I think I gave away my first slow cooker before I started this blog. Certainly, I haven’t used it for any of my recipes so far. At the time, kitchen space was so much of a premium that it had to go, no matter how useful it was. At the time I was too busy to use it due to work commitments anyway so to a new home it went via eBay. However lately I have been tossing around the idea of buying a pressure cooker (I say lately, it’s been at least a year of dithering) and it was suggested by a lot of friends that a slow cooker may be the way forward. All the clichés are true – they are cost effective and energy efficient, perfect for working folk who have 5 minutes to prep a one pot dish for dinner before rushing to work plus they make meat more tender than even the lowest hob or oven temp could dream of. I found one on Amazon which was under £30, only 2.5 litres capacity so plenty for me and Hungry Hubby, had three settings for the temperature and most genius of all, the casserole itself is super light-weight and hob safe. Which means you don’t lose the “one pot” style cooking you do with a lot of slow cookers; I can sauté my veg and sear my meat directly in the pan, on the hob then transfer to the base to bubble away leaving me only a wooden spoon to wash up. Excellent – I’m sold! Let’s have a look at a very useful, old favourite recipe given the slow cooker treatment. Just what this doctor ordered.
Tomato sauce. Not ketchup but the sort you smear onto pizza dough, stir into pasta or add chilli and peppers to for baked eggs for a Sunday brunch. I’ve made it very simple here so you can divide it up and add flavourings as you please so you won’t have any excuse to be bored eating it. Now I will admit you could make this in about 15 minutes start to finish on the hob but the flavour is not as intense as when simmered slowly; you can forget all about it and leave it all day long as you go about your business. As sometimes, life places more demands on you than making a wholesome, healthy dinner from scratch every day. Thick and rich, almost as if you had loosened down some tomato puree with a little stock, a little goes a long way. I do recommend bagging it up when cold and freezing in small portions to bring out for less organised days. To start it off, I do as I do for stews, risottos and other sauces. I whiz up garlic, onions, celery and carrot in the food processor to create a vegetable mulch to inject extra goodness from the whole veg not just their flavour. Yes it means getting another machine dirty but rinse them out as soon as you finish and they can drip dry as you dash about doing whatever it is which keeps you from remaining stove side today. You only need to turn this in some olive oil for a mere minute or two, slosh in some wine, tomato puree and canned tomatoes and you’re done. It’s also great in clearing out the fridge and the store cupboards too.
When it comes to finishing the sauce, you really can stamp your own personality on it. I pureed mine with my Bamix stick blender (one of my favourite toys in the kitchen) as I wanted the sauce smooth but you could simply stir to break up and larger pieces of tomato that remain by crushing against the sides of the pan. Stir through some fresh basil to compliment the dried which has gone into the sauce already. Don’t knock dried herbs until you’ve given them a good work out. Sure I would never, ever dream of making pesto with dried basil but when dried it has a deep, earthy herbal aroma which really adds body to such a sauce. Remember, if you are new to slow cooking that you don’t want to add much liquid as they don’t tend to evaporate it off as you would on the stove. I only add 150ml water to this sauce in the slow pot whereas I may add up to 600ml if it was on the stove top. One more great thing about this sauce is you can cook it for 4 hours on high or as long as 8-10 hours even on low. If I make it of a weekend I’m likely to do the faster option as I’m usually home but if not, no harm will come to leisurely blip-bubbling away for a whole working day. I’ll be sharing a new recipe I used this sauce in soon but in the meantime, do check out my home made pasta recipes here and here. Combining either of them with a ladle of this rich, full bodied tomato sauce and strewing with shreds of the cheese of your choice is exactly the sort of meal you need as the cooler breath of autumn winds through our homes and we think about putting the duvet back on our beds.
- 2 onions
- 2 ribs of celery
- 1 medium carrot
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 125ml red wine
- 3 cans of tomatoes (whole or chopped)
- 150 ml water
- Heat some olive oil in your slow cooker pot if it is hob safe, if not in a medium-large sauce pan.
- Process your onions, garlic, celery and carrots until you have super fine confetti-like pieces – tip into the hot oil with a couple of bay leaves. Turn in the oil and cook for a few minutes to soften.
- Stir in the dried basil, chilli flakes and tomato puree.
- Add the red wine and cook briefly until absorbed into the vegetables – in the hot pan this will take less than a minute.
- Add the canned tomatoes and water and bring to the bubble.
- Transfer to your slow cooker, put the lid on and cook for 4 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.