Slow Cooker Sunday – Bolognese sauce

Now I know that you don’t need to make bolognese sauce in the slow cooker. We’ve been making ours in a pan quite happily for years. But then earlier this year we went to Bologna and tasted the real thing (not served on spaghetti by the way – Italians never eat Bolognese sauce on spaghetti) and it was amazing. Rich, silky and meaty, a level above what we could create in a pan on our hob. So I began researching how to make a better bolognase and discovered that part of the magic was slow cooking. So today I decided to give it a go.

Strictly speaking this should be labelled as Slow Cooker Saturday/Sunday because in order to have it ready to eat for a late Sunday lunch I had to start it off on Saturday night.

20151115_0911111 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
900g-1kg minced beef
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
240 ml semi-skimmed milk
240 ml red wine
2 tins of whole peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf

To serve:
Your choice of pasta –  I used courgetti as me and wheat don’t get on too well these days
Shaved Parmesan cheese

20151114_184354Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and cook until the onion is translucent and all the vegetables have softened – it took about 6 minutes. Then add the garlic and the tomato paste, and cook for another minute.

My frying pan is massive and had room to add in the beef too, if yours is smaller you can put the veg into the slow cooker at this point, then continue with frying the beef. But if you’ve got enough space add the beef to the pan, break it apart with your spoon and cook until it is just browned. The add 1 teaspoon salt along with the thyme, oregano and pepper.

Stir in the milk and bring it to a rapid simmer. Continue simmering until the milk has reduced completely and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer again until reduced completely, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef mixture into the slow cooker.

Open the cans of tomatoes and strain through a strainer, reserving the juices. Break up the tomatoes and then transfer them. Add the bay leaf to the slow cooker and stir everything together. The mixture should have a thick, saucy consistency, neither overly soupy or too dry. If it looks too dry, mix in a little of the reserved tomato juices until it looks sauce-like. If it looks too soupy, don’t worry about it right now — you can let excess liquid evaporate at the end of cooking.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours, I left mine for 8.

In the last half hour of cooking, check the sauce. If it looks soupy, remove the lid to allow any excess liquid to evaporate and reduce the sauce. If it looks a little dry, stir in some of the reserved tomato juices. The finished sauce should be thick and creamy. I had to take the lid off the slow cooker and I also turned it up to high to try and encourage some evaporation.

Serve the sauce over pasta or courgetti with Parmesan sprinkled or shaved on top. You could also use it for lasagna filling if that’s your thing. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a few days and it will freeze well too – great for a lunch to take to work.

It was absolutely delicious!

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