I can't stop thinking about getting an electric pressure cooker.

In addition to cooking foods in a fraction of the normal time with just the push of a few buttons, electric pressure cookers promise so much more. Completely self-contained, there are models that offer automatic timers and multiple functions, so you can brown meats and saute vegetables before pressure cooking, perhaps simmer in-between steps, and keep a dish warm after it's done. Some models double as rice cookers, steamers and even slow cookers to seal the deal.

I've never owned a pressure cooker. With all the horror stories I'd heard growing up about exploding cookers and dinners ending up on the ceiling, I never seriously considered buying one. But more friends are getting them, and I seem to be noticing them everywhere lately, not just in stores, but on TV too. No, I'm not talking "Fear Factor" but popular cooking shows, where chefs brandish pressure cookers to make quick work of slow-cooked dishes for competition shows such as "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef."

So, is it all hype? And what about the electric models -- are they too good to be true?

At first glance, there's no confusing an electric pressure cooker for a traditional stove-top model. The electric models are bigger and bulkier -- picture a slow cooker on steroids -- bedazzled with buttons and digital displays. You'd be hard-pressed to fit one in a normal cabinet.

What's good about the electric models is that they do so many things automatically: Plug in the cooker, press a few buttons and go. The electric models switch off automatically -- often beeping when done -- slowly releasing pressure and keeping the dishes warm until needed.

The digital displays can be helpful in giving up-to-the-minute details on how a dish is progressing. Some displays are simple, others more colorful, even entertaining.

Most models have "browning" and/or "sauteing" functions, a convenient feature allowing you to sear meats and brown vegetables in the same pot before cooking. They also have inserts with nonstick surfaces, making them easy to clean. That said, as with nonstick pans in general, the coating limits the amount of flavor that builds up on the surface of the insert as the food browns, reducing the depth of flavor.

>Bolognese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter, divided

4 ounces prosciutto, finely diced

2 onions, finely diced

2 stalks celery, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced

4 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

3 cloves garlic, crushed

8 ounces lean ground beef

8 ounces ground pork (or pork shoulder, cut into small dice)

8 ounces ground veal (or veal stew meat, cut into small dice)

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1/3 cup dry red wine

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup beef broth

2 large (28- or 32-ounce) cans pureed San Marzano tomatoes

1 cup heavy cream, more if desired

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

Heat the pressure cooker insert and melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add the prosciutto and brown, stirring frequently.

Add the onion, celery and carrot, oregano and fennel and continue to cook until lightly caramelized, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic. Strain the vegetables to a bowl, leaving the fat in the insert.

Add the remaining butter and brown the ground beef, pork and veal, stirring frequently and breaking up any lumps. Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the red wine, stirring to scrape up any flavorings from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, then stir back in the vegetables.

Stir in the salt, black pepper, then stir in the beef broth. Stir in the tomatoes and cream. Seal the pressure cooker and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 8 minutes.

Release pressure naturally (about 10 minutes, depending on the cooker) and carefully remove the lid. Skim the fat if desired and stir. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed, and add a little extra cream, if desired. This makes about 3 quarts Bolognese sauce. Stir in the parsley before serving.


>Pumpkin Risotto

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, cut into 1/4 -inch dice

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups Vialone Nano or Arborio rice

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 teaspoons minced rosemary

1 cup pumpkin puree

3 1/2 to 4 cups vegetable broth

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Walnut oil

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the pressure cooker insert. Add the butter and oil, stirring until the butter is melted. Add the onion and cook until softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Stir in rice, coating the grains with the fat and toasting for a minute or so.

Stir in the white wine and rosemary; the wine should quickly come to a simmer.

Add the pumpkin puree and 3 1/2 cups broth and stir to combine. Seal the pressure cooker and set the timer to cook at high pressure for 6 minutes.

Quick-release the pressure, carefully uncover, and stir in additional broth if desired. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. The rice should be almost al dente; if necessary, continue to simmer for 1 to 2 minutes until the rice is cooked and the liquid is thickened (timing will vary slightly depending on the pressure cooker).

When the rice is al dente, stir in the chopped walnuts and 2 tablespoons walnut oil. Stir in additional broth if desired to adjust the consistency.

Plate the risotto, topping each serving with a drizzle of walnut oil and a sprinkling of fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.


>Coq au Vin

3/4 cup diced bacon

4 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided

2 sliced onions

3/4 teaspoon thyme

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup canned, chopped tomatoes

2 cups red wine, divided

1 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided

1 tablespoon oil

5 tablespoons butter, divided

24 pearl onions, peeled

1 pound mushrooms, quartered

3 tablespoons flour

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat the pressure cooker insert and add the bacon. Brown the bacon until crisp, stirring frequently. Strain the bacon, leaving the fat in the insert.

Pat the chicken dry and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the chicken to the insert and brown on both sides. Remove the chicken to a plate or baking sheet, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add the onions and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly caramelized. Stir in the garlic and bay leaf. Stir in the tomatoes, then 1 1/2 cups wine, scraping any flavoring from the bottom of the pan. Stir in 1 cup of the broth.

Place the chicken on top of the onions. Seal the pressure cooker and set the timer to cook at high pressure for 10 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Stir in the oil, then add 2 tablespoons butter to melt. Add the pearl onions and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly caramelized. Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook until golden. Season with one-half teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper. Off heat, add the remaining wine and broth. Cook until the liquid is reduced by two-thirds, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pressure cooker and plate; leaving the sauce in the cooker. The dish can be made up to this point and chilled up to a day ahead; rewarm the chicken and sauce before proceeding with the recipe.

In a small bowl, stir the flour with the remaining 3 tablespoons butter to form a paste. Heat the remaining sauce until it comes to a simmer. Whisk in bits of the paste to the sauce until it thickens (you may not use all of the paste). Stir the pearl onions and mushrooms and any liquid in with the sauce. Taste, adjust seasoning if desired. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the mushrooms and onions around the chicken on the platter, and drizzle over the sauce. Crumble the bacon over the chicken, and sprinkle over the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.