One of the best ways of using a slow cooker is for the long simmering which dried beans need. This was the main reason I bought my first slow cooker. As far as my husband is concerned at least, one of the best partners for beans is pork or some other sort of piggy product. This stew is a very good example and ended up tasting like an Italian version of cassoulet. I used dried beans without soaking them (see notes below) and they cooked really well.
250 g/1 1/2 cups dried haricot (navy) beans
1 tbsp dried thyme
450g/1lb fresh Italian pork sausages (or normal British sausages of some kind and 1 tbsp fennel seeds)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
300ml/1 1/4 cups dry red or white wine, preferably Italian (I used a Bulgarian cab sauv and it was fine)
1 bay leaf
500ml veg stock (I used Marigold cubes)
400g/14 oz can chopped tomatoes
1/4 head green cabbage, e.g. cavolo nero or Savoy, finely chopped
salt and pepper
Chopped fresh thyme and 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Here's how I cooked it and then how I might tackle it with tinned beans.
Put everything down to the vegetable stock into the slow cooker except the sausages. Brown the sausages and add to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 7-10 hours then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well and continue to cook on low for another 2 hours or until the cabbage is tender.
With canned beans, you can put everything in together (tomatoes can stop dried beans cooking because they are acidic) and cook on low for 6 hours. Longer will be fine but your beans will collapse.
This was really good and our dinner guests really rated it. We ate it with rice and it would also be good with polenta. The beans took on so much flavour (and probably a fair amount of fat!) and were really creamy and flavourful, just like in cassoulet. I might even prefer this to Cassoulet which is saying something. I actually used 850g of sausages as I had a pack that big of British sausages and I thought that was only just enough for 5. They also fell apart so the meatiness of Italian sausage would have been better. The Sicilian sausages at Sainsburys are great in this kind of recipe. I wonder if the herbs would go bitter if you added them early but the original recipe seemed to think they would be fine.
A good recipe for autumn or winter meals with yummy flavours.