Although my tastes generally run to foods that are hot and spicy, caramelized, pan-seared, or grilled, sometimes I’m in the mood for simpler fare, especially on cold wintry days. This kind of weather often turns my thoughts to the cozy goodness of slow-cooker recipes. The other day I wanted something loaded with veggies but more substantial than soup. I cracked open a copy of Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, and my eyes landed on the perfect solution: Pot au Feu!
Similar to the Italian bolito misto or the Boston boiled dinner my mother occasionally made when I was growing up, the pot au feu is simple no-frills comfort food. Literally pot on the fire, it refers to a French dish of meat and vegetables slowly cooked in water or broth. Usually, the rich broth is served with croutons as a first course.
The vegetables included may vary according to the region, but usually contain potatoes, carrots, and leeks. I added slices of seitan during the last thirty minutes of cooking time, just long enough to heat the seitan and let the rich flavors of the broth permeate it. Served with a crusty baguette and a glass of wine, it was just like dining in the French countryside — only different.
Slow Cooker Pot au Feu
This recipe is adapted from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. If you don’t have a large slow cooker, cut down on the quantities slightly so that everything fits. Instead of making a horseradish sauce as an accompaniment like I do in the book, I put out small bowls of prepared horseradish and coarse brown mustard. Of course, it’s best served with a baguette — try it sliced and toasted, then brushed with a little olive oil and rubbed with garlic.
2 leeks, white part only, halved lengthwise and well washed
1 pound small red potatoes, halved
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 small turnips, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 cups baby carrots
1 celery rib, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small head Savoy cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
4 cups vegetable broth
1 bouquet garni (cheesecloth bundle containing peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick thyme, parsley, and bay leaves)
Splash of dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces seitan, thinly sliced
1. Cut the leeks into 3-inch long pieces and place them in a 5 1/2 to 6-quart slow cooker. Add the potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, and cabbage. Pour the broth over all, add the bouquet garni and a splash of wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The amount of salt needed depends on the saltiness of your broth. Cover and cook on Low for 6 to 7 hours, or until vegetables are tender. (See note.)
2. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, add the seitan slices. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
3. To serve, remove vegetables and seitan from the broth. Discard the bouquet garni. Serve the broth as a first course or alongside the entrée. Arrange the vegetables and seitan on a large platter. Serve with condiments and toasted bread.
Note: Some slow cookers (crockpots) cook faster than others. The cooking time is approximate. If you want your meal cooked faster, cook it on High and it should be ready in about 4 hours. In either case, if possible, after about 3 hours, pierce your vegetables with a fork to test for doneness, and baste with some of the broth.
Two days prior to making stew, make a seitan pot roast (see recipe in March 7 post). Refrigerate the leftover pot roast and the 1/2 cup of leftover gravy. The next day, use some of the pot roast to make seitan “cheesesteaks” for lunch and put the small chunk of remaining seitan back in the refrigerator. For dinner, make pasta puttanesca (see recipe in January 19 post). Refrigerate the leftover pasta.
On the day of the stew, rummage through the refrigerator to find one onion, a handful of baby carrots, one potato, some frozen peas and lima beans, and that leftover seitan, gravy, and pasta from the two previous dinners.
Chop the onion, carrots, and potato and place them in a slow cooker with about 2 cups of vegetable broth and the frozen lima beans. Let it cook for a couple hours (until the veggies are just tender), then chop the seitan and add it along with the peas, leftover gravy, and a can of diced tomatoes. Taste to adjust seasonings, adding salt depending on the saltiness of your broth, and any herbs or spices you enjoy — I added some basil and savory. Slow-cook another hour or so. About 15 minutes before serving time, stir in the pasta to let it warm up and soak up some of the rich flavors in the stew. (Alternately, you could heat the pasta on its own and ladle the stew on top, or serve the stew over cooked grains, if that’s what you have in the house.)
So there you have it. An impromptu stew that turned leftovers from two previous meals into a warming and delicious dinner.
(Note: you can also make this stew in a pot on top of the stove — I just felt like using the slow cooker.)