Making a good bolognese sauce is a labor of love. Sure we could just add some hamburger to a tomato sauce and call it good (and we often do!), but sometimes we really want that silky, deeply-flavored sauce that can only come from all-day cooking...
The key to a good bolognese is simmering it very slowly for several hours. This is notoriously tricky to do on the stove top, so we're using the slow cooker and it's ability to maintain a low, steady heat for this step.
Unfortunately, this isn't one of those slow cooker recipes where you can dump everything together and walk away - but the extra work at the beginning is very much worth it! You can also prepare the beef mixture the night before and finish cooking it with the tomatoes in the slow cooker the next day.
If you don't have a slow cooker, you can duplicate this recipe in a covered dutch oven in a 300° oven. Check it every hour and add more of the reserved tomato juices as needed if the bottom of the pot becomes dry.
Slow-Cooked Bolognese Sauce
Makes 6 cups
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 pounds ground beef
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk (whole or 2-percent)
1 cup white wine
2 28-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (juices reserved)
1 cup reserved tomato juices
Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and cook until the onion is translucent and all the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beef, breaking it apart with your spoon and cooking until it is just browned. Season with nutmeg, salt, 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. Transfer the beef mixture to the slow cooker.
Add the chopped tomatoes and one cup of the reserved tomato juices to the slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours.
In the last half hour of cooking, remove the lid to allow any excess liquid to evaporate and reduce the sauce. The finished sauce should be chunky and creamy without being soupy.
Serve over spaghetti with a hunk of crusty bread for mopping up the sauce!
(Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)