Category Archives: slow cooker

Speedy, but slow, sausage and pearl barley with spinach, done in the slow cooker when you come home late and need something on the table in five minutes.

Catchy title isn’t it? This is less a recipe than an idea.

I’ve been flying solo a bit lately. That, coupled with long days, pick ups cross country and getting into the house, late, when it’s dark and cold outside and in need of nourishment fast, has meant I’ve had to resort to that sexiest of regimes: menu planning.

Last night I knew we’d not get in before 7.30 and I knew I’d be out from 3pm.  I have become a bit obsessed with pearl barley recently, we had some fine sausages in the freezer.

So this is what I did: I chopped up an onion which I sauted in a big slug of some rather fine olive oil in the slow cooker (mine has this function). To this I added six chopped up (defrosted) sausages for a bit. Then I slung in a jar (680g) of passata and 120g of pearl barley (which I had previously rinsed). I added a bit of water (I rinsed out the passata jar with it), then I set the slow cooker for seven hours. That’s it, no herbs, no salt, nothing else.

I put some spinach to soak, separately, in cold water.

When I came home I rinsed out and spun dried some of the spinach and slung some of it into the slow cooker and stirred it through and voila. Mangiare pronto!

I was just hoping for something edible, tbh, but it was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. My youngest said “Mummy this is amazing!”

(Cooking meat in passata like this really flavours the tomato sauce and you could also omit the pearl barley and add the sauce/sausages to pasta if you have time to cook some up, but I knew even that would be beyond me last night.)

Unlike many slow cooker things it was fairly thick (the pearl barley sucks up all the moisture) but I loved it for that. It doesn’t take a good picture but you know what? On a cold January night no-one cares about that.

Spiced carrot and lentil soup

This is one of those soups that is so much more than a sum of its parts.  (A bit like this chorizo and red lentil soup one is, too.) It’s also perfect for this time of year when you’ve been in elasticated waistbands for the last two weeks and dread structured clothing. And yet you can’t stop eating, as if hiding evidence.

It’s so easy to make. I chuck it all into the slow cooker at about 2pm, not that it needs slow cooking, but it just makes it even easier. Put it on low and then we eat it at about six  o’clock after a quick whizz up with the stick blender. No need to grate the carrot, I just chop mine into pieces.

The recipe is here on the BBC Good Food site.

Barbecued baked beans (in the pressure or slow cooker).

I’m not not a fan of baked beans, but I’d never think “ooh I must have some baked beans”. They feature very little in my life other than when my partner decides to have some on toast, from a tin, for lunch, when there is very little else to eat. Then, they are a Godsend.

So the idea of making them only really came to me because I was seduced by a photo of them in the recipe book that came with my Sage Fast Slo Pro (and this is the recipe below, with some adaptions). I am quite shallow.

Sourcing “dried small white beans’ which the recipe called for (I went for cannellini but you can also choose haricot) was really not easy, they were nowhere to be found locally to me (I live in the countryside) so in the end I had to resort to the evils of Amazon. But you will be able to find them in the supermarket, it’s just that mine didn’t sell them…

These are really easy, but bear in mind you will need to reduce the sauce at the end. If you have a pressure/slow cooker that allows you to do this, all you really need to do is stir occasionally – it took about 20 mins on medium heat.

Making things that are easily bought is often a double edged sword and the shop bought can easily out trump the home made. Hummus, for me, comes into this category. I have only once tasted home made that was better than shop bought (that was my friend Sarah who made it whilst we were staying at Sackville House together).

I made these because, seduced by the aforementioned picture, I had bought some dried cannellini beans some weeks before and forgotten about them. Then, when we found ourselves without “a hot meal” as my partner put it one Saturday lunchtime, I looked in the store cupboard and found we had all the ingredients (the original recipe calls for bacon, I have omitted it). It’s super easy to make, I don’t know how you end up with a smokey barbecue flavour, but you do. They are delicious, nutritious and it makes LOADS. We had enough for beans on toast for about ten people. They properly fill you up – which is rare for me. Six hours after eating, I still wasn’t hungry.

My children don’t like baked beans, so I can’t tell you that children will love it as I don’t know – mine certainly ate more than shop bought beans, but only marginally so. My partner who is a life-long baked bean fan, said they were fantastic and gave me a round of applause.

This is what you need

1 onion, sliced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed

500g small white beans, rinsed and picked over (I’m not sure what for, mine were all fine).

1 litre of water

125ml strong black coffee (I used a big tablespoon of instant espresso powder which I keep for making coffee cakes, dissolved in 125ml of hot water)

250ml passata

110g dark brown sugar (I’m sure you could alter this to use less but this is what the original calls for, I’m sure it still works out at having a lower sugar content than shop bought)

1 tablespoon of English mustard

1 tablespoon of black treacle

half a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce

1 and a half teaspoons of salt

2 tablespoons of white or cider vinegar (for the very end)

What you do

If you have a pressure/slow cooker which allows you to saute, put this function on, heat up the oil then add the onion and cook until soft – about five mins. If yours doesn’t have this function do this bit on the stove top in a frying pan/saucepan.

