Okay, friends. It’s getting cooler and it’s getting darker. We’ve got a solid block of NFL football from Thursday through Sunday. It’s time for some real one-dish comfort food. Have I got the thing for you!
Jesse, inspired by this recipe from the delightful Megan over at Cooking Whims, prepared the inaugural version of this casserole/bake/hot dish a few weeks ago when I was at work. I returned home late, at a blurry 2 AM, to find a little white ramekin full of chili corn pie waiting for me in the refrigerator door. It made everything better.
We’ve made it several times since, and each pie is different. What follows isn’t a recipe so much as a template for construction based on our tested variations of Megan’s recipe. (Which means that this post is also a window into my own overenthusiastic stream-of-consciousness cooking style. Oh dear.) First, the hardware. You’ll need:
-a 9×13 deep glass/stoneware casserole dish OR two 9×9 casserole dishes OR a shitload of little ramekins or oven-safe bowls
-beefy electric beaters OR a stand mixer OR a hefty whisk and a brawny arm
-a skillet or two or three, depending on what you want to do with your middle layer
And now for the software–the contents of the above mentioned dish or ramekins. You need several things to bring this pie together: a base layer (which I suppose could be optional), a middle layer (or two or three), a cheese layer (sort of optional), and a cornbread layer. So, my recommendations for the constituents of these layers follow:
You don’t exactly need a defined base, but it provides some pleasing symmetry to this cornbread-topped dish. My most recent iteration of chili corn pie involved a layer of sweet potatoes sliced to about 3/8″ on my mandoline slicer. Lay them in your greased dish raw; they’ll cook to a nice al dente when you bake the whole thing. Or you could do a layer of potato slices, hash browns, cooked quinoa or brown rice, gluten-free crackers, pie crust, beets, cooked spaghetti squash (I am SO DOING THAT next), or other winter squash. Oh my goodness. The possibilities are endless and you truly cannot go wrong. So. Spray your casserole dish(es) or ramekins with some damn Pam and get going.
Somewhere in there, you’ll need something that can loosely be defined as a chili. Otherwise you’re not making chili corn pie. Use your favorite recipe–a vegetarian chili, an old-school ground beef and kidney bean chili, a ground turkey chili with white beans and bell peppers, a black bean and sweet potato chili with cilantro and white onion–you could even just saute some onion and garlic with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder, and Tabasco and then throw in a couple cans of kidney beans. Chili Is Easy and Quick. And again, you cannot go wrong. You cannot fail at chili corn pie. I’m going to make an assumption here that y’all have, at some point, eaten a chili or bean food that made you Feel Good. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) Make that food. You can use leftover chili. You can make it the day before. Throw your ingredients together in your slow cooker before you go to work. You can do whatever you want. It’s awesome. (That said, my favorite involves a sofrito of onion, garlic, serrano chilis, and tomato paste with black beans, sweet corn, and some diced bell peppers or zucchini. And cilantro. And salt and pepper. And ancho chili powder and Tabasco.)
My recent pie also included a layer of leftover Stupid Easy Shredded Chicken and some shredded cheddar-jack cheese, and it was glorious.
Back in my pre-GF days, I had been known to contribute to the death of a good pan of Jiffy cornbread. True story. But going gluten-free has opened my eyes to a plethora of amazing cornbread recipes and philosophies. Some think that their cornbread should be sweet as dessert, smooth like custard, and topped with maple syrup. Some want it dense and dry and smoky like bacon. Rachel’s cornbread will change your life, though it may be too moist to set properly in this context. This sweet potato cornbread is a good middle ground between the sweet and custard-y and the dense and savory. But let’s be real. You’re already making chili and you’re slicing sweet potatoes and maybe you’re even making some shredded chicken and a green salad for a side. I’m asking you to bake like crazy, too? You can keep it simple and still get delightful results with a mix. Don’t be ashamed. I’m not Martha and you aren’t either. Bob’s Red Mill has a stand-up gluten-free cornbread mix available, and all you have to do is add milk, eggs, and oil and mix your face off. You can add some sliced jalapeños or sharp cheddar cheese to the batter for an extra kick.
Putting It All Together
Go forth and assemble your layers. The hardest part is getting the cornbread to spread evenly on top of the middle layer–spoon the batter on and spread using a spatula you’ve dipped in water. Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 25 minutes or until the cornbread is browning on top and bubbling on the sides. If using ramekins or individual bowls, keep your eye on that oven as your dishes may be ready before the 25-minute mark.
I would bet the contents of my piggy bank that you won’t be able to wait for your pie to cool enough before digging in, and you’ll burn your tongue. And you know what’ll make it all better?
More chili corn pie.