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Rib-sticking Italian sausage meatballs, swathed in slow cooker Chianti sauce, top fusilli. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

Your slow cooker is the perfect vessel for long-simmered pasta sauce, bolstered here by big, hearty Italian sausage meatballs that are bound by an egg and old-fashioned oats. The sauce gains depth from dry red wine and balsamic vinegar, not to mention the meat itself. The acids are essential to the sauce; without them the result is bland and one-note.

And while you can use the more traditional ground beef, pork, and veal mixture for meatballs, Italian sausage really does deliver a strong, interesting flavor profile to this dish.

About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago." Follow her on Twitter @olverajennifer.

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