Good Enough to Read: The Italian Slow Cooker
Veteran food writer Irene Sax tells us about The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone, and shares healthy and delicious recipes from the cookbook.
Michele Scicolone swore she'd never use a slow cooker. "Friends who had them
said the food was bland and watery." But one day, Scicolone, a writer of Italian
cookbooks, had an idea. What if she used fresh, wholesome ingredients in the slow
cooker? What if she made dishes in the Italian tradition?
The result is The Italian Slow Cooker, and it's clear that Scicolone has done
what she set out to do. She makes Italian staples like polenta, risotto and beans.
She recreates classic dishes like stuffed artichokes and peppers, osso buco and braciole. And she does all this in a pot that lets her get dinner ready in the
morning and then go out and about her business for the rest of the day.
While convenience is, of course, the main reason to use a slow cooker, another
is that it promotes healthy eating, she says. Many of the recipes in the book don't
require any fat at all. You just put the ingredients in the pot, plug it in and
let it go for hours. You get to use cheaper cuts of meat that turn tender and voluptuous
in the long, gradual heat.
For Scicolone, however, the biggest plus is knowing that she can always have
a home-cooked meal. "Even though there are just two of us, I often make a big pot
of sauce or stew. We eat it that night, and I freeze the rest in meal-size portions.
When I defrost one, all I have to do is make a salad, and dinner is ready."
But none of this would count if the results weren't so delicious. As someone
who has eaten food from the book, I can tell you that the process of slow gentle
cooking creates beautifully complex relationships between the ingredients in dishes
like chicken cacciatore and Sicilian swordfish ragu. It even works in preparations
like creamy golden frittatas (or Italian omelets) and a dense, moist ricotta cheesecake
with an amaretti crust. And if yours is not one of the 83 percent of American households that has a slow cooker, you can use the book anyway, just cooking the dishes for less time at a higher temperature. (Slow cookers are set between 180ºF and 300º F.) That's what I did with the chickpea stew, and it was delicious.
No-apologies vegetarian stew
Gently seasoned, this hearty stew can be a side or the center of the meal. Serve it with garlicky broccoli or green beans and, if you want more zing, add a pinch of hot pepper flakes to the pot.
- Three 16-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 5 medium carrots, sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped fresh or canned tomatoes with their
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup chicken broth, canned chicken or vegetable broth, or water
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Combine all the ingredients in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook
on low for 6 to 8 hours, or until the vegetables are tender. Serve hot
or at room temperature.
Notes from Michele Scicolone
- Canned chickpeas, potatoes, tomatoes and onion flavored with rosemary
cook into a chunky vegetarian main-dish stew. This also makes a great
side dish for pork or lamb.
Easily improved seafood sauce
Meaty swordfish breaks down as it simmers slowly in a tangy sauce. You can make
it a super-healthy meal by tossing it with whole-grain pasta. If you can't find
cavatelli, use another short chewy shape such as orecchiette or fusilli.
Sicilian Swordfish Ragu
Makes 8 cups
- 3 medium celery ribs, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Two 28-oz cans chopped peeled Italian tomatoes with their juice
- 1 lb swordfish, skin removed
- 1/2 cup pitted and chopped Sicilian green olives
- 1/4 cup rinsed, drained and chopped capers
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- In a large skillet, cook the celery, carrots, garlic and parsley
in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until golden. Scrape
the vegetables into the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and salt to taste.
Cover and cook for 3 to 4 hours, or until thick.
- Cut the fish into half-inch pieces. Add the swordfish, olives, capers,
oregano and crushed red pepper to the slow cooker and stir well. Cover
and cook for 1 hour more, until the fish is tender.
Notes from Michele Scicolone
- Sicilians cook swordfish in dozens of ways. In this ragu, it is
simmered in a tasty tomato sauce, much as you would cook ground meat.
Serve with cavatelli pasta.