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Monday, November 19, 2012

Slow Cooker Italian Pasta



We had a "CrockPotLuck" at church today, with everyone asked to bring a favorite dish made in a slow cooker. Our wonderful kitchen committee would provide all the homemade desserts, as well as biscuits, corn, bread, rolls and vegetable and fruit trays. Truly a feast to be thankful for.

Though the weather has been warm for mid-November in Minnesota, it seemed likely that there would be quite a few chilis and soups, so I decided to try for something a little different. Looking at the cupboard, I decided on a vegetarian pasta dish. However, I knew this could be a little challenging, since pasta has a way of getting overcooked, mushy, and unattractive if not handled carefully in the slow cooker.

The following recipe turned out beautifully. The method does need to be followed pretty closely, even if you change the amounts of the various ingredients. I would not advise cooking this, even on LOW, for more than 3 to 4 hours. It could be kept on the WARM setting for many cookers for another hour or so. The goal is to avoid ending up with pasta that is mushy, having absorbed all the sauce and leaving a pretty dry, pasty mixture. If in doubt, you might want to try making this or some other pasta dish in the slow cooker at home before planning to take it to the next office or church potluck!

I have added a few notes after the main recipe to adjust for some of the substitutions.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Fettuccini

canola oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 to 2 cups)
1 stalk celery, including leaves, diced (about 1/2 to 1 cup)
1/2 green or red bell pepper, diced (about 1/2 cup)
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small to medium zucchini, grated (about 2 cups)
8 oz baby mushrooms, sliced
2 c cauliflower, broken into tiny flowerets
1 c pureed roasted butternut squash (or 8 oz pkg frozen)
28 to 32 oz prepared spaghetti sauce
15 oz can garbanzo beans--do not drain
15 oz can dark red kidney beans--do not drain
1 to 2 t dried oregano, to taste
1 t dried basil, to taste
1 t Italian seasoning, to taste
black pepper to taste
1 T balsamic vinegar (optional)
1 lb fettuccine pasta, broken into 2 to 3 inch pieces
6 to 8 oz pasteurized processed cheese, cubed
parmesan cheese (optional)

1.  Saute the onion, celery, and green pepper in a small amount of oil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. When the onions are translucent and starting to brown, stir in the grated zucchini and garlic. Continue to saute for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the zucchini begins to soften. Turn this mixture into a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker and begin heating on LOW.

2.  Pour a little more oil into the same pan used for the onions and heat to medium high. Add the mushrooms and cook  until the slices are golden and limp. Add these to the slow cooker as well. Pour a few tablespoons of water into the pan and stir to "deglaze" the pan--use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan and pour these juices and scrapings into the slow cooker too.

3.  Stir in the mini-cauliflowerets, the squash, spaghetti sauce, and beans. Rinse out each can or jar with a few tablespoons of water and add to the mixture in the slow cooker. Add the herbs and taste for seasoning.

 4.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook only until the pasta has barely begun to soften, perhaps only 2 to 3 minutes. It should still be very firm and stiff. Drain, reserving the cooking water.

5.  Stir the pasta into the vegetable mixture, along with the cubed processed cheese. The mixture should be quite "soupy." If necessary, add a little of the pasta cooking water. Taste again for seasoning, adding the vinegar and more herbs or salt as needed.

6.  Cover and cook on LOW for 2 to 4 hours--no longer. If desired, top each serving with Parmesan cheese.

If the mixture thickens too much, add more spaghetti sauce, a little tomato sauce or just a few teaspoons of water.

This recipe serves 12 to 14 and can be frozen. If your plan is to save some for later, it would be best to set that amount aside before cooking in the slow cooker.

Adjustments:

Frozen cauliflower can be substituted for fresh, but this should be added only about 20 minutes before serving

Frozen zucchini can be used, but this should just be added to the slow cooker without simmering with the onions.

Two 4 ounce cans of sliced or diced mushrooms, including liquid, can be  substituted for fresh, adding along with  the  other ingredients in Step 3.


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