Winter and comfort food fit together like hand in glove.

The chilly, gray days make it imperative to put something hot, colorful and aromatic on the table to drive away the winter blahs.

Maybe at your house that means baked macaroni and cheese or creamy tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. (Can you tell my comfort-food thoughts naturally run to cheese dishes?)

But a few years back I ran across a recipe for white chili on the King Arthur Flour website, and I find myself going back to it and tinkering as January slogs into February and mires down in March. Once the warm weather hits, I'll put it away for another year. For these three months, it's a staple of the dinner table.

For those of you expecting a bowl full of liquid closer to a chunky soup, be warned this chili is more like a casserole than traditional chili. Though it starts on the stove, it finishes in the oven under a layer of cornbread. The ideal chili for this recipe will be thick and creamy enough to level with the back of a spoon in the casserole dish so pouring the cornbread batter on top won't cause them to mix. It helps to pour carefully from a close distance and level the cornbread batter after pouring.

Mild White Chicken Chili With Cornbread Top

Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 16-oz. bag frozen chopped onions and green peppers

1 small jalapeƱo pepper, diced; remove and discard seeds for milder chili (optional)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, or 2 teaspoons pre-minced garlic

2 cans (15.25 ounces each) golden corn kernels, drained

2 cans (4 ounces each) chopped green chiles, undrained

5-1/2 cups cooked chicken (about 3 or 4 boneless breasts)

1 can (15 to 19 ounces) white or cannellini beans, undrained

This cornbread-topped chili comes together much like a casserole and can be served -- with some care -- using a spatula. A bowl and spoon work better than
This cornbread-topped chili comes together much like a casserole and can be served -- with some care -- using a spatula. A bowl and spoon work better than a plate and fork for eating, though. (Mel Barber photo - mbarber@yorkdispatch.com)

1 tablespoon ground cumin, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

4 ounces cream cheese (half a brick)

Cornbread topping

1-3/4 cups flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained

1-1/4 cups milk

1/2 cup butter (one stick), melted and cooled

1 large egg

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1) To make the chili: Heat the oil in a large stock pot. Add the onion, peppers, and garlic, frying until the vegetables are soft and the onions are barely beginning to turn golden, about 10 to 15 minutes.

2) While the other ingredients are heating, tear the chicken breasts into chunks and pulse in a food processor until shredded.

3) Add the corn, chiles and chicken to the onion, peppers and garlic, stirring to combine.

4) Place the beans with their liquid in a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Add to the meat and vegetables, stirring to combine.

5) Stir in the cumin and salt.

The cheese bakes into the cornbread crust, adding a hint of brown and orange to the finished dish. (Mel Barber photo - mbarber@yorkdispatch.com)
The cheese bakes into the cornbread crust, adding a hint of brown and orange to the finished dish. (Mel Barber photo - mbarber@yorkdispatch.com)

6) Simmer the chili for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. While the chili simmers, make the cornbread topping and start preheating the oven to 375 degreee F.

7) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chiles.

8) In another bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, melted butter, and egg.

9) Pour the liquid all at once into the flour mixture, stirring quickly until just combined. Set the batter aside while you finish the chili.

10) Add the cream cheese to the chili, stirring until it melts. Adjust the salt, if necessary.

11) Spoon the chili into a lightly greased 10" x 15" x 2" casserole dish. You'll need about 1" clearance between the chili and the top of the pan to ensure the cornbread topping doesn't overflow.

12) Top the chili with the cornbread batter and sprinkle shredded cheese on top.

13) Bake for about 28 minutes, until the top is set and a toothpick inserted into the cornbread comes out clean. Remove and serve while hot. Top with additional shredded cheese if desired.

The recipe makes 12 servings. Refrigerate any leftovers.

-- Reach Mel Barber at mbarber@yorkdispatch.com.