When soft, add the garlic and cook for a minute.

Now, either add the rest of the ingredients, minus the vinegar to the pot of your pressure/slow cooker, or now tip the onions/garlic into your pressure/slow cooker and then add the rest of the ingredients (minus the vinegar).

Select pressure cook 80kPa, natural steam release and cook for 35-40 mins or select slow cooker mode for 10-12 hours on low.

When time is up, add the vinegar and you need to reduce the sauce right down until it’s syrupy – either in the pressure/slow cooker if you have a reduce function or decant into a large sauce pan and do it the traditional way. Mine took 20 mins.

Update January 2021. I have since made these with a squirt of Liquid Smoke from Sous Chef which was amazing. I’ve upped the time to 35-40 mins as I really don’t think 30-35 was enough time!



The very best tomato sauce for pasta.

In Italy, August is the month of  ‘i pomodori’. Where they make pasta sauce for the whole coming year. The tomatoes are boiled, ‘passati’ (literally ‘passed’ through a sieve), reboiled and bottled. There is a lovely video here which shows you.

Because it’s quite a job, it tends to be done with everyone pitching in. It’s very low-tech (or used to be). Because the raw materials are the sweetest tomatoes the salsa you get (or passata) is incredible.

I never hoped to reproduce that in the UK, but my mother makes a very keen contender in her kitchen, in central London. She has even made it in my kitchen. I have tried to replicate it, I have watched her do it. I have bought the exact same ingredients as her, but it’s never the same.

If I have frozen salsa, and I serve it up on some pasta at a later date, my children can tell, immediately, if it’s ‘Nonna’s salsa’ or mine. They say her secret ingredient is salt, and love. And it’s true I tend to under salt things. For this I didn’t and went large with the salt.

It was a secret shame of mine, that I couldn’t make salsa as good as hers or any of my Italian relatives. Not because there is any shame in it really, but because, well, I cook a lot and you’d think this simple thing would not be beyond me. I tried cooking with plum peeled tinned tomatoes, chopped tomatoes,  fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes (this does work very well but is another layer of work), passata, all of the above and added tomato puree to it…but nothing came close. It all tasted too ‘new’ and didn’t have that complex taste, it always had a ridge of acidity, and none of the thickness of my family’s salsa.

“You needa to cooka it for a long time,” my Ma says – to take the acid out of the tomatoes. But whenever I tried I burnt it.

This year, I decided I really needed to step up. My mum and all the female relatives who hold the secret to good salsa are all…getting on.

So this is what I did. It’s so simple I am embarrassed I never tried it before and you will be disappointed there is no real secret recipe. Well there is. The secret is it’s really simple.

Warning, you really need a slow cooker and I think this goes some way to compensate for the fact that you are not using super red, sweet tomatoes from southern Italy. I have this one and it is a wonderful bit of kit which I use regularly and thoroughly recommend.

You take:

A jar of passata, I use Cirio’s Passata Rustica, 680g

One onion

A big pinch of sea salt

A clove or two of garlic if you like, chopped

Some very good olive oil (the better the better) – don’t skimp, this gives the sauce flavour

That’s it. Don’t add water or anything else. You finely chop the onion and fry it in the olive oil. I do this in my slow cooker as it has a saute function. When soft, you add the garlic if using and cook for a minute or so. It is at this point I add the salt but you can add it at any point, even at the very end, but give it a good stir through.

If you can’t saute in your slow cooker, and have been doing this on the stove top in a pan, you now add the onion, garlic and any remaining oil to your slow cooker. Then the passata.

Put down the lid and you cook it in the slow cooker, on low, for hours. At least six but 12 if you can. Then you take it out, cool it, use it all at once or store it in glass jars in the fridge (it keeps for a good few days) or freezer.

You can easily double/triple etc this recipe so you can make a batch up every few weeks and store it in the freezer so you are always good to go. And you will always have super-wonderful home made salsa for your pasta or pizza or whatever.

You can add herbs later but honestly, you just don’t need to. Yesterday I did as above, but cut up some sausages and stuck them in (lightly sauted first but you don’t need to) – you could also put meatballs in. I cooked it overnight for 12 hours and it was superb on pasta for lunch.



A very good shepherd’s pie for when the weather’s bad.

I cut this out of the Independent magazine last year. It’s called Bill’s Shepherd’s Pie, but I’m afraid I know no more than that. It seems a convoluted way of making a shepherd’s pie, but you need to trust me when I tell you that it’s very very good. Leftovers seem even better, of course. And the whole thing freezes beautifully for resuscitation just when you need it.

It doesn’t have a mash topping – gasp – but chunky potatoes on top. Try it. I don’t make shepherd’s pie any other way now.

