When I was in junior high school, my step-father often made dinner. He was a fireman and usually did all of the cooking on his shift. So in 1984 when the city held a fireman's chili cookoff, which pinned all the firehouses in the city against each other to determine which one made the best chili, my step-father played around and came up with his own recipe. And he won! But then again, how could anything that starts by cooking green peppers in half a cup of butter now win?
"I went through about five recipes and had feelings about certain spices and ingredients and then added some of my own," Donati said. "I think the wine is the key ingredient. It gives the chili some body and an aroma." Another reason Donati believes he clinched the title is that he cuts the onion and green pepper in large pieces instead of mincing them.
For us it was so exciting! We were dragged downtown to a crowded convention center with a bunch of people tasting chili and the next thing we know, they announced our step-father as the winner and the newspapers were flashing photos of us all giving him hugs. The picture on the front page of the food section that week was my sister getting a hug from him - you could only see the reflection from my glasses in the photo. As part of the prizes he won a few weekend stays at Hyatt hotels and his chili was added to the menu at the a downtown restaurant for a while.
Like myself, my step-father never really made the same thing twice, so we didn't keep eating that chili over and over. It was pretty much just a one time great food related memory. I did dig out the recipe though and made it for myself. My whole family sampled it again and the general consensus was that it needed salt! How the heck did this win and get published in a newspaper and all that without any salt in it? Oh well, if you make it, I suggest adding some of your own. Because if you add some cheese, onions and a little salt, it's really yummy!
Below is the recipe as printed in the Chicago Tribune on October 11, 1984.
½ cup butter for frying
1 pound green peppers, seeded, coarsely chopped
3 cups chopped onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds coarsely ground chuck
1 pound coarsely ground pork
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cumin
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons hot chili powder
1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, chopped
1 can (10½ ounces) beef broth
1 cup dry red wine, such as burgundy
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
½ teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 cans (16 ounces each) dark red kidney beans
Melt butter in a large skillet and saute peppers about 10 minutes. Add onions and garlic; cook 5 more minutes. Add beef and port mixture; increase heat to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink, ab out 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in cumin, basil, cayenne, black pepper and chili powder. Stir in tomatoes, beef broth, wine, tomato paste, hot red pepper and salt. Simmer, covered, about 1½ hours.
Add kidney beans; simmer for an additional 45 minutes. Serve with extra sharp shredded cheddar cheese.
Note: For a milder version, use only 3 tablespoons of chili powder and ½ teaspoon cayenne.
See more hearty recipes for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays hosted weekly by Kahakai Kitchen.