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Think your slow cooker is only for cold, winter days? Let me change
your mind with this lighter slow-cook recipe, just right for summer.
A slow cooker is a time-pressed cook's secret weapon. Plan ahead, do a little bit of work upfront, and a few hours later, there you have it, the home-cooked dish of your dreams. No wonder slow-cook recipes are so popular for busy fall and holiday evenings, when work and social obligations mean you might not spend as much time as you'd like in the kitchen.
It's probably this kind of fall and winter use that makes most of us associate hearty soups and stews with the popular appliance (one that 80 percent of Americans have stowed away in their cupboards). But the handy tool lends itself to lighter dishes, too. And though cooking a hot meal on a hot day might seem counterintuitive, the slow cooker is actually great for summer. Skeptical? Stay with me here.
Unlike the hot burners on the stove top or the several cubic feet of hot air in your oven, the heating element of a slow cooker is completely self-contained. Translation: It doesn't add fuel to the fire and make a hot kitchen even hotter. If you've got the outdoor space and power source, you can even take the cooker outside and avoid any cooking in the kitchen altogether. What's even better: The slow cooker does most of the work, meaning you're free to get outside and head off to the pool, beach, or wherever you go to escape the heat.
The kinds of meals you can make with a slow cooker are just the thing for casual summer entertaining. Have your guests serve themselves from a pot, and put dishes of accompaniments on the side so they can add them to their own taste.
I've chosen a dish here inspired by the food from sun-baked- Mediterranean regions to get you started. My slow-cooker version of cioppino lets you improvise a little, based on what the catch of the day is at your fish counter. Ladle yourself a bowl of the flavorful fish soup, dip in some crusty bread, and imagine you're on the Amalfi Coast—or on the hills of San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, where local Italian-American fishermen are said to have popularized the dish. Enjoy!