The slow cooker is a mainstay of modern American cooking — but it's not just you and me firing up the Crock-Pot on a weeknight. Famous chefs and celebrities are not above its charms, and this week we're bringing you five recipes from five kitchen stars that show off their favorite ways to put the slow cooker to good use.
Honestly, is there any combination more hearty and cozy than a velvety winter squash and tender beef stew? Giada de Laurentiis' slow cooker beef and kabocha squash stew embodies a perfect winter Crock-Pot recipe, with approachable, wholesome ingredients whose flavors commingle in the slow cooker for hours. This is no bland meat 'n' potatoes kind of stew: Giada dresses it up with rustic sun-dried tomatoes, a red wine reduction, and fresh herbs, which hold their flavor far better than their dried, ground counterparts.
She also reaches for pumpkin's sweeter cousin, kabocha squash, which is a Japanese pumpkin with a rich, nutty flavor that's been likened to roasted chestnuts. Talk about perfect for winter. (Another reason to love kabocha for this recipe? It's pretty easy to peel, unlike its more unwieldy winter squash brethren. We're looking at you, acorn.)
Once upon a time, slow cooker recipes had a bad rap for being uninspired, one-note dishes. Rather than dumping a few pantry staples into the slow cooker and walking away, this recipe takes an important extra step beforehand: getting a nice brown sear on the beef, allowing the flavors of rosemary and thyme to really "bloom" before adding them to the low-heat slow cooker, and, of course, that all-important red wine reduction complete with those tasty browned bits stuck to the pan.
These extra steps may contradict those old-school "just dump it all in and go!" philosophies, but when it comes to adding a lot of flavor, the depth of flavor from the sear on the beef and the rich red wine reduction is worth the small price of one extra pan.
Find more from Giada on her new lifestyle site, Giadzy.
Slow Cooker Beef and Kabocha Squash Stew
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds stew beef, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1 pound kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3 cups low-sodium beef broth
Crusty bread, for serving
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, rosemary, and thyme and cook until the onions are tender, about 4 minutes.
Place the flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the beef cubes and toss gently to coat. Add the beef to the pan and cook, turning occasionally, until the beef is browned on all sides and golden around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the Marsala and use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Transfer the beef and pan juices to the slow cooker. Add the squash, sun-dried tomatoes, and broth and stir to combine. Cover and cook until the beef and squash are tender, 4 to 5 hours on the HIGH setting or 8 hours on the LOW setting. Serve with crusty bread and a sprinkle of parsley.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.