In the song “Fifty Nifty United States,” from which this very column draws inspiration, there is no part more exciting than when it’s Ohio’s turn in the alphabetic list of states. OHIIIIIII-O! It’s very exciting, trust me.
That reason alone was enough to see me looking forward to this moment, the time when I would get to delve into the food that makes Ohio OHIIIIIII-O! I have been to the depths of the internet, and I am not disappointed.
First of all, readers of the Four-State Area, you should know Ohio is giving our beloved spaghetti red a run for its money with Cincinnati chili. More than 200 chili parlors serve their version of Cincinnati’s favorite, which is seasoned with cinnamon, allspice and similar flavors. Apparently it works.
There are no beans in Cincinnati chili, but beans are allowed to be served on top of the chili. The chili is served in a bowl, on top of spaghetti or on a hot dog, which is, without fail, called a coney.
Topped with shredded cheddar, diced onion and oyster crackers, Cincinnati chili is something I could fall in love with. If only they knew what pickles brought to the mix.
Another one that hits close to home is Ohio’s use of the small but mighty paw paw. The trees grow wild in Ohio, as they do here, and the fruit is abundant.
But there’s a catch: The sweet, custard-like fruit is packed with seeds, so you have to really love paw paws to bother. I believe paw paws have just gone out of season here, but if you know someone with trees, I’ll bet they have some in their fridge they’ll let you have. I find the fruit to be almost sickeningly sweet, but there’s a paw paw beer brewed in Ohio that sounds very doable.
Ohio loves a coney, but I don’t know if Cleveland’s signature sandwich qualifies as a coney, although there’s a sausage involved. Created in the 1940s by a restaurant owner who may have been cleaning out the fridge, a Polish boy is a kielbasa in a bun topped with coleslaw, fries and barbecue sauce.
These days it isn’t unheard of to find it on a menu with the addition of pulled pork. When you’re that far in, you may as well go all the way.
Try this recipe for a taste of Ohio.
- 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 4 cups water
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 large onion, minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, optional
Options for serving:
- Oyster crackers
- Finely shredded mild cheddar cheese
- Kidney beans, drained and warmed
- Minced yellow onion
- Hot cooked spaghetti
Cook the tomato paste: Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the tomato paste to the dry pot and cook, constantly scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, until the tomato smells rich and toasty and you start to see browned (not burned) patches in the bottom of the pot. This should take 1 to 3 minutes.
Combine the ingredients in a pot. Remove the pot from heat and add the ground beef and water. Return to medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring all the while. Add all the remaining ingredients except the vinegar and chocolate. Simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours: Stir the chili often.
Eat immediately, or let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, lift or scrape off any solidified fat from the top of the chili and discard.
Bring to a rapid simmer, then add the vinegar and chocolate. (The chocolate won’t make it taste sweet — it adds a hint of sophisticated complexity and acts as a foil for all those spices.) Serve in a bowl, on top of spaghetti or on a coney.
Recipe adapted from www.simplyrecipes.com.