Monday, February 28, 2011

What do Italy and tex-mex have in common?

OK, before I answer that, here's a photo of the Christmas present I made for my husband.
Christmas Quilt a la Jinny Beyer
  I have no idea how I managed to keep it a secret from him, but I did, and boy, was he surprised!  This isn't my usual style of quilt, and he thought I would never make it for him.....   We almost didn't get it back in one piece, though!  I usually send my machine quilting out to a lovely woman in Utah, and have never had any problem with the mail.  Last week, we were rushing out to the airport (in a snowstorm) for a short vacation in Florida when I happened to notice a box sitting in the street by our mailbox.  UPS knows to bring all packages to our door (we have a long driveway), but this must have been a new driver.  Can you imagine how horrified I was to realize that the box sitting in the snow (did you hear?  in the snow!... in the street!) was my quilt -- and we were about to leave for a week!  The hardest thing after rescuing it was not opening the box until we returned home.

Now, what do Italy and tex-mex have in common?  ... A fabulous recipe.  We lived in Italy many years ago, and I learned to make a true Bolognese sauce -- something that takes time and care, and when made properly, is absolutely sublime.  On the other hand, I've always loved a good chili, but couldn't figure out how to make one that lived up to my imagination.  A few weeks ago, I started thinking about this gaping hole in my culinary repertoire while I was making a Bolognese sauce, and was instantly struck by how similar they really are, except for the seasonings.  So I fiddled with my spices and changed direction mid-way through the cooking... instant (well, not so instant as you will see) chili!  Not only did this chili make me happy, it also made the notoriously difficult eaters in my family happy, too (and they've asked for it regularly ever since).  Here's the recipe:

1 or 2 carrots, diced
1 or 2 stalks of celery, diced
1 lg. onion, diced
1.5 lb. angus 85% lean ground beef
1.5 lb. ground pork
1/3 lb. pancetta, diced finely
milk, about 1/2 cup
3 Tb best quality chili powder, or ground ancho chilis to taste (add oregano and cumin if your chili powder doesn't include them)
3 bay leaves
5 or 6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers (add more for more heat - or use Frank's hot chili sauce at table, to taste)
1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, cut in large chunks
1 small can tomato paste
2 small cans diced tomatoes in liquid
pinto beans to taste (I am the only bean lover in my family, so I use one can, which I serve on the side.)
Saute onions, carrots, celery in butter or olive oil until translucent.  Add pancetta and continue to saute for a minute or so.  Add pork and ground beef and mix together with the aromatics over medium heat until well incorporated.  When the meat has lost all pinkness but is not browned, add milk and cover.  Simmer over low heat for 2 hours, stirring every half hour.  (I have an AGA cooker, so I just pop it into the simmering oven, but this could probably be done in a crock pot, too.)  After 2 hours, add the peppers, garlic, tomato paste, seasonings, canned tomatoes, and pinto beans (if using) and continue to cook for at least another hour, stirring occasionally.  Serve with grated cheddar cheese and fresh bread..... heaven.

(By the way, if you want to make an authentic Bolognese sauce, substitute Italian sausage removed from its casing for the ground pork, substitute ground veal for the ground beef, do not include any spices, peppers, or canned tomatoes -- use only the tomato paste.  Just make sure it cooks long and slow, and serve over your favorite pasta.)


bohemiannie! art said...

Thank you Kathleen! I sincerely appreciate you looking at my blog and even more your very thoughtful comment.
I'm so happy that you found your quilt before taking off to Florida. It was meant to be. (You must be living right). :) is gorgeous. Reminds me of one of those ancient, rich tapestries. Keep up the great work.

Kathleen said...

I have to add a post-script.... my friends from Bologna were horrified that I said you should use Italian sausage for the Bolognese sauce. I should clarify: the sausage can't have fennel in it! My local butcher doesn't put fennel in the Italian sausage, but I guess many do. Often I'll just use an American pork sausage such as Jimmy Dean's, or plain ground pork. But no fennel -- my friends were adamant on this point!