In a recent Dinner, A Love Story post, Jenny Rosenstrach captured my exact experience and thoughts regarding Crock-Pot cooking. In sum, despite seeing the appeal, she has not had great success.
I have owned a Crock-Pot for 10 years — received one as a wedding gift — and every Winter, I break it out once, only to make something good but not great. Let's just say no recipe this past decade has left me drinking the Crock-Pot Kool-Aid.
Part of the issue for me is that often the recipes don't feel easier. If a recipe calls for browning meat in one pan, then finishing it in another, that means I have two pans to clean, not one. And I don't understand the Crock-Pot recipes that call for canned beans — isn't that the beauty of canned beans? That the long, slow cooking has already been done for you? I own a cookbook dedicated to Crock-Pot cooking, which includes a recipe for poached eggs, which, start to finish, take 45 minutes. Why?
But on Wednesday morning, inspired by Jenny's post, I followed her dump-it guide and filled my Crock-Pot with dried Greek gigante beans; half a can of plum tomatoes, which I crushed with my hands right into the pot; a bay leaf; pepper flakes; chicken stock (though I've since discovered water works just as well); diced pancetta; smashed garlic; chopped onions; thyme; and a drizzle of olive oil. I whisked the kids off to soccer tots then to the bagel shop, and when we returned three hours later, the house smelled as if I had been slaving away all morning.
Dried beans in the Crock-Pot — yes, of course! This is where the Crock-Pot really excels: no browning required. No measuring required. The Crock-Pot keeps the one-pot wonder simmering at the steadiest simmer, ensuring creamy, not mushy, beans. How nice to be able to leave the house while a machine works away. And to have the oven and stove top free should I feel like making bread or the children their favorite dinner.
The beans cooked all day — they needed eight hours in the pot — and when the dinner bell rang, I toasted bread, placed a slice in each of our bowls, and ladled the stewy white beans over the top. With a few cracks of pepper and shavings of parmesan, dinner was served.
Friends, don't take this as a brag — remember, this is my first slow-cooker success — but on Wednesday afternoon, during my sacred afternoon quiet time, when Wren naps and the two big kids are forbidden to speak to me, I kind of found myself twiddling my thumbs. I felt lost. I even broke my own quiet-time rule and invited the kids to make cookies with me. They were thrilled. Note to self: pay more attention to the children.
Wanting to continue this virtuous cycle, after dinner that same evening, I repeated the dump-it process. I've definitely drunk the Kool-Aid. Twiddling my thumbs is something I could get used to. I see a lot of beans in our near future.
As Jenny notes, the beauty of this sort of meal is that you really don't have to measure. For 8 ounces of dried beans, 4 cups of water should do it, but check every so often to make sure the beans are covered with liquid. If they aren't, add more.
- 8 ounces dried white beans (see notes above)
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- A few cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1/2 of a 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed with your hands right into the pot
- A few sprigs thyme
- 2 ounces cubed pancetta or bacon
- Parmesan rind if you have one
- 4 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water (don't be afraid to use water — that's what I used the second time around, and that's what I will use from here on out)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil (I like using 4, but if you are oil-averse, you can start with 2 and add more when serving)
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Fresh cracked pepper, for serving
- Shavings of parmigiano-reggiano, for serving
- Toasted bread, for serving
- Place everything with the exception of the salt, pepper, parmigiano-reggiano, and toasted bread into your Crock-Pot. Cook on high for at least 6 hours. I did not soak my dried beans, and if I had, the cooking time may have been shorter. If you feel like soaking beans, do it. If you don't, just be prepared to cook the beans a little bit longer. These gigante beans are cooked after 6 hours, but taste better after 12. The broth, too, reduces and becomes more flavorful with the longer cooking time.
- After the six hours, remove the lid and add salt to taste. I add about 2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt, but add to taste — if you are using salted chicken stock, you will need less salt. If you use more bacon or pancetta, you will need less salt. If you are using water and no bacon or pancetta, you might need more salt, etc. — you get the idea. Continue cooking for as long as time permits — if you can cook them for 2 to 6 more hours, do it. Just be sure to check on the liquid levels every so often.
- Ladle the broth into bowls over the toasted bread, or serve the toasted bread on the side. Shave the parmigiano-reggiano over the top. Crack the pepper over the top. Drizzle more olive oil over the top, if you wish.
- Main Dishes, Beans