Tuscan Chili

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Every Halloween, we have a big party for the kids and a chili cook-off for the adults, at our church.  Naturally I enjoy the competition, who wouldn’t right?  This takes me into my food “lab” where I come up with new chili recipes.  In fact, after we returned from Hawaii one year, I created “Maui Chili” with pineapple, pork and white beans.  Then one year, I concocted “Tuscan Chili” with typical Italian ingredients, including little mozzarella balls-yum!  Another year, I created a “Mexican Chili” using chorizo, fresh tomatillos and Mexican cheese.  They were all a hit and I actually won a couple of times too.  I even entered the Tuscan Chili in a cooking contest-although I didn’t win, I love this photo, which my dear friend Debbie took for me.  I thought, with a photo this nice, I would win for sure-not true unfortunately.  So now you get to enjoy the recipe and the photo too!

Tuscan Chili with Mozzarella Balls

1 package sweet Italian sausage
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
4-5 carrots, peeled and sliced
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
2-3 medium zucchini, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, then quartered
6 cans white kidney beans
1 can 28 oz plum tomatoes
1 can tomato paste, 2 cans water
2-3 T sugar
Fresh basil
Herbs de Provence, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, garlic granules and onion powder
1 container small mozzarella balls packed in water
Fresh parmesan cheese

Remove casings from sausage. Sauté sausage, onion, and garlic until cooked through. Put into crock-pot. Cut peppers into 1/2″ pieces. Peel and slice carrots. Clean and slice celery. Sauté all of these vegetables in olive oil for a few minutes; add to the crock-pot. You really don’t need to pre-cook these, but I think it enhances the flavor. Add zucchini, drained kidney beans, plum tomatoes (use juice; I cut them up with kitchen scissors) and tomato paste (with 2 cans of water-or omit for a thicker sauce). Stir to combine. Now the fun part…I never measure herbs so just go for it. I put in a nice handful of chopped fresh basil. The rest I just threw in but here’s my best guess…about 2 tsp. of Herbs de Provence (or Italian Herbs), 1-2 tsp of red pepper flakes (depending on how much heat you like) and 1 tsp salt, pepper, garlic and onion granules. After adding the spices, taste your chili and adjust as you like!

I cooked this concoction for about 4 hours on high and it filled my large crock-pot. Right before serving, I stirred in some fresh parmesan cheese and the mozzarella balls, which melted after about 5 minutes. Oh man was it ever good…Enjoy!!


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