I’m a huge fan of is a Bolognese. Deep, rich, winey, this meat-based sauce is out of this world fantastic. It’s just insanely good. But what I’m def’ not a fan of is babysitting Bolognese on the stove top, stirring often as it reduces. While Bolognese is made from the simplest of ingredients, it needs to simmer just about forever, lovingly tended, and ain’t nobody got time for that. The answer? Slow Cooker Bolognese.
My go-to recipe and method for my Slow Cooker Bolognese were culled from Cook’s Country, years ago, and I just love it. If you feel the same way and love Bolognese but don’t love being tied to the stove and don’t want to risk scorching during that long-simmering, this Slow Cooker Bolognese is going to save you. It’s a dream come true!
About Slow Cooker Bolognese:
If you’re familiar with Ragu Bolognese, you know we’re talking a rich, silky, unctuous sauce of a single or various ground meats, a few aromatic vegetables that all but disappear into the sauce and usually a touch of tomato. The Ragu Bolognese is rendered slowly with milk and wine and has (sometimes) just the faintest scrape of nutmeg.
So don’t confuse this with your American Italian Spaghetti Sauces, which have their place; there’s nothing like my Dad’s Spaghetti Sauce, for instance. But Bolognese is really in a class by itself.
Serving Your Slow Cooker Bolognese:
As you can imagine, even though the Slow Cooker Bolognese makes a good amount, and even though most of the stress of making it is taken away with this clever Slow Cooker method, there’s no doubt that Slow Cooker Bolognese is a special dish; precious, really, in a way that we American’s don’t always consider with food. I mean, we’re used to just piling on pasta sauces.
You’ll want to treat your Bolognese a bit differently and while it’s so good with pasta, tossed just to lightly dress it, it’s rich; a little goes a long way. Plan for about 1/2 cup of sauce per person, tossed with the pasta (unless my son is around, lol). Keep in mind that the amount is probably a bit generous by Italian standards but we Americans might need to rethink. You’ll want a great pasta to go with your Bolognese if you have fresh available, it’s the way to go. Look for something like pappardelle or tagliatelle, but a good egg noodle, with their slightly curly edges, works great, too.
Pull out the good Parmesan or Romano for this special recipe, to shave over top and have a glass of wine or two. Serve with a gorgeous, simple salad, maybe a Caeser and if you want a veggie, think broccoli, broccolini, or chard. All are just beautiful with your Slow Cooker Bolognese.
Hold back just a bit of the starchy pasta water in case your Slow Cooker Bolognese needs to be thinned out for just a bit. Likely, since this recipe makes so much, you may be wanting to just reheat a portion of it for serving. Once refrigerated, this Slow Cooker Bolognese can thicken up a bit so that pasta water can come in handy.
Making Slow Cooker Bolognese:
I tinker sometimes with the recipe. Sometimes I start this recipe by rendering a little pancetta, which is a pricey ingredient but adds such flavor. Other times I may use just a bit of bacon fat for a little added flavor instead of the butter. Now and then, I’ll add just the faintest whisper of freshly grated nutmeg to the finished dish.
While some recipes are super complicated and have a lot of varied and hard to find ingredients (organ meats for instance, or ground veal) depending on where you live, and what your expectations are, this Slow Cooker Bolognese is pretty straightforward.
I recently read a post by Kenji from Serious Eats, (I love that guy!) and it made me wonder, “Is my Bolognese all it could be?” I tried a few of his ideas (and check the link if you’re a foodie freak like me) but the one I stuck with was a touch of gelatin to add a rich silkiness to my veal-less version of Bolognese. I also tried the fish sauce, which I liked when the Bolognese was first served, but it intensified, making what was left and stored taste – well – fishy. And not in a good way,
Success with Slow Cooker Bolognese:
I’ve noticed over the years in my search for my ultimate Bolognese, a few common complaints about the Cook’s method. Here are a few hints that might help you:
- Don’t try to make this in a small, tall round crockpot – it won’t all fit and won’t reduce properly. You need the larger standard size, not a small, oval slow cooker.
- When the recipe is started, place the lid on the crockpot and preheat it on high.
- Simmer the Bolognese after adding the milk until all noticeable liquid has evaporated, except for a little fat. The fat will be clear; you’ll know when it’s right.
- Bring the mixture to a vigorous boil after adding in the rest of the ingredients.
- Quickly add the boiling hot sauce to the crock pot, lid it immediately and wait for the sauce to come to a boil again before removing the lid.
- Do not leave the slow cooker under a low cabinet where the steam will hit the cabinet, it could possibly ruin the finish and possibly drip back into the slow cooker.
- If you’re commuting and working full-time, you may be away more than seven to eight hours. Cover the crock pot partially with a lid and the evaporation will slow, buying you more time.
- If the mixture still seems too soupy when you’re ready to serve, put back in a pan and simmer vigorously, stirring often, to quickly reduce.
- Freezes well. Cover the top with a plastic wrap, then lid.
Saving Money on Slow Cooker Bolognese:
Speaking of price, if you’re frugal, you’ll probably be thinking this recipe might put you into sticker shock and might not even have a place on a frugal site. It’s a lot of beef or meats of choice and a lot of wine. A bottle of wine is about 3 1/2 cups. While it might not be your every day, get dinner on the table recipe, for a special occasion, it’s going to beat out a lot of possible dishes. And it makes a lot!
And no, you don’t always have to cook with the wine you’re going to serve; this is a great place to pick up just a decent white (or you can use red) for cooking and maybe a better one for drinking.
This recipe makes a lot; it freezes beautifully, but my favorite thing to do with leftovers is lasagne. It’s standard to use a Bechemel (White Sauce) for Lasagne Bolognese, and generally, they aren’t quite as meaty as some lasagne but don’t go overboard on the cheese. I usually do, so I speak from experience. Let the Bolognese shine!
When reheating leftovers, since your Slow Cooker Bolognese gels and become more solid in the fridge, family members who are scooping it out to add to pasta to microwave will vastly miscalculate a serving – reheat with a little water, stove-top or microwave, then portion, and your Bolognese will go a lot further.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, finely minced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 pounds meatloaf mix, or 1½ pounds each of ground chuck and ground pork
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/4 cup whole milk (2% will work; whole is better)
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- Good pinch sage
- 1 packet powdered gelatin
- 3 cups dry white wine (a non-tannic & not too sweet red can be used)
- 1 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes, pulsed in blender until smooth
- 1 grating of fresh nutmeg (optional)
Heat butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until foaming. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until softened but not colored, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant and slightly browned, about 1 minute.
Add meat, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and cook, breaking up meat, until crumbled into tiny pieces and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. A potato masher works well for this.
Note: Although the original recipe does not call for it, I like to drain some of the fat from the ground beef.
Add milk, bring to vigorous simmer, and cook until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Add gelatin, wine, tomatoes, sage and parsley. Add nutmeg if using. Cover and bring to boil. Transfer mixture to slow cooker, cover, set temperature to high, and bring to boil, about six to seven minutes.
Once mixture comes to boil, remove lid and simmer until sauce is very thick, 7 to 8 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired add a grating of nutmeg.
Make Ahead: This recipe can be partially made the night before so that it’s ready to place in the slow cooker in the morning. The next morning, bring the mixture back to a boil, transfer it to the slow cooker, and proceed as directed.
Nutrition: Based on 12 servings w/o pasta: calories 297; tot fat 15g; sat fat 7g; mono 1g; trans 1g; chol 82mg; sod 379mg; pot 383mg; carb 8g; fib 2g; sug 5g; prot 24g; vit a 42%; vit c 23%; calc 6%; iron 17%