Cincinnati Chili Spaghetti Squash

Ready for something lighter?

I am.

Even with a non-traditional Thanksgiving spread that wasn't as heavy as the classic feast, I was feeling a tad over-fed this past weekend. By Sunday, once I had stopped trying to use up leftover caramel sauce by putting it on pancakes and moved on to just putting it on my spoon, I knew it was time for a good veggie-heavy meal. But with cheese of course, because you know, it's still the holiday season and it's cold outside and we still need to gain our winter layers. 

Have you tried Cincinnati-style chili? One of my college roommates was from Cincinnati and the first time she told me about their chili, I was understandably unconvinced. To me, chili meant ground beef, spicy spices, and maybe some beans (shut up, Texas!), not cinnamon and cocoa. It was acceptable to add to baked potatoes or french fries or maybe a hot dog, but putting it on spaghetti sounded like a terrible idea. Then, I went to Cincinnati and I tried it. We went to Skyline and I got a basic three-way with spaghetti, chili, and a mountain of shredded cheddar. Bizarrely, this whole thing came with a side of oyster crackers. The cocoa and cinnamon compliment the warmth of the other spices, the noodles soak it all up, and the cheddar was so obviously mandatory.  I wouldn't say I was converted to this being the correct way to make chili, but I added it to my list of acceptable ways (not a purist, here).

Since I was looking for a lighter meal here, I swapped beans for beef in this version, but it's ok, because they just happen to be the extra ingredient that gets you to a five-way. Instead of chopped white onions that give you  a four-way, I swapped them out for non-traditional green onions, because I had them wilting in my fridge and they are prettier anyway. Finally, instead of noodles, I poured my chili on top of a roasted spaghetti squash (see what I did there?) for an extra dose of veggies, before making it rain cheddar over the whole thing. You're allowed to leave out the oyster crackers but seriously, no skimping on the cheese. In the end, I think I ended up with sort of a four-way? Don't worry about the math. Worry instead about putting it in your mouth as soon as possible.

Maybe the best part? After toiling in the kitchen all last week this is easier to whip up than it is to spell Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Chili Spaghetti Squash

Makes 4 servings.

Chili recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated.

olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tbs chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cocoa powder
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 cup tomato sauce
1 or 2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
4 oz grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 large spaghetti squash

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and prick squash all over using a fork. Roast spaghetti squash whole, 90 minutes, flipping halfway through. 
  2. Meanwhile, make chili.  Heat a tbs or so of oil in a medium pot over medium high heat. Cook onions until softened and starting to color, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant, then add all the spices and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add broth, water, vinegar, brown sugar, and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add beans and simmer for another 30 minutes, until mixture is thickened and deep red. Keep warm until ready to serve.
  4. When squash is finished roasting (can easily be pierced with a fork), let cool enough to handle and then cut the squash lenghwise in half.  Remove seeds, then, using a fork, shred the squash into it's spaghetti strands and then season with salt and pepper (and a little butter, if desired).
  5. Ladle chili over the squash and top generously with cheese. Serve hot.