Chipotle chili ragu with creamy polenta

Looking into chili's past inspired a dish that combines Old World and New. But it's still chili and cornbread

By Linda Shiue

Published February 1, 2011 1:30AM (EST)

For me, football holds no allure. I have zero understanding of the teams, the rules, and why people are so into it. The only thing I've gotten out of it was when I was nursing my first baby, and I learned about the "football hold," with the baby substituting for the ball.

When it comes time for Super Bowl parties, I'm more likely to be hanging out in the kitchen. I may not know about football, but I am comfortable at the stove. There, I'm ready. 

I've got a good chili recipe, and I also know a bit about its history, which helps me get creative while staying true to its roots. Chili, the official state dish of Texas, was first created by immigrants from the Canary Islands, Spain. These were the 400 or so families summoned by the king of Spain in 1719 to Texas. They founded the city of San Antonio, and their original recipe for chili, designed for long exploring expeditions, sounds less than appetizing: dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers (usually chilipiquenes) and salt, pounded together and left to dry into bricks. They packed these bricks to bring on their journeys and could then reconstitute them by boiling them in pots on the trail.

Unlike their new home on the frontier, the Canarians' native islands didn't have miles and miles of trails to explore, so it's likely that these chili bricks were an invention when they got to the New World, and a good example of the place the Canary Islands holds in some little-known culinary history. The Canary Islands were Christopher Columbus' main waystation for the two-way trade between the Old and New World. According to a fascinating article by Colman Andrews, "Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, chocolate and many other modern-day staples were brought east by Columbus and his successors; in turn, they introduced the New World to wheat, rice, sugar, chicken, lamb, beef and pork, as well as literally hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables, from the eggplant to the orange, the olive to the grape." 

It must have been an exciting time for food, with new flavors for both conquistadors and conquered.

To evoke this interesting bit of history, where Christopher Columbus sailed from Italy, met the Canary Islanders and introduced the New and Old Worlds, why not enjoy a variation on the classic Texan pairing of chili and cornbread? In this culinary history-inspired version of the Italian dish of corn porridge -- polenta with ragu -- I've topped a bowl of creamy and smooth polenta with a smoky chipotle chili.

Canary Island Polenta with San Antonio Chipotle Chili Ragu

Texans may protest this healthy version of chili, to which I say, give it a chance! I use turkey instead of beef and add a lot of vegetables and beans for taste, texture, color and nutrition. The slow burn of the cayenne and the smokiness of the chipotle are a nice contrast to the creamy smoothness of the polenta. 

Serves: 6-8

Chipotle Bean and Turkey Chili


  • 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 2 15-ounce cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 15.5-ounce cans of beans, rinsed and drained (any combination you like of black, kidney, pinto, etc.)
  • salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, pepper and carrots and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add cumin and stir well to combine.
  4. Add ground turkey, and increase to high heat, and cook until meat is well cooked.
  5. Add in tomatoes, water, chipotle and adobo sauce, oregano and cayenne. Reduce heat back to medium, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add beans and cook for another 20-30 minutes.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Creamy Polenta


  • 4 cups chicken stock or water
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups yellow polenta or cornmeal
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Garnishes: 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or cheddar cheese, a handful of minced fresh Italian parsley, minced onion


  1. Pour stock or water and cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Pour in polenta and whisk briskly to combine and prevent clumping. Reduce heat to low and continue to whisk constantly for about 10 minutes, until you have a thick porridge.
  3. Add butter and stir until melted. Serve topped with chili, grated cheese, parsley and minced onion.

Linda Shiue

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