Italian Chicken Chili With Pancetta Croutons
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
- 3 pounds ground chicken
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and grated
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 4 jarred roasted red peppers, drained
- 4-5 sprigs thyme
- 2 tablespoons chili powder (a couple palmfuls)
- 2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika (2/3 palmful)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (eyeball it)
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 1/3 pound pancetta, sliced 1/8 inch thick and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
- 1 loaf crusty bread (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch squares
- 6 large cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Place a large, heavy pot over high heat with 1/4 cup EVOO, 4 turns of the pan. Add the chicken, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the onions, carrots and bay leaf to the pot and cook until browned, about 8 minutes more. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove pot from heat.
In a food processor, puree the roasted peppers then stir the puree into the pot. Add the thyme sprigs, chili powder, paprika and allspice, and season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken broth, place the pot back over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the fat from the surface, if desired.
While the chili is simmering, place a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining 1/4 cup EVOO and the pancetta, and cook until browned, 3-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate. Add butter to the skillet and turn off the heat.
Place bread and garlic in a large bowl. Pour melted butter evenly over the bread. Sprinkle the reserved pancetta, cheese, rosemary and lots of pepper over the bread and toss to coat. Place the cubes on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until golden, tossing occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool.
Discard bay leaf and thyme from the chili before serving. Ladle chili into mugs, if desired, with pancetta croutons on top.