My slow cooker has been a life saver during the past couple of weeks. I call it “Old Faithful” because I’ve had it for a long time and it just keeps on going and going, working for me, while I’m busy attending to other things. On those days when I planned on baking several batches of cookies, I would get something started in the slow cooker early in the day, then not worry about dinner except for some finishing touches.
Maybe, like me, you’ve had some disappointments using a slow cooker. Rather than getting an entree that’s luscious and tasty, it emerged rather tired, defeated and exhausted. Unless you are following a recipe specially written for a slow cooker that can happen because of the added moisture that a slow cooker/crockpot produces. Meat can also become dried out and stringy instead of tender due to overcooking. So how do we solve those problems? First I’ll talk about the four main ingredients, then I’ll give you a recipe for a well-seasoned meat sauce – a ragu- that you can use in a variety of ways.
1. Meats: For the slow cooker, select meats with a moderate amount of fat or internal marbling, such as chuck roast or pork shoulder. For poultry that is immersed in liquid, try to keep cooking time to about 4 hours; longer than that you will get dry stringy remnants.
2.Vegetables: Only hearty vegetables like root vegetables can survive 8 hours in a slow cooker and they need to be cut into large pieces, not bite-sized. Place them in the bottom of the cooker with meat and sauce or liquids poured over the top. Other vegetables, like tomatoes, will stew down nicely and become sauce-like. Tender, more delicate vegetables like green beans, corn, squash, and greens should be added in the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
3. Seasoning: If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of oregano, use 2. Slow cookers have a funny way of diluting flavor so you will need to add more at the start. When converting a conventional recipe for the slow cooker, double the amount of herbs or spices you think you need, even ones that are intense, like crushed red pepper.
4. Garnishes: When something looks good, it seems to taste better, so sprinkling a fresh garnish onto a completed dish is an easy way to bring the meal to life. Try using fresh herb leaves or sprigs, or ingredients with a crunch like bread crumb topping or crisp chips to contrast with the softer textures of the dish.
The recipe for this meaty sauce is great ladled over any kind of pasta. I also use it when making lasagna, sometimes thinning it with traditional spaghetti sauce, and it makes the dish more hearty with veggies. It makes a large quantity and leftovers freeze well.
Yield: Makes about 12 ( 2/3) cup servings
- 2 ounces pancetta, chopped. Use bacon in a pinch.
- 1 pound ground beef, 90% lean
- 12 ounces ground pork
- 1 (4-ounce) hot Italian sausage link, casing removed
- 1 Tbsp. canola oil
- 1 1/3 cup diced onion
- 2/3 cup diced carrot
- 2/3 cup celery
- 1/4 cup unsalted tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 1 (15-ounce) can unsalted crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp. salt, divided
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
1. Place pancetta or bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook 4 minutes or until beginning to brown, stirring occasionally. Add ground beef; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Place beef mixture in a 6-quart electric slow cooker.
2. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add ground pork and sausage; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add pork mixture to slow cooker.
3. Return skillet to medium-high heat once again. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add onion, carrot, and celery; sauté 4 minutes.
Add tomato paste and garlic; Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add wine; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until wine mostly evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, 3/4 tsp. salt, pepper, and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Carefully pour this mixture into slow cooker; cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 tsp. salt.
The hands-on time spent in the preparation of this sauce is about 30 minutes. Then you will need a few minutes before dinner to cook up some pasta. A great dinner without a lot of your time spent on preparation. I hope you enjoy it.
SOURCE: The Slow Cooker Recipe Book