Recipe: Chili

Some things just can’t be improved on. This is the only chili for me; I posted it way back when:

December 16, 2006

The Best Chili I ever made (or how to make the people happy)

I ‘m going to give you a chili recipe for your Saturday night crowd to beat the band and make whomever happens to walk in your door tonight and ask for a beer or dinner happier than they have been with just any old chili for a long, long time. I know what I say about not worrying about what other people want to eat, but there are nights when you don’t have time to mess around with your feelings of just needing people to say, “YES!” and “I LOVE THIS.”

This is adapted from Havana Moon. I took out the raisins and the almonds, but if you like the idea, add a little handful of each. I like the raisins and the nuts, but I feel they get in the way of my chili, so I like to offer them as a garnish instead with sour cream, chives, chopped tomato and cheddar cheese.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground chuck
2 cups of chicken broth or water
one 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, halved
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups cooked white rice
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook until soft and caramelized. Add the pork and beef, and cook until browned. Drain off the excess fat.

Add the chicken broth and tomatoes, squashing each tomato by hand before adding it. Stir in the vinegar, (raisins), spices, and salt. Bring to a boil; add the beans, reduce the heat and cook 30 minutes, partially covered. Uncover and cook for 30 minutes more. Add the olives and (almonds) and cook an additional 5 minutes.
Serve with the rice. I love a salad of green onions, slivered zucchini, olive oil, lemon, garlic, salt and cilantro with this.

Things to do at the airport

I knew her before I even saw my name on the sign.   I knew her when I saw her because that is my kind of crazy to meet up at London Heathrow between Rome and JFK with an hour to run from one plane to the next.  And it takes one to know one.   At passport control:
“How long will you be staying ma’am?”
“Thirty five minutes.” The customs man looks up.  
“What’s your plan ma’am”?
“I’m going to run out there, introduce myself to somebody, and hug them.  Then I,m going to come back in here.”
He checked my passport.  ”Cheers.”
I met Fiona!  We sat in the coffee bar across from arrivals and talked about our kids and our mothers and gardening and then she walked me to security and hugged me again.  I can tell you she is absolutely beautiful.

They led me on.

There I was, so proud of myself. Sitting all smug in my chair at the airport with the grin of a Cheshire cat, holding a red ticket. In the land of Alitalia, a red ticket means one thing: First Class. I had entered Fiumicino on economy and had worked my way up. My friend told me she got bumped up from DC to Italy purely on patience and manners and I was determined to compete. I got up at 5 am, brushed my teeth, and shoved my feet into the tight shoes of doing the right thing.
I got to the check in counter. I smiled. I said “How are you doing?”
“There is no check in until 11.” It was 10. “Ohhhhh.” I nodded like a weeble wobble.
At 11 I came back. I smiled and handed over my passport.
“No ma’am, you’re not on this flight.”
I could feel a little tear in the stitching of the sole but you couldn’t see it in my face.
“You need to get a bus to Terminal 5.”
“A bus?”
“I don’t know if they are going to let you on the flight, but you need to get the bus. You’re late. If you’re going to New York, you’re late.”
“Where is the bus?”
“It’s out there.” Out there is so huge.
“Okey doke. Thank you. Have a good one.”
Smile, run. Bus. Terminal 5. No one. Off the bus. One flight attendant moving a sign.
“Hi,” I said. I smiled. “New York,” I asked? She shook her head. “I’m sure I’m early. I left so early this morning.” I gave another smile.
“No more flights. Terminal 3.”
RUN to catch the bus pulling away from Terminal 5. Back to original Terminal 3. I hand over my passport.
“You know, I must not have mentioned that I was definitely on this flight.”
She asks me to give up my carry on. I may have pushed my shoulders back. I may have done that.
“Sure. Here you go.” I hand over the bag.
She printed out the red ticket. I said not a word. I took my red ticket and walked right up to the first class security line. They didn’t let me through, but fair enough, I didn’t mind. I just kept thinking about those red tickets. Who needs to be in a first class security line? I walked past coffee bars and pizza slices, bagged almonds and cornetti. I bought nothing. I was holding out for delicious. I was starving, I had a cookie for breakfast and I was waiting for First Class, who was purring to me.
I took a walk to my favorite spot for foccaccia stuffed with fresh mozzarella and sauteed spinach. I bought myself a Pepsi. No sandwich. First Class.
They called our flight. It’s the first time I have ever been on a big plane with two rows of first class. I was in seat number 3C, right behind the curtain. Every time the flight attendant moved his way from one end of the plane to the other, the corner hit me in the face. And between Rome and London, no food for economy. On offer was 6 rosemary essenced twiglets with a half glass of water.
I kept the faith. I was flying from London to New York. In London I tried again. I stood in the first class line, they looked at me and let me through. I let out a “YES!” Yes I did. And then I boarded the plane, paused, waited for my beautiful red ticket to be noticed, and then was waved on.. I hadn’t even looked. 26D. Red for nothing. Red to lead me on. Red to make me patient, civil and well behaved for nothing.
Perfectly good opportunities to scream and yell, gone for good.

We were both mislead


We are having guests for dinner tonight. It will be chicken seared and stuffed with rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and mascarpone. best to make something u know when my husband always says. No need to push the envelope. First course, roasted eggplant, tomato and basil. Hard to resist getting complicated, but I,m keeping my shoes on that road, and walking. Next the chicken, with all of it,s lovely pan juices, and dressed string beans and a side of soft polenta. next a beautifully aged pecorino, made in Umbria but in the tradition of Sardegna (that,s what it says and that,s what I believe.) and for dessert, why have one when u can have two? roasted plums and red grapes on a short crust with a side of fallen chocolate and cream.

