In a recent Dinner, A Love Story post, Jenny Rosenstrach captured my exact experience and thoughts regarding crockpot cooking. In sum, despite seeing the appeal, she has not had great success.
I have owned a crockpot 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 crockpot 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 crockpot 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 crockpot 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 crockpot 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 crockpot — yes, of course! This is where the crockpot really excels: No browning required. No measuring required. The crockpot 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 stovetop free should I feel like making bread or the children their favorite dinner.
The beans cooked all day — they needed 8 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 overtop. 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.
Slow Cooker Gigante Beans with Tomatoes and Pancetta
Adapted from this Dinner, A Love Story post. As Jenny notes, the beauty of this sort of meal is that you really don't have to measure. For 8 oz. 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. I love these dried Greek gigante beans.
Note: You can soak the beans prior to cooking if you wish, but you do not have to. If you do soak, the cooking time may be shorter. 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.
- 8 oz dried white beans (see notes above)
- 1 bay leaf
- pinch red pepper flakes
- a few cloves garlic, smashed
- two onions, chopped
- ½ of a 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed with your hands right into the pot (about 1.5 cups crushed tomatoes — I love Pomi finely diced tomatoes)
- a few sprigs thyme
- 2 oz. cubed pancetta or bacon (optional)
- parmesan rind if you have one
- 4 cups water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock (Don't be afraid to use water — that's what I always use)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 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 crockpot. Cook on high for at least six hours or on low for 8 hours or longer.
- After the six hours, remove the lid and add salt to taste. I add about two to three 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 liquid levels every so often.
- Ladle broth into bowls over toasted bread or serve toasted bread on the size. Shave Parmigiano Reggiano over top. Crack pepper over top. Drizzle more olive oil over top if you wish.