It apparently serves four, but this really depends on the size of the lamb shanks. I find it generally serves at least six, with left overs.

2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus a little extra

1 large carrot, chopped up into the usual sized pieces

1 onion, same

2 celery stalks chopped up fine

3 tablespoons of plain flour

200ml of dry white wine, or vermouth, or low alcohol cider (these latter two are what I also sometimes use)

500ml chicken stock, I tend to freeze my stock in 600ml portions so I add 600ml of stock and 100ml of vermouth/white wine

3-4 lambshanks

4 sprigs of thyme

800g-1K Maris Piper or other floury potato, these you need to have peeled and cut into chunks that are, you know, chunk sized. We tend to use 1kilo as a) we are quite partial to a potato and b) the dish I use is quite large.

A handful of parsley leaves, chopped up

The zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped

Now, this is what you do. I have given the conventional method first, then the slow cooker method.

You preheat the oven to 160C. You heat the oil in a large casserole dish – with a lid which you’ll need later – that can go in the oven.

Into this large casserole dish you add the chopped up carrot, onion and celery and season with salt and pepper (be aware the stock cube may also be salty). Cook until soft, about seven minutes.

Now add the flour and stir around and cook for a minute or two. Now you add the wine/vermouth/low alcohol cider, stock, shanks and thyme and bring it to the boil.

No, you don’t have to brown the shanks first.

Now cover the casserole and put the whole lot in the oven for two hours *, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Take it out, put it to one side for a moment, and turn the oven up to 200C.

*set a timer for about twenty minutes before times up, and put the potatoes into salted, boiling water for 20 minutes, until very tender. Drain then return them to the pan and add half each of the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a glug of olive oil, breaking up the potatoes a bit as you go. You want to rough them up a bit in an ‘Eastenders” way, not obliterate them entirely.

Lift the lamb shanks from the casserole dish, trying hard not to think of them as baby sheep’s legs. Let them cool so you can handle and then take the meat from the bones (if the meat didn’t fall off when you lifted the bone up) and break the meat up into bite sized chunks with your hands.

Return the chunks to the casserole it cooked in and now stir in the remaining parsley, garlic and lemon zest and simmer for five minutes or more until the sauce has reduced (you may need to do it for longer than five minutes). Now spoon the whole meat-sauce lot either into individual dishes, or into a suitable oven proof dish. Top with the roughed up potato chunks and bake for 20 minutes in that 200C oven until you get lovely golden bits.

Slow cooker version

I am presuming your slow cooker also has a saute function, if it doesn’t then do that bit in a conventional pan.

Put the slow cooker onto saute function and put in the olive oil. I put mine on low. Now add the chopped up carrot, onion and celery and season with salt and pepper (be aware the stock cube – if using – may also be salty). Cook until soft, about seven minutes.

Now add the flour and stir around and cook for a minute or two. Now you add the wine/vermouth/low alcohol cider, stock, thyme and lamb shanks. Don’t worry if the lamb shanks stick out a little, just try to submerge as best you can. If you cook this for a very long time (see later) then you may want to lift the lid and turn them round so that they all get a go in the juice.  Bring the heat up (still on saute setting) so it starts to bubble.

(No, you don’t have to brown the shanks first.)

Now switch off saute function, select slow cooker mode low (or medium or high if you don’t have too long) close the lid, and set for as long as you’ve got. I have done this in two 12 hour batches so that the lamb cooked for 24 hours. But you can do it on high for two hours or medium for four etc. I prefer a long, slow cook for this.

When time is up, lift the lamb shanks out – they fall apart – and put in a separate dish. Leave the juice in the slow cooker for now. Skim off the fat – there may be lots – and discard into the bin (not down the sink! We don’t want fatbergs).

Carefully take all the meat off the bones and separate out from any undesirable bits, tear the meat up into bite-size chunks and put back in the slow cooker. When all is done add half the parsley, lemon zest and garlic (the other halves will go with the potatoes) into the meat ‘n’ ting.

Now select the reduce function (again if you don’t have it at this point decant into a large pan) and reduce down for about 20 mins. It’s at this point I start attending to the potatoes, but you can do it before if you are more co-ordinated.

Now preheat the oven to 200C.

Put the potatoes into salted, boiling water for 20 minutes, until very tender. Drain then return them to the pan and add the other half each of the parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a glug of olive oil, breaking up the potatoes a bit as you go. You want to rough them up a bit in an ‘Eastenders” way, not obliterate them entirely.

Pour the bite-size meat and juice into your casserole dish for the oven and top with the potatoes and cook for 20-25 mins until potatoes are tender and golden (if you have a fancy oven that can put the heat on the top only you can give them a blast for the last few minutes).

**Eat with some fortifying green veg and serve with my chocolate sponge and chocolate custard recipe.

Apologies for the picture. It’s not easy taking one that looks really good, but don’t let it put you off. At least my pics aren’t as bad as Martha Stewart’s photos of what she’s eating.