In the Italian Kitchen
In the Italian Kitchen
A slow cooker or crock pot is perfect for cooking many Italian recipes
A few years ago in Rome, I noticed a restaurant with a small window in its facade. In the window was a brick alcove holding a large, round, greenish glass bottle filled with dried beans, water and herbs.
The alcove backed up to the restaurant’s woodburning oven, and every time I passed, I would stop to look in at the bottle and observe the beans simmering slowly, absorbing the liquid and becoming plump and rounded and filled with flavor. It seemed like the ideal way to cook beans, but it made me unhappy to think that I could not duplicate it in my small apartment kitchen with a standard stove.
Or could I? I had never owned a slow cooker, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the piece of the equipment I needed to to turn out perfectly tender, flavorful beans like those I ate in Rome. I could hardly wait to get home (well, almost!) to buy one.
Back in New York, I soon realized that slow cookers have as many devotees as they have people who own them and abandon them to a dusty back shelf. The difference seemed to be that those who love them have discovered delicious recipes and used fresh ingredients to prepare easy and satisfying food, while others relied on packaged and canned products and did not take a few moments to prepare the ingredients before cooking.
I bought a cooker and began by making my first batch of Roman-style beans in it. They came out just perfect — tender and creamy and infused with the flavor of the herbs and garlic I had added. Then I tried meats — tough cuts like short ribs, veal and lamb shanks, pot roasts, and stew meat. The results were fall-off-the-bone tender and savory. Even chicken turned out moist and juicy every time. To say I was hooked on slow cooking was an understatement. I made soups, pasta sauces, stews and vegetables. Then I tried grains like farro, barley and polenta and was delighted with the results and ease of preparation.
I also made seafood in the slow cooker and discovered that sturdy varieties like salmon and squid turn out beautifully. My biggest surprise was how well the cooker handled delicate egg dishes like frittatas, and even desserts, especially creamycheesecakes and flourless chocolate cake. The gentle, low heat cooked them perfectly.
I compiled 125 of my recipes into a book which is now available. The name is The Italian Slow Cooker and it was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The book has a soft cover and lots of gorgeous color photos by Alan Richardson, one of the best food photographers.
Here is a recipe from the Italian Slow Cooker that I know you will enjoy.
THE BUTCHER’S SAUCE
Whenever I am doing a lot of cooking, my freezer collects an assortment of small quantities of different meats, such as a half pound of ground beef, a pork chop, an extra sausage, or chicken breast. When this happens I chop the meats in the food processor and make this delicious pasta sauce, which in Puglia in Southern Italy is known as the butcher’s sauce.
Don’t hesitate to use a different combination of meats, according to what you have. Serve it as they do in Puglia with orrecchiette, cavatelli or another chunky pasta.
Makes about 10 cups
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cans (28 ounces) Italian peeled tomatoes packed in tomato puree, chopped
In a large skillet, cook the vegetables in the olive oil, stirring often, until tender and golden but not browned, about 10 minutes. If the onions start to color, add a tablespoon or two of water and lower the heat slightly.
Add the meats and cook, breaking up lumps with the back of a spoon. Cook until lightly browned. Stir in the tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste. Add the wine and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Pour the tomatoes and juice into a large slow cooker. Scrape the meat and vegetables into the cooker and stir well. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours or until the sauce is thick.
Serve over hot cooked pasta.
© 2010 The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone