Readers, do you remember the Teacher Appreciation Week Crockpot Debacle from last Spring? Well, after some kind-intentioned kitchen helper K.O.’d my crockpot last year, I hadn’t bothered to replace it, since late spring and summer weather really don’t necessitate crockpot-type meals. Once fall rolled around, though, I knew it was time for a replacement, and I wanted something good. After all of my past crockpot trauma, I felt like I deserved something a little highbrow. Specifically, I wanted a crockpot with the following attributes:
~ a cast iron insert, so I could sear meat and sweat vegetables directly in the slow cooker and not have to dirty extra pans
~ easy to operate (eg: not too many bells and whistles)
~ programmable with a timer, preferably one that I could program to run on the high setting for a few hours, switch to low, and then keep on the warm setting until serving time
~ a locking lid for transport so this assholery doesn’t happen again
As luck would have it, William’s Sonoma was having a kick-ass sale on slow cookers, so I got a really quality one for 50% off. The only downside is that it does not have that locking lid I wanted, so if I’m going to be transporting whatever’s in it, I’m going to have to get creative. Anybody out there have some genius tips/tricks/hacks for me? I’m all ears.
You’d think that the first thing I’d make in my new toy would be chili, or a stew, or a roasted hunk of meat, but the weather has been pretty mild here and I didn’t really feel like cooking something that heavy.
Instead, I went with this side dish recipe for orzo with lemon, zucchini and arugula. It sounded light and bright and a nice change from the usual side dishes of rice and potatoes that I get so bored with. I call this boredom Side Dish Ennui, and I’m afflicted with it often. I’ll plan dinner around an interesting entree, add some sort of veg, and then when I think about what to serve on the side to round out the meal, I think “fuckityblah.” Bread, rice, potato. Those things = fuckityblah, don’t you think?
This features orzo, which is a small, rice-shaped pasta. You can cook it simply on the stove and toss it with butter and some herbs and it would be perfectly nice, but I liked this recipe because they claimed that by cooking the orzo in the slow cooker, some of the starch slowly releases, giving the dish a creamy, risotto-type consistency.
A creamy, risotto-type side dish that I didn’t have to stand over a stove and constantly babysit and stirstirstir while trying to get the rest of the dinner together? Sounds pretty good to me.
There are a few extra steps to get the dish right, but the steps aren’t difficult and require the microwave, so it’s not a big deal.
True to their word, the orzo did come out creamy and the zucchini tender, and by stirring the arugula in right at the end wilted it slightly but still retained its signature peppery bite. The cheese added richness and nuttiness, and the lemon juice/zest brightened it up nicely. My only recommendations would be to increase the amount of red pepper flakes if you like a little more heat, and I also thought the addition of a fresh herb at the end might have been nice, like a sprinkle of flat-leaf parsley or some torn basil.
As for the cooking times–if you’re dealing with something delicate like orzo and zucchini, definitely begin with the smallest amount of cooking time called for and then check for doneness. Slow cookers can vary widely in how hot and how fast they cook; those first few dishes you make in a new slow cooker are kind of nerve-wracking. Will it cook like my old one or does it run super hot? Will my roast be beef jerky? Will my chicken need 2 extra hours to cook?
My orzo/zucchini were cooked perfectly in an hour. If I’d let it go for two, it would have been mush. And…admitted cooking fuckup here…After we’d eaten and enjoyed the dish, I cleaned out the pot and realized that instead of following the instructions to cook it for an hour on the high setting, I’d cooked it an hour on the low. Whoops! But it didn’t seem to matter because everything came out delicious. Maybe I just got lucky, or maybe this is a forgiving recipe. Anyways, I think my new slow cooker must run hot. More trials will tell.
This recipe would be a great addition to a holiday buffet because you can save stovetop space by using the slow cooker, it comes together in an hour, and it’s relatively healthy but tastes rich.
If you have side dish ennui or are just looking for something a little different, give this a try. It would be great paired with chicken, or if you want, you could stir in some seared scallops or shrimp and make it a meal. How easy is that?
Lemony Orzo with Zucchini and Arugula
from Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution
2 1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
1 cup orzo
1 onion, finely chopped
4 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices
salt and pepper to taste
3 ounces Asiago cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup)
2-3 ounces baby arugula (2-3 cups)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Lightly spray the inside of a slow cooker (4-7 quarts) with cooking spray. Combine onion, orzo, olive oil chopped garlic and red pepper flakes in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and the orzo is lightly toasted, about 5-7 minutes. Place mixture in the slow cooker.
Microwave the chicken broth until hot and steaming, about 3 minutes on high. Add to the slow cooker and immediately add the chopped zucchini, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.
Cover and cook until orzo and zucchini are tender, about an hour on high. Check after an hour; if orzo needs more time, cover and check every 15 minutes, adding more broth if needed.
Stir in 1/2 cup Asiago and stir until orzo is creamy. If mixture seems overly thick, add a little hot chicken broth. Stir in the arugula, lemon zest and lemon juice. Top with the remaining cheese and cook on high about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and arugula is slightly wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.