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Slow-cook specials: 2 dinner ideas with maximum comfort for minimum effort

Cut down on after-dinner hassle with these two autumn recipes from the GastroGays.

Image: GastroGays

YES, IT’S BEEN a glorious summer, but the arrival of autumn shouldn’t bring dread. It definitely doesn’t in our book.

Wrapping up in a jacket and scarf offers extra cosiness and that cup of coffee or tea is so much more satisfying now it warms us up good and proper. Plus, autumn dinners bring the opportunity for more comforting and heartier dishes, which can only be a good thing.

The days might be getting shorter but that doesn’t mean workloads are letting up, so we’re all always looking for great-tasting dishes that are easy to make, seriously satisfying – and don’t leave us with a pile of saucepans and pots to clean up afterwards.

These one-pot wonders (one meat option, one vegan option) ensure the minimum effort for the maximum impact, with flavours coming together while your back is turned and perfectly ready to eat once you are! 

If you have a slow cooker at home, even better – these recipes can happily cook away while you’re getting on with a full work day or ploughing through evening tasks. Read on below for two recipes perfect for a cosy evening in…

DSC_0002 Source: GastroGays

Minestrone Soup
Serves 6-8 

Eat the rainbow, as the nutritionists say. Getting as much colour into your cookery as possible has so many benefits, least of all the pretty-looking kaleidoscope on your chopping board as you prep.

This is the ideal autumn recipe – a warm, comforting and filling bowl of thick soup that bubbles slowly away and leaves you with the minimum of clean-up afterwards.

Just assemble everything together, allow the soup to cook, then add in the greens, beans and pasta for extra bulk. Most of the main ingredients come in pairs of two, so it’s easy to remember too!

  • 2 red onion, sliced

  • 2 leek, halved and sliced

  • 2 large cloves of garlic, sliced

  • 2 stems of celery, chopped

  • 2 carrots, chopped

  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (you may need 1 tbsp of sugar to offset the sharpness, depending on brand)

  • 100ml water or vegetable stock (more, if required)

  • 10-12 fresh tomatoes, quartered

  • 1 can of cannellini beans, drained

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs + 1 tsp extra dried oregano

  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

  • A handful of kale, chopped

  • 180g dried pasta shapes

  • 2 tsp each salt white ground white pepper 

1. Add everything except the beans, pasta and kale into a large pot and allow to come to the boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer, clamp on the lid and give the soup two hours to cook through. [If you have a slow cooker, simply place the above ingredients into the pot, clamp on the lid and cook on low for four hours.]

2. Then, add in the beans and pasta. Adjust the water at this point if necessary, as these additions will make it significantly thicker. Allow to cook for another 30 minutes [If using a slow cooker, cook for a further 1-2 hours on low instead.]

3. About five minutes before serving, add in the kale and stir through (this ensures it keeps its vibrant green colour and doesn’t get too soft and overcooked). Taste, and adjust seasoning if needed. 

4. Serve with some crusty bread on the side.

DSC_0105 Source: GastroGays

Harissa Slow Cooked Chicken
Serves 4-6 

One dish which gives us all such joy and happiness is a roast chicken, right? But with busy schedules and long work days, roasting a chook at the end of a testing workday isn’t the idea of a relaxing evening for most.

A slow cooked whole chicken is a game changer.Amp up the flavourings, pop into the oven (or the slow cooker), and let it do its thing! The result? Probably the moistest chicken you could ever dream of, with meat that falls off the bone.

  • 1 whole chicken (1.5kg, free-range preferably)

  • 2 medium potatoes, sliced thinly

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced

  • olive oil, or other flavourless oil

  • 1 lime, halved and juiced

  • bunch of fresh coriander 

For the harissa spice mix:

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds

  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds

  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds

  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds

  • 2 tbsp smoked hot paprika

  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

  • 1 tsp flaked sea salt

  • 1 tsp garlic powder

  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

1. Start by making your harissa spice mix. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl or use a pestle and mortar to combine. Add some lime juice and enough oil to make it into a paste and continue to combine. 

2. Slash the legs and thighs of the chicken with a sharp knife and if the chicken is trussed, keep it that way. Stuff the used lime halves and a bunch of coriander into the cavity, and smother the chicken with the spice mix. You can marinade this in the spice mix ahead of time to allow the flavours to penetrate the chicken, or you can cook right away.

3. Take the sliced potatoes and onions and place them in layers along the bottom of a large, lipped baking dish – the taller the better. Season with salt & pepper. Place the chicken on top, and cover in foil. Place in a 120ºC oven for 4 hours or so. [If using a slow cooker, make the same layers of potatoes, onions and chicken and cook on high for four hours or low for 8 hours.]

4. Just before taking out the chicken, pre-heat a grill to a medium heat. Carefully remove the chicken from the slow cooker and put it on a baking tray. Place under the hot grill for about 3-4 minutes to crisp the skin up. Carve, season and serve with the your favourite sides.

5. Keep the potatoes and onions for stock – using the chicken bones, extra water and vegetable peelings and slow-cooking for a really flavoursome stock, the perfect base for another dish!

More: Got eggs? You’re halfway to dinner with these deadly 30-minute recipes>

More: The Perfect Full Irish: How to make the ideal fry, according to the experts>

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