Cincinnati Chili
The chili really is the star of this show so it’s a good idea to make it well. An onion and garlic are necessary and while I used ground beef, you could make a vegetarian version with mushrooms or just extra beans.
After doing some research, I learned that chili for this dish usually has some allspice in it which is a nice touch as well as a tiny hunk of chocolate. This kind of brings in a mole type feel to the chili. Again, it all works so just go with it.
Cook the onions and garlic until they turn translucent over medium heat with a drizzle of oil. Then add in all those lovely spices.
This will immediately smell good.
Add in the beef next and brown it well. Break it up as it cooks. Season the mixture as you cook it with salt and pepper.
Once the beef is browned, pour in the tomatoes and add a bay leaf. Cover the pot now and simmer this all over low heat for about 15 minutes. This will break down the sauce and combine the flavors. If the sauce looks too dry, feel free to add a little water to the pan.
Once the chili has simmered for awhile, add in the beans, Worcestershire sauce and chocolate. You just need a tiny amount of chocolate. It’ll really smooth out the flavors in the chili without giving it a noticeable chocolate flavor.
As with anything, taste this as you cook it and season the chili with salt and pepper. Keep it warm over low heat while you make the rest of the meal.
Spaghetti and Toppings
Cook the spaghetti as you would any pasta: in salted water. While it cooks, you can get your toppings ready. Cheese? Check. Scallions? Check. Crackers? Definitely check.
The crackers are my favorite part.
You know the rest.
Drain the pasta and pile some onto a plate. Top with a big heap of the chili and all of the toppings.
All of the toppings.
No need to go to Cincinnati, people. But man… they really did nail this one. I loved this pasta.