Italian chicken chili with pancetta coutons.

As a student, it’s not always easy to buy local, or cook the kind of meals we really want to eat (hence the Kraft Dinner we find hiding away in our cupboards). But this year, let the The Argosy’s food column take care of all your culinary needs! Cooking healthy meals shouldn’t have to cost a fortune, and so we’ll help you learn to make easy and affordable meals that support local businesses. Try these recipes for yourself—and don’t be afraid to get creative!  This was one of the first dishes I ever made for my family. It’s comforting, warm and perfect for this cold time of year.

Italian Chicken Chili with Pancetta Croutons

This dish tastes better the longer it simmers, so feel free to make it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It tastes even better as leftovers, if there are any! This recipe uses lots of easy to find ingredients, takes very little effort, and it tastes fantastic. Your roommates will be begging for the recipe!

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 3 lbs. ground chicken/pork*

Salt and pepper

2 onions, chopped

2-3 carrots, peeled and grated

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

4 jarred roasted red peppers (found near the pickles)

4-5 sprigs or 1 tbsp. dried thyme

2 tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1 32 ounce container (4-5 cups) chicken broth (depends on desired thickness)

1/3 pound pancetta or thick cut bacon, finely chopped**

3 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces

1 loaf crusty bread, cut into one-inch squares (day old sourdough/baguette is best)

6 large cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese

3 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

In a large pot heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned, and season with salt and pepper for about five minutes. Next, add the carrots, onions and bay leaf and cook until browned,  which will take another eight minutes. Add the balsamic, chicken broth and keep pot on simmer. In a blender or food processor, blend red peppers into a smooth paste (puree) and add to the pot then add thyme, chili powder paprika and all spice, simmer on low heat.

Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook pancetta until crispy about three to five minutes, and transfer to a small plate. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and add the butter to the pancetta drippings. Place bread and garlic into a large bowl, and pour the butter mixture evenly over the bread. Proceed to add the pancetta, cheese, rosemary and lots of pepper. Coat the bread and place it on a baking sheet, and bake for ten to fifteen minutes, flipping the bread around every five minutes.

Once the chili is ready to be served, remove the thyme springs and bay leaf. Serve the chili in bowls and top with the pancetta croutons; serve with a simple salad and a great red wine.

*Substitute a mix of kidney beans and sautéed mushrooms and vegetable broth for a vegetarian alternative

**Pancetta is the Italian cousin of bacon— it is cured like bacon but not smoked.

Tip: This works in a slow cooker: Brown ground chicken and vegetables then add spices and liquids, and cook on high for at least four hours.

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