Cincinnati’s signature dish – Cincinnati Chili — would be largely unrecognizable as “chili” in Texas. The best chili joints in Houston, Dallas, Austin or San Antonio would have more than a spot of bother with the notion that something containing chocolate, cinnamon and allspice and served over spaghetti could possibly be called “chili.”
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In Cincinnati’s chili parlors it would be unimaginable otherwise.
Having enjoyed a Skyline Chili years ago on a visit to Cincinnati I was familiar with the ways of Cincinnati Chili. At Skyline – or just about any other chili parlor in Cincinnati – you order based on the following ingredient series: chili, spaghetti, grated cheddar cheese, diced onions, and kidney beans. The number before the “way” of the chili determines which ingredients are included in your order. So, if you order “One-way” (or just a “bowl”) you get chili in a bowl. If you order “Two-way” you get a plate of spaghetti with the chili on top. “Three-Way” and the chili is topped with a mound of grated cheddar cheese. Order “Four-Way” and diced onions top the cheese. “Five-Way” brings kidney beans to the party. Oyster crackers are a common accompaniment regardless of the “Way.”
These “Ways” are more than just the manner in which one orders Cincinnati Chili; to the extent that the dish has a national profile it tends to be what is known. But to one from Cincinnati it is not the “Ways” that characterize their chili; it is the chili itself. Where most chili con carne is characterized by the flavors of chili peppers, garlic, onions, and cumin, Cincinnati chili is characterized by the aromas and flavors of sweeter spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice or chocolate.
The flavors of Cincinnati Chili are a function of the dish’s Balkan heritage. The dish was originated by Tom and John Kiradjieff, two Macedonian immigrants, who in 1922 began serving a version ofchili con carne graced with the flavors of their homeland from a hot dog stand outside the Empress Theater. The success of that stand led them to open a Chili Parlor nearby bearing the “Empress” name. That success inspired a former Empress employee, Nicholas Lambrinides (a Greek immigrant) to Skyline Chili. Other imitators – including Gold Star Chili and Dixie Chili – ensued. It is said that the greater Cincinnati area now sports over 250 Chili Parlors.
For our Cincinnati Chili tailgate we sought to reimagine the dish the way an high end restaurant might: staying true to the essential flavors of the original while presenting them in a new, different and more elegant manner…all on the Qualcomm Stadium tarmac. Instead of the Spaghetti that characterizes all the “Ways” but “One-Way” we went to a different pasta: ravioli. We took the cheddar cheese from the top of the chili and used it to stuff the ravioli.
The Texans might not recognize our version as chili con carne either…
Ravioli with “Four Way” Cincinnati Chili
For the Pasta
- 2 cups semolina flour
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 5 eggs
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 pinch salt
For the Filling
- 1 cup ricotta
- 2/3 cup good quality cheddar cheese (not the day-glo yellow supermarket stuff), grated
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
- 1 egg yolk
For the Chili
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 pound extra-lean ground beef
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or 1/2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
For the Garnish
- 3 shallots, finely chopped
- Good quality cheddar, shredded
- Fresh Oregano
Make the Pasta. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with its dough hook, mix the pasta ingredients and knead into a smooth, soft dough. Stretch the layer of pasta to a thickness of less then 1/16 of an inch (on a pasta machine, take it to its last notch).
Make the Filling. Prepare the Filling. Combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Make the Raviolis. Lay one sheet of pasta on a floured surface, and place heaping teaspoons of the filling on the pasta at 1 1/2-inch intervals, in lines 1 1/2 inches apart, until you have covered half the sheet. Brush the edges of the dough with water, and fold over the uncovered side of the dough. Pinch edges to seal. Using a fluted pastry wheel cut down the length of the dough between the mounds of filling. Then cut each strip into individual ravioli parcels. Pinch and crimp all edges with a fork to seal, using a little water if necessary. Repeat with all dough and all filling. Arrange the ravioli in a single layer on a floured dish towel, and let them dry for about ½ an hour, turning them over after 15 minutes.
Make the Chili. In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté onion, ground beef, garlic, and chili powder until ground beef is slightly cooked. Add allspice, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, unsweetened cocoa or chocolate, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, and water. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour 30 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Plate the Dish. Ladle Cincinnati Chili mixture over the cooked raviolis and garnish with minced shallots, grated cheese and fresh oregano.
Some more of the flavor of the Chargers-Bengals Tailgate in pictures: