Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: The Italian Slow Cooker

This is the first time I've reviewed a cookbook, and I thought it was fun. But I love cooking with our slow cooker and I absolutely love Italian food, so The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone was an easy book to start with. Plus, it was visually a great book to use. The photos (by Alan Richardson) are just lovely and made me wish every recipe had an accompanying photo.

I'm sure that some of you are poo-pooing the idea of using a slow cooker to make great meals. You've probably tried some recipe that involved frozen veggies and a can of soup and when it came out tasting like glue, you put your Crockpot back on the shelf and have ignored it ever since. Even the back of this book, with the tag line "Plug It In, Walk Away" contributes to the myth that you can just pour a bunch of stuff into a pot, leave it for 8 hours and expect a masterpiece. But Scicolone was a good job of disabusing this notion in her introduction:
Food that comes out of the pot can only be as good as the ingredients that go into it! ... Although it's tempting to just toss ingredients into the cooker and take off, browning the meats or sauteing the onions or garlic before slow cooking often means the difference between delicious and dull.
The proof of a cookbook, though, is in the tasting of the pudding, of course. So let me answer some questions:

Were the recipes easy to follow?
Yes. The photos (where available) helped, but I generally found the recipes easy to follow. Now, the caveat for me is that I tend to view recipes as guidelines rather than strict instructions. I'd rather learn a new technique or style rather than dogmatically following along. The exception to this is baking, which I view as a science more than an art, but generally I felt free to play with these recipes and make them my own.

Were the ingredients and equipment easy to find?
There were a few ingredients that I wasn't familiar with but Scicolone was pretty good about proposing alternatives. The only section that posed some difficulty was desserts, where I had a heck of a time finding cake pan small enough to fit into my slow cooker. And finding a spring form pan that small was even worse!

By the way, I used a 4-quart Cuisinart slow cooker we got from Crate & Barrel. I love it! We also own a much older 2-quart Crockpot, inherited from my in-law's. I've used both with much success. The trick, though, is in adjusting heat and cooking times, as the older pots usually cook at a much lower temperature.

If you don't already own a slow cooker, the first chapter of this book has tips on what to look for when buying one.

Okay, but the most important question of all: How was the food?
Generally good, but some misses.

Now, obviously, I didn't make every recipe in the book. I just made a few to get the feel of the book. One recipe that I was excited to try was the Butcher's Sauce, a pasta sauce made from several different kinds of meat. Sadly, mine turned out kind of bland. It had great texture and looked delicious, but the flavor was just lacking for me. But, next time I make it, I'll double the garlic, add some seasoning (the recipe only called for salt and pepper), and play with it until I get the taste I want. Because the technique for making this sauce was great, and one I will definitely use again.

I also made the very first recipe in the book, for Butternut Squash soup. Our produce CSA has been delivering at least one enormous squash every week this winter and I was running out of recipes to make them. So they started to pile up on our counter. I was thrilled to see this recipe. And the soup was delicious! It was smooth, creamy and rich - and there's no cream in it at all, using potato instead for thickener. Scicolone recommended serving with a drizzle of olive oil on top for an authentic taste. I tried it that way and it was good - but it was even better with a dollop of sour cream and some big, crispy croutons for texture. (So much for a healthy recipe!)

I didn't get the chance to make any of the desserts in this book, but the Cheesecake in particular looks amazing. I look forward to trying it.

What's the verdict?
The Italian Slow Cooker is a great cookbook for learning how to get the most out of your slow cooker. I definitely recommend it for anyone who has one, or is interested in getting one, and doesn't know what to do with it.

Buy The Italian Slow Cooker on Amazon.

Update: I've posted some recipes from The Italian Slow Cooker. Enjoy!

3 comments:

  1. Makes me want to get a slow cooker!

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  2. Yum you're makign me hungry because that soup sounds gorgeous (although I'd put a drizzle of cream on with the croutons). The cover does what a cookbook cover should - make you want to eaaaaaat.

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  3. I have read a couple of reviews of this book and it sounds wonderful. My imagination is stunted when it comes to my crock pot, so I think I need this book!

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