Growing up, my family would get together every sunday for dinner with my Grandparents. As traditional Italians, the meal consisted of macaroni and gravy, with a simple side salad and some butter cookies for dessert. Though the menu was the same each week, I had dozens of times to practice my macaroni:sauce:cheese ratio. I quickly found out that I had an extraordinarily disproportioned plate, heavily emphasizing the sauce and cheese, and eventually exchanged my plate for a bowl. Now, let the records show that I have nothing against pasta. I eat it, covered in creamy bechamel, garlic wine, and rich vodka sauces. But for some reason, I’d much rather ditch the pasta and just take a spoon to a full bowl of any/all red sauces. That’s what inspired this dish – I needed to put together a recipe for a red sauce that was supposed to be eaten on it’s own, sans pasta.
-1 lb ground chicken (or beef)
-2 cans san marzano peeled tomatoes
-half a small can of tomato paste
-2 large zucchini
-half a large onion
-2t minced garlic
-2t red pepper flakes
-2t dried italian spices
-fresh basil, 6-10 leaves
-salt & pepper
-cheese, to top
Preheat your oven to 350. While you’re waiting for the oven to heat, cut your basil, onion, zucchini and mushrooms, but keep the onions separate from the mix – place the basil aside for later. Drizzle each vegetable with olive oil, and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the crunch you’d like to keep in your chili. I baked the zucchini/mushroom combo for 10 minutes, and the onions for 30. While the vegetables are cooking, fully cook the ground chicken in a large skillet, and set aside when done. Once the onions are done, add them to a food processer with some minced garlic, salt, and pepper, and puree. This, is an amazing secret. This onion/garlic puree packs so much flavor into your recipe, and by roasting the onions before hand, you take away that onion bite that you don’t want in a sauce, and diffuses the garlic through the dish without using any powdered spices. Try it.
Next, sautee the garlic/onion mixture with the tomato paste and the herbs in a large pot, for about 3-5 minutes, just until it’s all combined and the spices become fragrant. Next, add the 2 cans of tomatoes, and break up the whole pieces with a wooden spoon. Add in the chicken, vegetables, basil, and red pepper flakes, and stir. Allow this to come together in a low simmer for about an hour – until fully heated through. I don’t have a big enough pot to handle this amount of sauce, so I put all of the ingredients together in a crock pot and let the flavors meld on low for 3 hours.
The result is amazing. Chunky, hearty, spicy, and light chili-sauce that is good enough to stand on it’s own. I topped each serving with some fresh basil and a combination of shredded parmesan and asiago cheese. This recipe is easily adjustable to your preferences – add more spice or add eggplant as a meat replacement. I can’t wait to share this one with my family!