Slow Cook Italian and other slow cooking cookbooks
My slow cooker has been the best thing I’ve bought in years. Pressure cooker – sits in the cupboard; Kitchenaid – I use less and less; Vitamix – soup making and smoothies only. But my slow cooker, a quick, cheap impulse-purchase from Lakeland, has been used at least once a week since it found a place in my home.
Of course, I did what I always do; went out and bought some new cookbooks to go with it. Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo has just been published, so let’s see how it compares with the other books I’ve road-tested.
Slow Cook Italian – Gennaro Contaldo
Gennaro Contaldo rose to fame due to Jamie Oliver who credits him on the cover of the book “Beautiful, classic recipes made with passion, by the man who taught me everything I know about Italian cooking.” Slow Cook Italian is different from my other books as it’s not written specifically for the slow cooker. It’s a collection of Gennaro’s recipes which fall under the slow cooking banner. The photography is simple interspersed with a few pictures of Gennaro with his family; not every recipe has a picture. As well as soups, stews and savoury bakes, there are chapters on pasta, light dishes and leftovers, roasts, breads, cakes, desserts and preserves. Where a recipe is suitable for the slow cooker, there are specific instructions. Gennaro confesses that he never uses a slow cooker but sticks to a pot on the stove top, harking back his parents generation when all cooking was done on coals or wood.
As I was hosting two 17-year-old boys flying in from Kuwait to attend Arabian Youth Orchestra this week, some hearty comfort food was certainly in order.
Gennaro says that although a ragu is one of the most popular pasta sauces worldwide, the Bolognese is often made badly outside of Italy: too much tomato, not cooked for long enough and usually served with spaghetti. I pride myself on a good ragu so wondered if this recipe – the official recipe of the Bolognese association of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina would be that different. Turns out I’d fallen into the trap of making it too tomatoey and this super simple slow cooked version was really excellent. It’ll be my ‘go to’ ragu in the future. I also bought some tagliatelle against KP’s wishes (who refuses to eat anything but spaghetti).
The ingredients list for Pollo all cacciatora (Hunter’s chicken) was fairly simple too – chicken with herbs and lots of cherry tomatoes (from our garden). This was seriously good and got a massive thumbs up from the boys. I also used the recipe for Pomodori esiccati a casa (home-dried tomatoes), to use up our glut from the garden, which didn’t differ from my normal method.
On the slow cooking front Goulash Tirolese (Tyrolean beef stew) and Stufato dia manzo al cioccolato (slow-cooked marinated beef with chocolate) are next on the ‘to try’ list. There are more non-slow cooker recipes but many look appealing including panini al rosmarino (rosemary bread rolls) which pop up in Jamie books but Gennaro makes his a lot prettier. In fact all of the breads look really intriguing including some rolls with aubergine baked inside them. The recipes for baked pears with amaretti biscuits and almonds, and almond tea cake (there’s a theme) look really tempting and the apricot and hazelnut tart is begging to be made.
If I’d been browsing in Kinokunya where books have to grab your attention within a few turns of the page, I probably wouldn’t have taken this home as it’s quite understated. But after cooking from it, the true value of simple, authentic Italian food shines through for the slow cooker and beyond. I’m so glad I have it as I know this book will definitely be on my counter more than on the shelf. Gennaro captures a time when life was slower too and conveys this through delicious dishes.
The Essential Slow Cooker Cookbook – Lorna Brash
This book did stand out in the bookshop and, whereas many slow cooker cookbooks have a domestic science look about them, this one shouted ‘pick me I have delicious recipes and, by the way, they are made in a slow cooker’. The detailed instructions (about settings in particular) show the author really knows her way around this method of cooking and there are many ‘I didn’t think of making that in a slow cooker’ moments. She addresses the ‘wateriness’ issue (some slow cooking recipes don’t seem thick enough) too and gives advice on adapting our own recipes for the slow cooker. Nearly but not all recipes have a picture with them. My favourite to date have been:
Mediterranean slow-roast lamb shanks, Louisiana beef chilli, Provençal slow-roast lamb shanks with rustic beans, chicken with creamy leek and tarragon sauce, and Mediterranean stuffed peppers. Not sure why I haven’t made the ginger crème caramels yet – they are calling my name.
Slow Cooking for Vegetarians – Annette Yates
This book covers just about anything you could ever dream of and whacks it in a slow cooker. Bought with veggie teen in mind it’s been the inspiration for so much more including porridge, cakes, Christmas pudding and vegetable stock. There are pages of veggie stews, soups and braises and everything is with recognisable ingredients although it does include some Quorn recipes (I avoid this processed food). The head notes are tempting but this book is without a single image inside. It’s also proved that some things should be done the traditional way; slow cooker cranberry sauce is horrid.
200 Slow Cooker Recipes – Sara Lewis
A small low-cost book, which I’ve used the least. Usually I turn to it when developing a recipe for something that’s in my head and I need to check temperatures and cooking times. It has a lot of similar recipes to the Lorna Brash book but without the gorgeous photography but with a surprising amount of detailed instruction and a good recipe layout, plus every recipe has a picture. A good starting point but I might not miss it if it disappeared from my book shelf (after I’ve tried out the lemon custard cremes recipe).
Disclosure: I bought the last three books myself from Kinokunya, Dubai and Amazon.co.uk, and was sent Gennaro’s book to review by Pavilion. All opinions my own.