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Italian Crock Pot Stew

Recipe: Italian Crock Pot Stew NEW

Remarks:

    This dish is very easy to make. It better be or it doesn't deserve to be a crock pot meal! All you have to do is brown the meat and then time adding the mushrooms. Walk away from your crock pot and dinner will cook itself.
    A note on the Italian sausage: I like my sausage "loose"; not in a casing like a wiener. I slice the casing and take out the meat and break it up into once inch blobs. You don't need to make little meatballs; just break up the meat into chunks like you'd find on a pizza. Sweet Italian sausage is not sugary it's just not as spicy as hot sausage. You make this dish with all sweet sausage if you don't like too much spice. I love hot food but I would not recommend you make this with all hot or it will be very VERY spicy.

Ingredients:

    2 Tbl olive oil
    3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, broken into bites
    3/4 pound hot Italian sausage, broken into bites
    2 small, six inch zucchini cut into one half inch rings
    1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper cut into one-inch chunks
    1/2 a medium onion cut into chunks (it will fall apart later)
    1 tsp garlic (jar garlic is fine)
    28 oz chopped Italian tomatoes. I use canned organic with the juice
    2 tsp Italian spice blend
    8 oz thickly sliced large button mushrooms; or small button mushrooms cut in half
    11/2 cups Italian cheese blend
    4 Tbl of fresh basil cut into thin slices (a.k.a chiffonade)

    Optional: Cooked pasta - your choice of noodle. Penne, rigatoni, fettuccine, or other.

Instructions:

    Put the broken up sausage and the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Toss. Cook on medium high until both sides of the sausage are browned. You don't need to cook the sausage all the way through. It will finish in the crock pot. The reason to sauté it ahead is to get a nice brown crust on it so it will be visually appealing. My secret is to leave it alone while it gets the crust on it. Don't toss it around too much. This will take about 3 minutes per side.
    When the meat is browning you can cut up all of your veggies. You'll have plenty of time. When the sausage is done put half of it in the crock pot. Layer in the zucchini, pepper onion and garlic. Then add the other half of the sausage. Top it all with the tomatoes. Just open the can and pour it on juice and all. Add the Italian spices and stir to get it all mixed up.
    Put the top on the crock pot and cook on high heat for one and a half hours. When that time is up add the mushrooms and stir again. The crock pot will be rather full so be careful when you are stirring. Just poke the mushrooms into the hot liquid if you need to. The reason not to put the mushrooms in too soon is you don't want them to over-cook and get mushy. Put the top back on and let it cook another one and a half hours on high. Most crock pot recipes say cook 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. My theory is if you cook 3 hours on high...maybe a few minutes more, your veggies will still have some bite to them. That's a good idea when zucchini is involved. Another secret to crock pot cooking. Don't peak. The more you open the top, the longer it will take to cook. Some say you add 15 minutes to the cooking time every time you open to peek or stir. At the three hour point pull out a piece of your veggies. If you like them then your meal is done. If they are a little too crunchy, cook for up to 30 minutes more.
    If you need to cook this while you are at work I would best suggest you plan on 7 hours on low. Or start it on your lunch hour if your commute is short. And keep in mind mushy is not all bad. If you can't get home the meal will still taste great. It will just be softer. When the crock pot cooking is done you can cook your pasta in boiling water and serve it under the Italian stew. The stew will be great in large soup bowls with no pasta if you prefer. Either way, when you put your stew in the bowl you'll be topping it with the cheese and then the fresh basil.

Serving Suggestions:

    Serve with garlic bread and a quick salad and you have a gourmet meal.

Enjoy. Cheers! Zola

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