Since it’s hard to identify chunks of stuff in a photo of a soup or stew, today you get a photo of unprepared ingredients!
This series of posts about cooking was first imagined as a way to chronicle my crock-pot experiments, but after several culinary successes, I realized I hadn’t kept any pictures. No one wants to read a food blog without seeing the food, so 2018’s first “concrocktions” must wait until I feel like making them again for picture time.
Ingredients: 1.7 pounds of sweet Italian sausage, a jar of mushroom pasta sauce, a whole bulb of elephant garlic (peeled, with cloves chopped in half), a red bell pepper and an orange bell pepper (roughly chopped), a yellow heirloom tomato (roughly chopped), some black and white peppercorns, and enough chicken broth to cover it all.
I cooked a smaller batch without the veggies and garlic a week before, intending to serve it over pasta. But it was so good, I just ate the sausage and sauce on their own! That first batch was made with hot, not sweet, sausage, and there’s no reason you couldn’t add some heat to this concrocktion.
Cooking: This batch was larger than the previous two, and it took about five hours on high in the crock-pot. At three hours, it was maybe cooked, but not all the flavors had blended, and the peppers were still too crunchy. About half an hour before I was done, I added uncooked pasta.
The chicken stock does thin the red sauce, but the combined flavor is intense enough to be worth it. In my second attempt at this dish, I learned I could throw a small amount of uncooked pasta into the crock-pot about half an hour before the cooking stops. The pasta soaks up excess liquid for a hearty dish with fewer pans to clean.
I almost got it right last time, but not quite. This time, I added maybe 6 to 8 ounces of a pasta I’ve never noticed before: orecchiette.
The orecchiette needed 45 minutes on high to cook, and I could have let it go an hour. It remained al dente and did not turn into the creamy mush that overcooked pasta can become in a crock-pot. Also, I used less pasta this time to avoid making the broth too starchy. Think about the starchy water you pour off when you boil pasta, then realize that starch is now in the crock-pot broth. So, be careful.
Taste Review: This was the best of my three attempts at this kind of dish, with a balance between rich sauce, meat, pasta, and vegetables that practically melt in your mouth. The picture above is after I already ate two bowls and was going back for a third!
This concrocktion has one foot in the world of stew and one foot in the kind of Italian food I’ve loved all my life. I served it in a bowl, but most of it you can eat with a fork. I originally thought I’d pull the garlic out for something else, but the cloves had turned super soft and broken apart, and since all the flavors are blended in the sauce, the garlic bites aren’t overpowering at all. The tomatoes and peppers are almost dissolved into the sauce, but the pasta and sausage are hearty and substantial. Good blend of textures, and super tasty.