If spending hours in the kitchen while laboring over a hot stove is not your cup of tea then this Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce (with hidden veggies galore!) is just for you. Set aside a few minutes to dust off your crock pot, do just a wee bitty bit of prep work and then enjoy a delicious and relaxing dinner as a well-deserved reward.
A Cleaner Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce
Traditional Bolognese sauce is exceptionally meat-heavy. However, I’ve found you can drastically reduce the beef, mix in some meaty-textured and finely chopped shitake mushrooms along with lots of minced carrots and shallots yet still end up with an incredibly rich-tasting sauce. I think that’s because one of the biggest secrets to making sensational and rich-tasting Bolognese is to let it cook long and slow. So really, its the technique and long cooking time that really give this classic sauce its depth of flavor; believe it or not, using more meat doesn’t contribute all that much to the overall flavor profile.
Another “Clean Cuisine” secret to my Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce is the pine nut “cream”. This may sound like a totally ridiculous and time-wasting unnecessary extra step, but pine nut “cream” takes all of 2 minutes to make and yet contributes substantially to the full-bodied end result.
Note: a lot of Bolognese sauce recipes call for heavy cream or milk but for health reasons I don’t like to cook with either one; nut-based “creams” are a far healthier and “cleaner” option.
A Few Tried and True Tips for Slow Cooker Success
Like all appliances, a crock pot has its own distinct way of doing things, so you need to understand how the appliance works and adapt your recipe accordingly.
I really think the biggest misconception with making healthy crockpot recipes is that you can simply toss all of your ingredients into the crockpot, switch the “ON” button on, and walk away. It’s true your food will in fact get cooked this way, but it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily end up with the best-tasting food!
While the slow cooker will save you pot-watching time (yes, once you turn it on you can in fact walk away) the best-tasting healthy crock pot recipes will be the ones that are prepared with proper cooking techniques. One of the most important tips to making healthy crock pot recipes that taste incredible is to soften the vegetables by sautéing before you put them in the slow cooker.
Sautéing and softening your vegetables begins the process of caramelization, which breaks down the natural sugars in foods and deepens their flavor. You’ll notice in the recipe for my Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce below that the directions call for sautéing the vegetables first—don’t skip this part (it only takes an extra 10-minutes at most.) And don’t forget to layer your salt and pepper too!
This recipe takes about 30-minutes of hands-on time to assemble but is so well worth it and makes a lot of servings. Although the ingredients call for 1 1/4 pound of grass fed beef the recipe serves at least 8 people, so each serving only has about 2 1/2 ounces of meat (the meat is really more like a condiment used as a flavor-enhancer.)
By the way, leftovers freeze incredibly well. You can serve this healthy Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce over whatever pasta you like, but I especially love whole wheat rigatoni. And I always add a simple side salad of arugula with a drizzle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil or black truffle oil and a squirt or two of fresh lemon juice. As for the vino, a nice Chianti is always a good pairing with Italian food. If you are looking for a good one, I like Cecchi Chianti Classico (Note: the “Classico” designation tends to ensure a richer, fuller, more flavorful wine.)
You Should Have Plenty of Leftovers!
This recipe makes a LOT of sauce, so you should have plenty of leftovers. Leftovers will keep nicely in the refrigerator for about 4 days if stored in a covered container. You can also freeze for up to 3 weeks.
Also, I know the past may look like it is the white refined stuff that I always say to avoid, but this is actually a gluten free and whole grain Quinoa/ Corn blend from Ancient Harvest. It is one of our family’s new favorites!
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This Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce (with hidden veggies galore!) is rich, full-bodied and delicious but is made with a reduced amount of meat.
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
- 3 large carrots
- 2 cups shitake mushrooms, stems removed
- 3 tablespoons cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 large shallots, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Unrefined sea salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 1/4 pounds grass-fed ground beef
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup organic tomato paste
- 1 can (15-ounces) organic tomato sauce
- Put the pine nuts and water in a high speed blender (such as a Vitamix); process until smooth and creamy. Set pine nut “cream” aside.
- To a food processor, add the carrots; pulse several times to finely chop. Set carrots aside. Add the mushrooms to the food processor and pulse several times until finely chopped. Set mushrooms aside.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-heat. Add the garlic, shallots and carrots; sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add the mushrooms and saute 3 to 4 minutes, or until mushrooms are soft. Season with oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer vegetables to a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker.
- Heat the skillet over medium heat, add the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until meat is no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Pour the wine into the skillet and cook until liquid evaporates. Stir in the pine nut cream, tomato paste and tomato sauce, season with additional salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Transfer the meat mixture to the slow cooker along with the vegetables. Gently stir the meat and vegetables together. Cook on high for 2 hours or on low for 4 to 5 hours. Let Bolognese sit 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm.
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