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.
Hugh calls this Southern minestrone from his new cookbook, The Chef and the Slow Cooker, "a brothy celebration of all things vegetable," and we have to agree. The star of this celebration? The humble butter bean — a legume that, when cooked properly, becomes nearly as creamy and smooth as its namesake. Butter beans are a staple of Southern food and, in fact, I can think of few things more Southern than a pot of butter beans simmering away on the stove all day long. Acheson captures that essence perfectly in this recipe, designed for the slow cooker rather than your grandma's stockpot.
As for the rest of the veggies, Acheson calls for carrot, celery, tomatoes, and zucchini, but says you can really use whatever you happen to have in the crisper drawer — minestrone is, after all, meant to highlight whatever produce is in season, and this would taste just as good with a bumper crop of summer okra as it would with winter squash.
One thing you shouldn't ad-lib is soaking the beans; that overnight soak in the refrigerator gives those notoriously stubborn dried beans a head start on softening, so that by the time they've been cooking for eight or so hours, they'll be perfectly smooth and soft.
The real game-changer for this soup is found in the finishing touch of pistou, a kind of French pesto sans pine nuts (Acheson makes his with pistachios). In this recipe, it's dolloped on top of the soup and swirled in just before serving.
Verdant basil adds a touch of brightness — both in flavor and in color, thanks to blanching beforehand to preserve its vivid green hue — to the minestrone, and since this recipe only calls for one cup, you'll end up with extra. Acheson recommends using it as a spread on crostini, grilled meat, or poached fish, or even layered into pasta. It keeps for about a week in the fridge, so you should probably just try it on a little bit of everything while you have it handy, right?
Southern minestrone at its finest is a brothy celebration of all things vegetable, with a bright basil pistou stirred in to finish. You can tweak this recipe to use whatever you have in the crisper drawer. Remember that minestrone, like many soups, tastes better the next day, heated up and served with good crusty bread and some cheese on the side.
Slow Cooker Butter Bean Minestrone from Hugh Acheson
For the minestrone:
1 pound dried butter beans
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium sweet onions, cut into small dice
2 quarts low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 large carrot, cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
1 teaspoon freshly ground fennel seeds
4 medium plum tomatoes, cut into small dice
1 small zucchini, cut into small dice
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the basil pistou:
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup shelled roasted unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Make the minestrone: Place the beans in a large bowl and add cold water to cover by 3 inches. Cover the bowl and soak the beans in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, or until softening, then remove from the heat.
Drain the beans and add them to the slow cooker. Add the broth, cooked onions, carrot, and celery. Cover cook until the beans are tender but not busted, 6 to 8 hours on the LOW setting. Meanwhile, make the basil pistou.
Make the basil pistou: Fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water and set it nearby.
Add 1 teaspoon salt to the boiling water. Add the basil and blanch until it develops a bright green color, about 20 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to immediately remove the basil from the water and plunge it into the waiting ice bath. After a minute, strain the basil from the water, wrap it in a kitchen towel, and squeeze gently to remove excess water.
Place the basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pistachios in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Turn it on and slowly drizzle in the olive oil until a paste forms. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
Finish the minestrone: Stir the ground fennel, tomatoes, zucchini, pepper, and 1 tablespoon salt into the beans. Cover cook for 1 hour more. Taste and season with salt as needed.
Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish each one with basil pistou and a drizzle of the remaining olive oil. Serve and eat!
Make ahead: The pistou will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 1 week. We recommend pressing a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pistou before placing the lid on the container.
Storage: Leftover minestrone can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Reprinted from The Chef and the Slow Cooker. Copyright © 2017 by Fried Pie, LLC. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Andrew Thomas Lee. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.