This recipe almost developed itself as I tried to figure out how to incorporate my leftover ball of fresh mozzarella in chili. I decided to replace many of the ingredients in a traditional chili with the Italian counterpart. Spices like cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and garlic powder were replaced with red chile flakes, dried oregano, fresh basil, fresh rosemary and garlic. Cannellini beans stood in for black and kidney beans, while balsamic vinegar and lemon zest took over for beer and cider vinegar. Cheddar? Who needs it when you have freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and hunks of melting fresh mozzarella?
And, to top it off, I ate the leftovers with pasta — and it was fantastic.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat, add the onions and cook until translucent, lowering the heat to medium and stirring occasionally, about 6-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, and stirring to brown all of the meat. Cook for about 3-4 more minutes, then add the tomatoes.
After a couple of minutes, when the tomatoes soften, break them up with a wooden spoon and combine with the meat. Add the herbs, spices and lemon zest, stirring well. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, adding the beans for the last 5 minutes, or until it has reached desired thickness.
Ladle into bowls, top with the basil, and the 2 cheeses, using your hands to rip up the mozzarella. It's always a good idea to serve the extra mozzarella on the side as it's incredibly tempting to continue adding more to the chili. If desired, you can also serve with a piece of toasted Italian country bread.