Recipe: sausage and lentils

When the wind is whipping through the fields and wrapping itself around the house, it,s time to light the fire and set a pan of tiny Norcia lentils on the stove. Simmer with plenty of water to cover, a garlic clove, a piece of tomato, a stalk of parsley, a chunk of onion and a goodmspill of beautiful olive oil. Give them a little sea salt and let them be until tender. In a pan close by, sauté finally chopped onions (2 per pund of lentils) a carrot and a stalk of celery with a whole head of garlic whacked in half and dropped into the mix as is. add a few sage leaves and a good stalk of rosemary. cook them over a medium heat with plenty of attention. Soffritto is like a five year old, the appearance of independent, but the truth is they need you. When well caramelized, seed and chop a few good, ripe tomatoes and warm through. remove from the pan and add sausages that u have boiled before hand to remove the fat. sear well on all sides. combine everything, lifting the lemtils from their cooking water to the pot of sausages and onions, leaving the liquid behind. Use only as much as u need to make it soupy, but not soup. and add a good por of chianti. Let it simmer, and taste for salt, pepper and more chianti. finish with a good pour of olive oil. If u are out of the lovely stuff, or have yet to find it, let it be. (when u sip good olive oil, I t should taste like the fruit of the olive, like fresh cut grass, and leave no greasy feel on your lips.)
Let sit for half an hour and then reheat gently.
serve with fried zucchini, arugula leaves and any leftover gorgonzola dolce dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, a platter of good prosciutto and the summer,s last melon, and a plate of roasted cauliflower, carrots and red onions. a bowl of green olives with a drizzle of olive oil and a shower of lemon zest is nice as well.
for dessert: a country classic of fresh ricotta, stirred into a bit of mascarpone, with a little sugar and espresso powder (not instant) added to finish. serve in little cups with shavings of chocolate.

don,t forget the crouton

There’s nothing wrong with braised ribs in white wine, garlic and rosemary with savoy cabbage and a slice of gorgonzola dolce on the side. could have used some big crunchy croutons but other than that we were tante felice.
to make the croutons:
Cut a loaf of good ciabatta into 1 to 2 inch squares. toast at 400 degrees. when golden, remove from the oven and let fall a thin stream of your best olive oil and a squall of sea salt.


Hasn’t rained for two months in Mercatale di Cortona, until yesterday. Shutters and doors were banging all night long. I got up for a minute and stood in the middle of the room as if that might help. Then went back to bed an waited for morning. French toast for breakfast, which makes no sense in the middle of Italy, except when u have a pile of bread, a basket of eggs and local honey. My roots travel with me. Beat eggs with a fork til combined; add a little spill of milk, a tiny pinch of salt and a bigger pinch of sugar for each egg. I used a little more salt since they typical bread here is without. Heat butter in the pan til it quiets down. Add the soaked bread and fry on both sides.

For the love of chocolate

When I went to the grocery store this morning in Mercatale, Aldo was in trouble for having left cardboard cartons in his grocery cart after he left the store. Word went down the line. We agreed that certain customers have no respect, we considered how long it takes to push a cart back out the door, the responsibilities involved in owning a grocery, and no time at all on Aldo. They prefer to set Aldo straight when he’s still in the store. No sense wasting their breath. Aldo always does the shopping. He insists. His wife sits in the car and waits. The groceries are a front. He wouldn’t dare with the women of the village, but his courage is unsatiable with foreigners. I glare at the oranges and look as hostile and indifferent as possible by packs of coffee. I’m twice his size and have twice the teeth, but it makes no difference. He’s fearless. I lose him by hiding behind a massive dairy delivery. When he’s left his cart and cartons, I grab 5 dark chocolate bars, 100 g each, 250 g of butter, 5 eggs and a palm of sugar (for half a cup.) All worth it for a chocolate jonty. Melt the chocolate and butter, beat together the eggs and sugar and bake at 350 in a bagnia Maria. serve with ample amounts of softly whipped cream and berries steeped in red wine.


Ferdinand has started school. He came home the first day my husband said, and declared he wanted to change his life for another one. In his mind, he’s not big on school. In my mind, he loves it. This is how each of us makes it through the day. How can he not love a whole day with 24 other children? “Mom” 19 of them are girls, and the girls don’t want to talk to boys this year.”
I can’t see him or touch him or smell him through the telephone, but my sense is, it’s the first week, and he,s all right.
I asked him to be sure to at least drink a glass of juice before he went to school and that he ate his lunch and to remember always that I love him now and before and forever and ever.

Zucchini flowers

If there are zucchini flowers in front of you, what are you to do? You can,t just leave them there-fragile as a Monarch wing, yellow as a taxi cab, with a lifespan of an afternoon. You need to get frying. What is life without a tender, crisped zucchini flower stuffed with the tiniest piece of mozzarella di bufala and a torn leaf of basil sizzled in olive oil from hilltop trees in one hand and a glass of proseco in the other, the gentle breeze of September, clearing the heat of the late afternoon if you are there, and the blossoms are there and the breeze is waiting.
Make a slurry of flour, fizzy water, a pinch of salt and a beaten egg. It should be the consistency of crepe batter. remove the stemen and stem of the flower. wrap it around a blotted piece of mozzarella and basil, dip in the batter and fry in a half inch of olive oil. Turn when deep golden brown and season as soon as they are done with salt.
We fried flowers, we rolled gnocchi and we braised ribs. we ripped yesterday,s bread into bits and tossed it with cut tomatoes, fried garlic and parsley and salted capers, and used it to cover strips of red and yellow peppers before we shoved them in the oven. for dessert, tiramisu.