If any of you are regular readers of my blog, you know about my relationship with my slow cooker. So many people sing the praises of their crock pot: they can't live without it, it's so convenient, food is so juicy from it, etc.
I try. I try so hard to be a disciple of crock pottery, but again and again, I fail to feel the love. What seems like 9 times out of 10 the recipe turns out too wet, or too stringy, or too gloppy, or just...yucky. The apogee of irritation was the time I had not one but two slow cookers going, making a big batch of coq au vin. It was delicious, but not because of the slow cooker. It was for the 90,000,000 steps I had to take afterward to turn chicken soup into classic French stew.
So when I saw this recipe for Tuscan Summer Stew with its happy little green beans and succulent chunks of sausage, my heart fell when I learned it was a crock pot recipe. Should I even bother? Will this turn into another gloppy pot o' water? Could I try to use the basic recipe idea and make it in a Dutch oven? Damn you, Family Circle* magazine, August 2011 issue!Oh, the indecision was killing me. (OK, it really wasn't.)
(* And yes, I now have a subscription to Family Circle. A second child has seriously cramped my cool factor.)
In the end, I decided to dig out my adversary and see what happened.
Tuscan Summer Stew
1 package (20 oz) sweet Italian turkey sausage
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 2" pieces
2 lbs tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut into 1" chunks
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 ears corn, kernels cut from cob (2 cups)
1 tbsp instant polenta
Fresh basil to garnish (optional)
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup polenta
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1. For the stew: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausages and brown on all sides, 4 minutes. Transfer to a slow cooker.
2. Top sausages with green beans, tomatoes, and chopped rosemary. Whisk balsamic together with 3/4 cup water. Pour into slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours.
3. For the polenta: Just before slow cooker is finished, bring 2 cups water and the salt to a boil. While whisking, add 1 cup instant polenta in a steady stream. Continue to cook, whisking, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.
4. Uncover slow cooker. Carefully remove sausage to cutting board. Stir corn kernels and 1 tablespoon instant polenta into slow cooker. Cover. Slice sausages and stir into stew. Serve stew over polenta; garnish with fresh basil, if desired.
The Verdict: Hold onto your hats, folks, because you aren't going to believe what I have to say.
I liked this recipe. I liked it a lot.
When the cook time was nearly over, I dutifully cooked the polenta as well as added the tablespoon into the crock pot. At that moment, I was rather skeptical because, per the usual, the contents were very soupy. But the added corn and polenta seemed to thicken it just enough, and in this instance, the broth was a wonderful accompaniment to the cooked polenta.
I am a big fan of balsamic vinegar. I love the syrupy bite that it brings to foods. I was clueless as to what white balsamic vinegar is, though, and didn't really care to investigate the matter beyond a quick Google search. White balsamic vinegar, apparently, is milder and (not surprising) is a lighter color than its cousin, therefore not staining foods. I'm going to surmise that it means the difference is slight. If you, like me, have the holy cow gigantic jug of balsamic vinegar from Trader Joes, don't feel the need to run out and buy white balsamic vinegar just for this recipe.
If I were to make this again, I would definitely reduce the cook times. They seemed a bit long and, after actually making it, really was. Your fresh green beans lose their crispness and the sausages that you "carefully remove" don't really need a trip to the cutting board as they fall apart with the nudge of a spoon. I don't think it ruined the recipe, but it would have been more pleasant if it were a little less soft.
Speaking of the sausage, this recipe could easily be made vegetarian by using a soy sausage or even leaving the sausage out all together and adding a little fennel seed and sage.
But before I can stamp this as a success, I do have to give voice to the other members of my family who ate this as well. My three-year-old has changed very little in the past three months of my absence. While he ate every speck of sausage on his plate and even ate a wandering tomato bite, the polenta was met with disdain. His first good natured bite was quickly spit out. The second, which I nearly lost my breath with arguments and begging, also joined the first bite as he let it slide off his tongue and back into his plate. My poor husband probably wanted to do the same with his polenta, but of course, he ate an hour after us. Polenta, my friends, is not a good sit-and-wait food. It becomes a gelatinous mass that does nothing for the food it is accompanying it. Perhaps my husband just really didn't like the dish, but I feel like the cold polenta really biased his review. He told me he'd give it three out of five stars.
Kinaymans, yet was shot down by the male contingent of eaters. Bummer.