Pasta with Bolognese is a satisfying way to feed a crowd — especially with this largely hands-off version made in the slow cooker.

I cook dinner for my extended family every year right before Christmas, and while I’ve made fancy four-course feasts and expensive roasts, this meal is still everybody’s favorite. Unlike the tomato-heavy bolognese sauces you might be used to, this traditional Italian version is made with milk and white wine, giving it a lighter, silkier texture. A mix of pancetta, beef, and pork still make it feel luxurious, while a touch of balsamic vinegar (which isn’t traditional) brightens up the finished sauce. This Bolognese takes a bit of prep to get going, but once it’s in the slow cooker your work is practically done (leaving you plenty of time to wrap those last-minute gifts … or is that just me?). To give yourself a jump start, you can chop and refrigerate the vegetables up to 1 day ahead. It’s important to chop the vegetables finely so that they incorporate into the sauce. Also, if you buy prediced pancetta, chop it further until it’s minced.

A crisp Buttermilk Caesar Salad is all you need to round out the meal, and this lightened-up version is just as satisfying as the original. The anchovy is key for flavor, but you can use just one fillet if you prefer a milder dressing (I go for two, but it’s a personal preference). The dressing can be refrigerated for up to five days.

slow cooker bolognese served over pasta with cheese and grater and a bowl of buttermilk caesar salad

Photo © Philip Ficks, excerpted from Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Bolognese

Serves 6
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Slow Cooker Time: 5–7 hours on low or 3–4 hours on high

Ingredients

Stovetop Prep
  • 4 ounces pancetta, very finely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup dry white wine
Slow Cooker
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For Serving
  • 1 pound tagliatelle or fettuccine (regular or gluten-free)
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Thinly sliced basil

Directions

  1. Prepare the stovetop ingredients: Place the pancetta in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat begins to render, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the beef and pork, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is mostly cooked through with some pink remaining, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute longer. Transfer the meat to a 4- to 7-quart slow cooker (reserve the skillet).
  2. Place the skillet back over medium-high heat, and add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and bring to a rapid boil. Scrape the mixture into the slow cooker with the meat.
  3. Assemble the slow cooker: Stir the milk into the slow cooker and add the bay leaf. Cover and cook until the sauce is thick and rich, 5 to 7 hours on low or 3 to 4 hours on high.
  4. Skim off and discard some of the fat that has pooled on the surface of the sauce (you don’t need to get it all — leaving a bit of fat will give the sauce body). Stir in the vinegar and season well with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Cook the pasta and serve: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Drain.
  6. Swirl the pasta into bowls. Ladle the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil. Serve with the salad on the side.
Storage:

The Bolognese can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Buttermilk Caesar Salad

Serves 6
Prep Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1–2 anchovy fillets, rinsed in cold water and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 romaine hearts, chopped

Directions

  1. Combine the lemon juice, garlic, and anchovy fillet(s) to taste in a small bowl. Using a mortar or a fork, mash the anchovy until it starts to dissolve. Let sit for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to mellow. Whisk in the buttermilk, mayonnaise, and ¼ cup of the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. To serve, pile the romaine into a large salad bowl and toss with the dressing to coat. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss lightly, then serve.

Text and recipes excerpted from Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker © 2019 by Nicki Sizemore. All rights reserved.

Nicki Sizemore

Nicki Sizemore is the author of Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker and Build-a-Bowl and the creator of FromScratchFast.com, which features recipes that can be made… See Bio

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Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker

by Nicki Sizemore

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