When I bought a slow cooker three years ago, I approached the contraption with trepidation. I even jokingly began a “slow cooker support group” with my pal Aviva Goldfarb to get over my hesitation to use it. Fast forward to this week when I put created this slow cooker chickpea stew in just a few minutes. A perfect cold weather lunch or dinner, we delighted in it as the snow began to fall.
I’m not yet a slow cooker maven. (Believe me, I know several. Kathy Hester of Healthy Slow Cooking, Kalyn Denny of Slow Cooker from Scratch and Kalyn’s Kitchen, and Judith Hannemann of The Midnight Baker are my favorites.) Still, I have learned not to be intimidated by the machine’s bells and whistles. Keeping it simple, a slow cooker is a great way to make soups and stews, as well as meat and vegetable dishes that contain at least a small amount of liquid.
This slow cooker chickpea stew began when I spied two cans of chickpeas in my pantry. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to use up food that I tend to buy and let languish in my cabinets and refrigerator. I’m not sure to what I should attribute my food stockpiling tendency. I’m determined to keep it under control, though, even if I can’t completely cure myself. Notice I didn’t call it hoarding. I rarely have to throw out food and put it to good use. It’s just that I feel compelled to keep a lot on hand. Well, enough of the true confessions – back to chickpea stew.
With lots of “hard veggies” and a few other miscellaneous vegetables on hand too, my thoughts went toward minestrone. However minestrone soup typically includes cannellini or white beans (not chickpeas) and I was in the mood for stew, not soup. So I made a chickpea stew with flavors associated with minestrone.
Tips for making Slow Cooker Chickpea Stew
- I made this stew vegetarian, using my basic vegetable broth. Chicken broth would work well too; beef broth would probably overwhelm the other flavors.
- You could easily turn this stew into soup by adding more liquid or using fewer vegetables.
- If you refrigerate the stew (or a soup version), you’ll find that the liquid gets soaked up by the vegetables and pasta. Be prepared to add more broth or water when you re-heat it.
- You can make this stew without a cheese rind and add cheese at the end. But having the rind steep in the stew lends it an incredible richness that adding grated cheese afterwards just can’t match. I save my rinds by freezing them, adding another whenever I’m done with a wedge of Parmesan or Romano.
- The vegetable ingredients for chickpea stew are infinitely variable. Use what you have on hand or try a new vegetable that you haven’t used before – perhaps fennel or celery root. My homemade broth had been previously frozen in ice cube trays, but the recipe calls for 4 cups, so you could use an entire box of store-bought. The pasta should be small. I used orzo because that’s what I had. Here’s a great list of “minute” pasta shapes, any one of which would be fine.
- If you don’t have a slow cooker, make a stovetop version by bringing the stew to a boil in a pot with a tight fitting cover, turn it down and simmer covered for several hours until the hard vegetables and chickpeas have softened. Then add the cabbage and zucchini and continue cooking for about a half hour-45 minutes. Finally add the small pasta and continue until it is fully cooked. Obviously, you have to babysit a stovetop version. What I love about slow cooking it is that you can – and I did – leave the house while the stew is in process.
The ingredients are simple. One twist in this version that differentiates it from traditional minestrone is the use of hot sauce rather than red pepper flakes. The 1/2 teaspoon specified provides just a slight kick. I found it perfect and my beloved reached in the refrigerator (where I still keep my hot sauces) for more.