Thursday, December 15, 2011

White Chili with Chicken and Fennel

It’s been raining in my neck of the woods, on and off, for a week now.  We’ve  been struggling with record-breaking drought and heat this year, though, which means I’m not allowed to be annoyed by the suddenly omnipresent clouds and drizzle–we need every drop of moisture we can squeeze out of the sky.

So, this afternoon, I decided to make the best of the cold weather by making a big batch of chili.   I wanted something a little different than the usual beef-and-kidney bean concoction, though; I had a package of ground chicken that needed to be put to use and a hankering for something more savory than spicy.  That’s when I happened upon this recipe by Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis, and  I was sold the minute I realized the recipe was seasoned with fennel seeds.

Fennel is, in my humble opinion, a sadly underused spice.  The Hubs and I fell in love with it while living in Iowa City, where our favorite pizza place used large quantities of fennel in its pizza sauce.  The bulb, fronds, and seeds of the fennel plant are all used in cooking, and each has a slightly different flavor; the seeds have a slightly licoricey taste. (And if you’re thinking that you won’t like it because you can’t stand licorice–well, I don’t like licorice either, but I just love fennel.  Go figure.)

This recipe also features Swiss chard–which, like its fellow dark leafy greens, is packed full of nutritional goodness.  If you don’t have chard on hand and don’t want to make a trip to the grocery store to buy it, a package of chopped, frozen spinach (thawed and squeezed dry, of course) would be a perfectly acceptable substitute.  If you go with the fresh chard, you may be afraid that you’re using too much when you stir it into your chili.  Never fear, though; the chard is going to wilt in the heat of the chili before you know it.  One bunch of chard is exactly the right amount to give this chili some color and nutritional oomph.

Finally, if you’d prefer a vegetarian version of this recipe, just add a third can of beans and use vegetable broth in place of chicken broth–the fennel is the star here, and it will shine through either way.  I’ve adjusted the quantities of other spices to make sure fennel gets its much-deserved moment in the sun.


White Chili with Chicken and Fennel


2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground chicken
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 T. (heaping) fennel seeds
1 T. dried oregano
1 T. chili powder
2 T. flour
2 cans (15 oz.) white beans (like Great Northern), rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
3 cups chicken broth
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed, cut into bite-size chunks
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and allow it to soften, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to coat with the olive oil; add the ground chicken, breaking it into chunks as it begins to brown.

Sprinkle the chicken with the salt, cumin, fennel seeds, oregano, and chili powder. Stir until the chicken is evenly coated with the spices. Allow the chicken to continue cooking for another five minutes, then sprinkle with flour and stir again. Make sure all the flour is sticking to the chicken before you add the beans, corn, and chicken broth.

Stir everything together and allow the broth to come to a simmer while you cut up the chard. Use a sharp knife to cut the green leaves away from the center stems, then cut the leaves into bite-size pieces. Stir the chard into the simmering broth; it will wilt and soften as it heats up.

Simmer the chili for about an hour, uncovered, until the broth has reduced and thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.

Inspired by a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis

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