Slow cooking: good things come to those who wait

The rewards are great if you're prepared to wait for this sticky date pudding. Picture: Rob Palmer
The rewards are great if you're prepared to wait for this sticky date pudding. Picture: Rob Palmer

Nothing beats slow cooking when it comes to convenience. With minimal preparation, simple ingredients and just one pot, you can set and forget, then enjoy hearty, wholesome meals every night of the week.

Justine Schofield indulges in the joy of preparing simple, hearty, sustaining meals, with a healthy dose of family favourites in the mix, too. From tagines and tacos to pot roasts, pies and puddings, all recipes include conventional stovetop or oven instructions as well as those for slow-cooker machines. These dishes, even if they're new to you, will give you the warm, fuzzy feeling of having come home.

So, it's time to roll up those sleeves, switch on the slow cooker or fire up the oven and get cooking. Slow cooking is clever cooking ... and, as they say, good things come to those who wait.

  • The Slow Cook by Justine Schofield. Plum, $39.99. Photography by Rob Palmer
Stuffed squid. Picture: Rob Palmer

Stuffed squid. Picture: Rob Palmer

Stuffed squid

Squid braises beautifully in a sauté pan or slow cooker, which is perfect for this typically south Italian dish. After a low and slow cook, the squid become incredibly tender - and the stuffing in the squid tubes is a delicious added surprise.

Ingredients

6 medium squid with tentacles (about 1.2 kg total), cleaned

80ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

3 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped, plus extra chopped leaves to serve

salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

100g fresh breadcrumbs

40g parmesan, grated

40g mozzarella, cut into 1.5 cm cubes

1 egg, lightly beaten

125ml white wine (such as chardonnay or sauvignon blanc)

a pinch of chilli flakes

400 g tomato passata

crusty bread and lemon wedges, to serve

Method

1. Set four squid tubes and four tentacles aside and finely chop the remaining tubes, tentacles and wings.

2. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan, add the onion, garlic and chopped parsley stalks and fry for two to three minutes. Stir in the finely chopped squid and season with salt and pepper. Cook for two to three minutes until the squid changes colour, then pour into a bowl and cool slightly. Add the breadcrumbs, cheeses, egg and chopped parsley leaves. Mix well and check the seasoning.

3. Working with one squid tube at a time, stuff with the breadcrumb mixture, being sure not to overfill (as they may burst during cooking). Secure with toothpicks.

4. Add the remaining oil to the pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the stuffed squid tubes and tentacles and sear on all sides for one minute. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil.

5. Add the chilli flakes, passata and 200ml of water to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil again, turn the heat down to low and cover with the lid. Cook for 50-55 minutes until the squid is tender. Remove and discard the toothpicks.

6. Transfer the squid and sauce to a serving dish, drizzle over a little extra olive oil and scatter on the extra parsley. Serve with the crusty bread and lemon wedges alongside.

Slow cooker method

Follow steps 1-4.

Heat the slow cooker on low, add the chilli flakes and tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add the stuffed squid tubes, tentacles and 100 ml of water, then cover and cook for two and a half to three hours, or until the squid is tender. Remove and discard the toothpicks.

Follow step 6.

Serves 4.

Prawn bisque. Picture: Rob Palmer

Prawn bisque. Picture: Rob Palmer

Prawn bisque

My dear friend Laura Jayes, a bisque fiend, has been asking me for years to include a prawn bisque recipe in a book, so here it is! This rich shellfish soup finished with cream is the perfect dish to enjoy in the cooler months. Although it's not traditional to add pearl couscous to the classic French version, I like to include it to make it more of a substantial meal. Laura's got no excuse not to cook for me now, right?

Ingredients

1 kg raw medium prawns

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve

3 tbsp pernod (or substitute with another anise liqueur, such as ouzo or sambuca)

1 onion, chopped

2cm piece of ginger, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 small fennel bulb, chopped, fronds reserved

salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

180ml white wine (such as chardonnay)

2 tomatoes, diced

1.5 litres fish stock

3 tbsp cream

3 tbsp pearl couscous

juice of 1/2 lemon

Method

1. Peel the prawns, discard the intestinal tract and reserve the heads and shells. Chill the prawns until required.

2. Heat half the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat and add the prawn shells and heads. Fry, crushing the shells with a wooden spoon, for 10-15 minutes until a deep red colour. Add the Pernod and flambé by carefully igniting with a match and then waiting for the flames to subside. Remove from the heat. Transfer to a bowl.

3. Return the pan to medium heat and add the remaining oil. Add the onion, ginger, carrot and fennel and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened and lightly coloured. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for two minutes, or until darkened in colour. Pour in the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze, for four minutes, or until reduced by one-third. Add the tomato and fish stock, return the cooked shells and heads and bring to the boil.

4. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 35-40 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the soup is fragrant.

