If the gang is going to descend on you the night of Jan. 26 for the annual Super Bowl extravaganza, you needn't panic.
Keep things simple and the food part of the show, at least, will be a snap. Why? Because you'll make everything in advance: chill the beverages, the main event and dessert a day ahead and at the last minute heat up the main dish -- a casserole of genuine Ohio River five-part chili.
Bowl buffets have a way of focusing attention on looking, not conversing, so the appetizer should be passable, a plate snack that doesn't interfere with looking at the tube. Parboil flowerets of broccoli, cauliflower and slices of carrot in salted water for about 2 minutes. Drain, dry and chill, overnight if you like, and serve with your favorite dip. The main dish is unabashedly a diner-type specialty from the days of Jimmy Cagney, John Dillinger and G-men chasing the bad guys.
It's Five-way Cincinnati Chili, and it hearkens back to the early days of the 20th century, when many Greek immigrants picked the riverside Ohio port as their new home. The result, though southern Ohio right down to its garlic cloves, is a close cousin of delicious Greek layered baked dishes, though this particular preparation is simply assembled and heated.
The "five-way" title for Cincinnati's chili specialty comes from the fact that it includes five elements stacked on top of each other: pasta, sauce, kidney beans, chopped onions and Cheddar cheese. It begs for an escort of garlic bread, French or Italian style -- though the traditional Ohio escort for the meal is a plate of oyster crackers.
Beer does not, to our taste, form a versatile escort for classic dishes. But in this instance, and because of the piquancy of the casserole, we recommend cold beer as the chaser for your TV warriors.
As a side dish for this extravaganza, we suggest a real green leaf salad, simply greens, spinach, romaine, Boston lettuce, leaf lettuce and a tad of escarole with ribbed pieces of chopped celery and chopped watercress. Almost any proportion will do, but let the Boston or leaf lettuce predominate. Any vinaigrette sauce that is not too loud will be the perfect escort for the greens. Wash them and whirl them dry or let them air dry, then place in a large, airtight plastic bag and refrigerate overnight without adding the dressing.
For the vinaigrette, just shake up a crushed clove of garlic in a mixture of 3/4 cup of olive or canola oil and 1/4 cup of wine vinegar, to which you have added as much wet mustard as will stay on a fork and about 1/8 teaspoon of salt.
Various recommendations are made about when to serve your pro-bowl dinner. Frequently mentioned is slipping the buffet on about 15 minutes into the second quarter of the game. Don't bet on half-time being long enough to get everyone fed.
Your main challenge will be assembling the chili sauce that is to ennoble your Cincinnati casserole. The recipe comes from the folksy and wonderful "Square Meals," by Jane and Michael Stern @(Knopf, 1984, $8.95).
Cincinnati five-way chili
3 pounds of ground chuck, ground twice
6 small to medium onions
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups tomato sauce
6 tablespoons ketchup
3 cups water
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons paprika
3 teaspoons ground black pepper
3 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, grated
1 1/2 teaspoon EACH of ground cumin, turmeric, marjoram, allspice, cinnamon, and dried, crumbled bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon EACH of nutmeg, ground cloves, mace, coriander and cardamom
3 teaspoons salt
This large list of meat and spice with onions is cooked in a very large cast-iron skillet or pot that has been salted. Start by using only about 2/3 of the recommended spice amounts, taste and add more. The proportions given are those recommended by the Sterns for the real Ohio article.
On medium heat you add to the pot meat, onions and garlic and cook until all the meat is browned. Add tomato sauce, ketchup, water and vinegar. As the mixture begins to boil, add everything else. Adjust spices to taste, adding more salt if it needs perking up -- turmeric and cumin for a hotter chili flavor; cinnamon, cloves and mace if you want it sweeter, cardamom for more bang; unsweetened chocolate for body.
Cover and simmer at very low heat for about 1 hour, stirring and tasting occasionally, adding tomato juice if it is getting too dry to ladle up easily.
The five layers as assembled:
Layer No. 1: 24 ounces of thick spaghetti or macaroni, (perciatelli), broken into 4-inch pieces and boiled in salted water to which 2 tablespoons of olive oil has been added. Drain when al dente and add a stick of sweet butter when pasta is still hot. Spread the pasta out as a support layer for the four other ingredients, covering the bottom of an oven-to-table serving dish.
Layer No. 2: Cover the pasta with chili, ladling on enough to cover noodles.
Layer No. 3: Add canned kidney beans (about two to three 16-ounce cans, drained) to cover chili layer.
Layer No. 4: Add four to six medium onions, finely chopped, to cover chili
Layer No. 5: Spread Cheddar cheese to cover everything (about 2 pounds, grated).
You may find that this will make so much bulk that you will have to use two containers. However, a standard 14-inch oven-proof will hold surprising amounts of food for heating, and so will "brownie" pans in the larger sizes. Refrigerate your casserole and heat slowly about 35 minutes before serving.
For dessert, we would suggest something sweet and relatively light, perhaps frozen peach yogurt served in compotes. For an elegant touch, lace a pint of vanilla yogurt with three or four drops of almond extract and a few dashes of Angostura bitters. )) Ladle the vanilla yogurt on the peach yogurt and serve with vanilla wafers and coffee. Like the chili spectacular, this dish can be prepared in advance of the show, and not in competition with it. Prepare and store in the freezer.