Friday, April 1, 2016

Crockpot Bolognese

I'm trying a new recipe today, and even without eating any of it yet, I already love it. I love it because a) it's made in the crockpot, b) it's made from ingredients that I usually have on hand, c) the amounts of all the ingredients are essentially "eh, however much of this you like," d) the directions are pretty much "dump everything in, mix it together, then come back 6 or so hours later and eat it," and e) it's making my house smell fantastic.

Here's what you need to make a nice big pot of bolognese (scroll down to the bottom for the complete recipe):
  • Ground beef - my grocery store has 3-lb. packs on sale on a regular basis, so I use half a pack right away and freeze the other half for recipes calling for crumbled or browned beef (tacos, shepherd's pie, chili, etc.). I quick thaw it in the microwave, pulling off the thawed outside parts and then throwing the frozen core back in for a few more minutes. Be sure to use fairly lean ground beef for this recipe, since the fat doesn't get drained.
  • 3 cans of diced tomatoes - either plain or with herbs. I happened to have some with sweet onion on hand, so I used that, but since you're adding herbs anyway, tomatoes with basil and/or garlic are fine, too. 
  • An onion - frozen diced onion can be used if you don't have any fresh onions on hand. And since it simmers for 6 hours, dried minced onion is also an option. 
  • A handful of carrots - these are best if diced small, so I'd avoid using frozen carrots (plus they'll get mushy rather than tender). I like slicing them very thin instead of dicing them. 
  • A couple of stalks of celery - these add more crunch than flavor, so you could probably omit them completely. Maybe throw in a sprinkle of celery salt if you like. 
  • Garlic - I usually used minced garlic (you could even get away with garlic powder, in a pinch), but I happened to have a few heads of garlic on hand, so I used fresh. 
  • Parsley, basil, oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper - Dried herbs are fine, but if you have any fresh on hand, by all means use them! I have a great herb garden in the summer, but my crockpot recipes tend to get more use in the winter, so I usually use dried herbs.  
  • A half-cup of red wine - this is the one drawback to this being a crockpot recipe: I'm usually putting it together in the late morning so I can't use it as an excuse to snitch a glass of wine while I'm cooking! Whatever red wine you like is fine; if you're not a wine fan, you can either omit it or throw in a splash of red wine vinegar for a hint of tartness and fruit. 
Start off by lining your crock with a slow cooker liner. These bags don't work well for anything that requires shredding (like chicken or pork for BBQ), as they tend to get torn or pierced and leak), but they're perfect for recipes like this which don't require anything more than the occasional stir. They make cleanup SO much easier!


If you have fresh ground beef, just crumble it up and throw it in the crock. If your beef is frozen, give it 3 or 4 minutes in the microwave on the defrost setting (or half power). While you're waiting, start chopping your ingredients. Everything gets stirred together anyway, so it makes it easier if you layer the ingredients to start with. 

If you're using fresh garlic, peel it and mince it finely. My family loves garlic, so I threw in a little extra. 


When your beef has thawed a little, pull off the thawed edges and toss them in the crock. When you can't pull off any more pieces, or the pieces are still quite frozen, throw what's left back into the microwave for a few minutes and chop up the next ingredient. 



Next, peel and chop your carrots. I like using skinny carrots so I can just slice them thinly instead of dicing them. And since carrots are one of the few vegetables my kids will (occasionally) eat, I went a bit generous with these, as well. As with most of the ingredients in this recipe, feel free to add less or more according to your personal preference. Toss them in and then add the next layer of thawed ground beef.



Chop up a couple of stalks of celery. I don't love the texture of big chunks of celery, so I chop it up fairly fine, but you can leave it in thick slices if you like it that way.


Finally, add your onion. If you're using fresh, chop it up finely so it gets nice and soft and the flavors blend with the sauce. Bigger chunks give more distinct crunch and flavor, but this sauce benefits from having the onion infuse into it, so finer is better.


Add any remaining ground beef, then dump in all three cans of tomatoes (without draining).

 Then add the spices, and pour the wine over everything. (Sampling is allowed, and even encouraged.)

Stir it all up to mix well.

Then cover it and leave it on low for 6-7 hours (or on high for 3-4). Give it a stir every hour if you can. If you can't, don't worry about it.

Serve over your favorite pasta, top with a little grated Parmesan, and enjoy!!



COMPLETE RECIPE (all amounts can be adjusted to taste):

1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
5 garlic cloves, minced (or 5 tsp minced garlic)
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (or diced)
2 celery stalks, chopped (may be omitted)
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
pinch nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine (may be omitted, or substitute a splash of red wine vinegar)

Combine all ingredients in crockpot and stir until well mixed. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours (or on high for 3-4 hours), stirring every hour or so.


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