5. Transfer the soup - shells, heads and all - in batches to a blender and puree.

6. Set a fine sieve over a clean saucepan, tip in the soup and press down with the back of the wooden spoon to extract as much flavour as possible. Discard the pulp. Place the pan over medium heat, add the cream and simmer, stirring to combine, for two to three minutes.

7. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the pearl couscous and cook until al dente. Drain well.

8. Add the prawn meat and cooked pearl couscous to the hot soup and cook for one minute. Stir through the lemon juice, check the seasoning and ladle the soup into bowls. Scatter over the reserved fennel fronds, drizzle over the extra olive oil and serve with a final grinding of pepper.

Slow cooker method

Follow steps 1, 2 and 3.

Pour the soup into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours.

Follow steps 5-8.

Serves 4.

Slow-cooked honey-mustard salmon. Picture: Rob Palmer

Slow-cooked honey-mustard salmon. Picture: Rob Palmer

Slow-cooked honey-mustard salmon

Due to salmon's high oil content and delicate flesh, cooking at low temperatures ensures a succulent result every time. This is another example of how versatile a slow cooker can be. Elevating the fish from the bottom of the cooker allows it to cook evenly all over in the dry, consistent heat. The honey-mustard combo is an added bonus, making this the perfect dish for entertaining.

Ingredients

1 800 g-1 kg side of salmon, skin on and pin-boned

1 tsp olive oil

salt flakes

2 tbsp dijon mustard

2 tbsp honey

1 tsp gochujang (Korean chilli paste)

1 small navel orange, finely sliced

1 lemon, finely sliced

Method

1. Take the salmon out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 110C. Line a baking tray with baking paper, brush with the olive oil and season with salt.

2. Place the salmon, skin-side down, on the prepared tray.

3. Combine the mustard, honey and gochujang in a bowl and pour over the salmon flesh, ensuring it is evenly covered. Arrange the citrus over the salmon, alternating the orange and lemon slices and allowing them to overlap a little.

4. Roast the salmon on the middle rack of the oven for 25-30 minutes until the flesh is still a deep pink and just flaking away. When small white protein bubbles appear around the side of the fish, it is cooked. (Try not to let too many protein bubbles form, as this is a key indication that the fish is overcooked.)

5. Carefully transfer the salmon and baking paper to a platter. Serve with a few salads on the side.

Slow cooker method

An oval or square cooker is ideal for this recipe. Trim the side of salmon so it just fits into the slow cooker.

Scrunch up four large pieces of baking paper and place in the slow cooker to form a single layer. This elevates the fish and ensures it cooks evenly. (Alternatively, add some chopped onion and fennel to elevate the fish.) Line with another piece of baking paper, allowing the excess paper to go up the side of the slow cooker. Brush the paper with the oil, season with salt and place the salmon, skin-side down, in the cooker.

Follow step 3. Cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 hours, or until the salmon is still a deep pink and the flesh is just flaking away.

Follow step 5.

Serves 8.

Sticky date pudding. Picture: Rob Palmer

Sticky date pudding. Picture: Rob Palmer

Sticky date pudding

A slow-cooking book wouldn't be complete without a sticky date pudding recipe - the quintessential winter dessert that's so comforting with its rich, deep flavours of date and caramel. My caramel sauce is quite generous as I like to pour half over the pudding and, just for good measure, serve the rest on the side so everyone can help themselves to more.

Ingredients

225g pitted dates, chopped

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

250ml just-boiled water

225g self-raising flour

230g brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra to serve

salt flakes

80g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

vanilla bean ice cream, to serve

Caramel sauce:

80g butter

170ml cream

165g brown sugar

salt flakes

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a 2.5-3 litre capacity oval or rectangular baking dish.

2. Combine the dates, bicarbonate of soda and just-boiled water in a heatproof bowl. Stand for 15 minutes, or until the dates are softened.

3. Place the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and mix well. Add the butter, eggs, vanilla and softened date mixture and mix to combine.

4. Pour the pudding mixture into the prepared dish. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the pudding comes out clean.

5. Meanwhile, to make the caramel sauce, place the butter, cream and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for two to three minutes. Bring to the boil and season with a pinch of salt. Stand until required.

6. Set the pudding aside to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

7. Pour half the caramel sauce over the pudding, then serve with the ice cream, the remaining caramel sauce and an extra sprinkling of cinnamon.

Slow cooker method

Grease and line the slow cooker with two layers of baking paper.

Follow steps 2 and 3.

Pour the pudding mixture into the prepared slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for two hours, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the pudding comes out clean.

Follow steps 5, 6 and 7.

Serves 6.

The Slow Cook by Justine Schofield. Plum, $39.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.

The Slow Cook by Justine Schofield. Plum, $39.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.

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This story Slow cooking: good things come to those who wait first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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