Monday, May 30, 2011

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce & Homemade Pasta

I love adore Italian food.  That explain why I can't stick to a no-carb diet.  To me, pasta is a vehicle for sauces.  It's also a fool-proof way to clean out my vegetable bin.   I have only one off spring-- a boy 22 year old son.  Living with my husband and son, pasta is something I make year-round.   Now that I've mastered making a quick marinara sauce, I don't buy bottled spaghetti sauce. Amen to that!  I've always wanted to make Bolognese sauce.  This sauce is simmered, long and slow, for hours.  I'm not opposed to doing that, but my slow cooker has been sitting idle for a very long time  Enter the test kitchen at Cook's Illustrated--who also produces one of my favorite cooking magazines, "Cook's Country "--and I finally made the decision to make my own Bolognese sauce.  There are many versions of making this sauce. Several include Pancetta, but this recipe uses ground beef and pork.  I prepared finely chopped carrots, celery and onion. 

 Freshly chopped thyme, 3 cloves of minced garlic and 3 Tablespoons of tomato pasta is ready to begin...

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, about 1 minute.

Add meat, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking up meat, until crumbled into tiny pieces and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add milk, bring to vigorous simmer, and cook until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes.

(It's not pretty, waiting for the milk fat to evaporate.) Why milk in a sauce?  I think it's the lactic acid that is supposed to help tenderize the meat. 

Next, two 28-ounce canned tomatoes need to be pureed in a blender/food processor until smooth...

  Add wine (I used a dry white Sauvignon Blanc), tomatoes, and thyme; cover and bring to boil. 

Transfer mixture to slow cooker, cover, set temperature to high, and bring to boil.  I love the slow cooker bags that I find at my grocery store. They really do make cleanup much easier!  We're cooking this on HIGH, bringing it to a boil. Why? According to the Cook's Country article,  we want the extra liquid to evaporate, so we don't get a watery sauce.  

Once mixture comes to boil, remove lid and simmer until sauce is very thick, 7 to 8 hours.

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. Complete steps 1 and 2 and refrigerate the mixture in the Dutch oven. The next morning, bring the mixture back to a boil, transfer it to the slow cooker, and proceed as directed.

The aroma that wafted through our kitchen was making my mouth water.  When I checked on the sauce, I didn't like all the fat that had floated to the top.

My sister-in-law gave me this "fat mop" as a gift, a few years ago.  I love it!  It quickly soaks up the surface fat and then it "squeegees" it away! 

TASTING NOTES:  I think it's my slow cooker that doesn't get hot enough to boil the meat sauce as much as it could have.  I thought the sauce was still a bit thinner than I'd like. I remedied that with a mixture of flour/water, and I added it a little bit at a time, until it reached my desired thickness.

We were so hungry, by the time the sauce was ready, that I plated it without even thinking of making it photogenic.  I only had spaghetti noodles on hand, and I was disappointed that I didn't have a more tagliatelle or fettuccine noodles.  But, let's talk about the sauce...
TASTING NOTES:  What I love best about this Bolognese, is that it tastes just like the one I've been buying from a local Italian restaurant (they have a take-out section).  The tomato flavor takes a back seat, and it's the wine that shines through. The texture of the meat was, indeed, very tender.   This recipe makes 12 cups of sauce, so I froze two 4-cup portions.... this was about 2 months ago!

I have always wanted to buy an Atlas Pasta Machine. I spotted a gently used  Atlas Pasta Machine Set on eBay, and the highest bid was at $50.00. For a new machine, the best price I could find was about $200.00.  (I must admit, that I've acquired a wicked technique that usually results in my winning most eBay auctions that I want. It's a closely guarded secret!)  I won the auction, and I got the whole pasta machine set for $60.00!!! For a couple of weeks, I felt hesitant to make my own pasta-- as I had never done it, other than the Sardinian Gnocchi that I made, some time ago.

We've had unusually unpredictable California weather, during the month of May.  Some days have been warm and sunny, and others have been overcast and drizzly chilly.  Last week, it was raining and so I decided to just dive in and figure out how to use the pasta machine. I giggled, as I made rolled my first successful set of pasta!  (I made a basic egg dough.) I was delighted to find out that it's not that hard to make pasta, and I'm very excited to make more!  So, I thawed a container of the frozen Bolognese sauce...

What I love about freshly made pasta, is that it cooks in just a few minutes...

TASTING NOTES:   I thought the sauce tasted even better! Spaghetti noodles really don't do justice to this sauce. The thicker noodles carry this sauce.  The homemade pasta, glass of red wine and this sauce was so comforting. We loved it!  I was so pleased that I had learned to make two more classic Italian recipes.   I think that Cook's Country has done justice to the Italian community.  I do think that this sauce would be just as good, if simply simmered on the stove top. However, for full-time working cooks (like me), I think it work to do the prep work the night before and then let it simmer in a slow cooker.  There is no way that a commercially, bottled sauce can come close to the homemade flavors of patiently cooking vegetables, patiently cooking the meats and using fresh herbs.  To be honest, this sauce tastes just as good as the Italian restaurant I used to stop and pay $8.00 for a quart of this.  Sure, this recipe is a bit fussy.  But, so am I!
(A printable recipe card is at the bottom of this post.)

GIVEAWAY:   I almost forgot!  On my last post, featuring grilling recipe ideas, I announced that I would give away a copy of Steven Raichlen's "How to Grill".   Using Random.Org, the number "16" came up.  Oh, wow!  Cathy of "Wives With Knives" was the winning comment. She said:
Improving my grilling skills is at the top of my to-do list this summer. I'm going to start with that scrumptious looking tri-tip. You share so many wonderful recipes and grilling tips and you've inspired me to keep at it.
Congratulations, Cathy!  Please email your shipping address to  I'll get that book out to you right away.  I think you'll love it!  Thanks, everyone, for your fun comments.


Slow-Cooker Bolognese Sauce

        <p>Bolognese sauce is a hearty Italian pasta sauce in which ground beef and pork are simmered for hours in milk, wine, tomatoes, and vegetables. While it sounds a little odd, the sweet, deep-tasting sauce is a classic for good reason.  This recipe comes ...    

        See Slow-Cooker Bolognese Sauce on Key Ingredient.    


I hope that everyone had a relaxing Memorial Day Holiday, and that we are not forgetting what this holiday is all about .  My gratitude is for those who have given their lives for our country.  Thank you, thank you!  This holiday is really all about you.

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