Last weekend I set out to make a crockpot version of my Sunday sauce with meatballs, but wound up making this crockpot bolognese instead. I’m not sorry. This meaty red sauce is so easy and satisfying, and of course the slow cooker does 90% of the work. It’s gluten free, packed with real, whole foods, freezes like a boss, and is totally kid friendly. In other words, it’s weeknight dinner gold.
The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and my tiny humans have persistent runny noses and rosy cheeks. Winter is coming y’all. It can feel like a superhuman challenge to find nutrient-dense, real whole food recipes the closer we get to the winter season. At the height of summer I’m damn near close to being a vegetarian, but as soon as late October hits I do a carnivorous 180. All of the meat and potatoes! The struggle is so real.
In reality, hardy greens, cabbages, root vegetables, winter squash, and citrus fruits are plentiful over the next few months and I’ve set out on a mission to gather a handful of recipes using winter produce that my kids will eat without complaint. Okay fine, “without complaint” is totally pushing it, so for now I’ll just set my sites on “will eat”. Realistic Goals for $200 Alex.
First up? Crockpot bolognese over spaghetti squash. I actually intended to make a crockpot version of my Sunday sauce with meatballs, but I got distracted. I’m not sorry though, because bolognese is tasty AF and loaded with hidden vegetables. And you’ll double the veggie factor by serving it over roasted spaghetti squash. All of the winning.
Crockpot Bolognese over Spaghetti Squash Recipe Notes
As much as I love traditional methods for cooking sauces, stews, and roasts, you simple cannot beat the convenience of a crock pot. While you can totally slow-simmer this bolognese recipe on the stove until it’s fall apart tender and intensely flavored, you don’t have to. The prep and stovetop cooking is about 30 minutes. I know…it’s a wee bit longer that I’d like, too. However, because you’re putting fully cooked beef into the crockpot, you can go ahead and prep it the evening prior, transfer to the fridge, and then set it and forget it in the morning for an easy, kid-friendly weeknight dinner.
This recipe for crockpot bolognese starts out with a full two pounds of local grass fed ground beef. You’ll get it nice and browned, and then transfer to the crock pot.
Then, using the same pan, you’ll soften up some mirepoix and garlic, and then deglaze it all with some good, dry red wine.
Bolognese is mostly a meat sauce, so heaps and heaps of tomatoes aren’t required. I use a single 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes. I crush them by hand because I find that the texture of the finished sauce is that perfect silky-but-still-chunky texture. Be careful when you crush them because those suckers splatter like nobody’s business. I find that if I hold the tomato in my hand and make a small puncture in the center of the flesh with my thumb, I can squeeze out the juices just enough before crushing them so that I don’t look like I’ve stepped off the set of The Walking Dead when I’m done. If all else fails, used diced tomatoes – I won’t tell.
A splash of cream and a dusting of herbs later and we’re good. Set it and forget it y’all. While this sauce is nice after simmering on high for 4 hours, it’s best on low for 8.
Crockpot bolognese freezes like. a. boss. This recipe makes eight generous servings, and half immediately goes into the freezer for the ultimate “fast food” weeknight dinner.
How to Roast Spaghetti Squash
Like I mentioned above, I really like this crockpot bolognese over spaghetti squash. It’s traditionally served over pappardelle (which is rad), but roasted spaghetti squash really ups the nutrition ante with the added benefit of making this 100% gluten-free. If you’ve never roasted spaghetti squash before, head this way. It’s SO EASY.
Heat up the oven. Slice that baby in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub the flesh down with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Plop the spaghetti squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, until the skin is browned and the edges are curling inward. It’s done when you can easily piece the skin with a fork.
Using a fork, gently rake the flesh, starting at the edges and moving towards the center. This will give you those long, spaghetti-like noodles. And you’re done. EASY!
This crockpot bolognese is an easy, kid friendly gluten free meal. Packed with real, whole foods, it's a savory, hearty, weeknight meal that is perfect for chilly winter nights. The pre-crockpot prep and cook time takes about 30 minutes, and the suggested time in the crock pot is 8 hours on low.
- 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 2 lb ground beef
- 1 large sweet onion finely diced to 1/4"
- 2 medium carrots finely diced to 1/4"
- 2 medium celery stalks finely diced to 1/4"
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 c. dry red wine
- 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes crushed by hand
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried parsley
- pinch oregano
- pinch thyme
- pinch dried red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 1/4 c fresh parsley chopped, plus extra for garnish
- 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese optional
Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add 1 tbsp of oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the meat, until browned and no longer pink, 7-8 mins. While the ground beef is cooking, dice the onion, carrots and celery, and mince the garlic.
Remove the ground beef from the skillet and transfer to the crockpot with a slotted spoon and discard the rendered fat (keeping it will make the sauce too oily).
Return the skillet to the burner over high heat, and add the second tablespoon of oil; heat until shimmering. Add the diced onions, carrots, and celery to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 mins. Add the garlic and saute 1-2 minutes more until fragrant.
Add the wine to the vegetables, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the wine stops bubbling, another 1-2 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat and transfer the vegetables and liquid to the crockpot.
To the crockpot, add the tomatoes, cream, salt, pepper, and spices and give everything a good stir. Cover the crockpot and cook on low, 6-8 hours.
Optional: In the last hour, check the bolognese for consistency. If the sauce looks soupy, unlock the lid and set it slightly ajar to allow excess liquid to evaporate and the sauce to thicken up.
Stir in the fresh parsley and spoon over roasted spaghetti squash noodles or another base (pappardelle and polenta are excellent options). Garnish with additional fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese.
Locally Sourced Ingredients:
Local grass fed ground beef processed by Wagner's Meats, LLC
Locally sourced onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and parsley sourced from The Common Market
Heavy whipping cream from Seven Stars Farm
Other Recommended Products:
Muir Glen organic whole peeled tomatoes
This recipe can be prepared in the evening through Step 4 and then transferred to the fridge. In the morning, continue with Step 5 for a less-than-5-minute of prep, easy weeknight dinner.
Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Oven roasted spaghetti squash is an easy, gluten-free pasta substitute that is the perfect base for crockpot bolognese!
- 1 3 lb spaghetti squash
- 1 tbsp avocado or olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scape out the seeds and fibrous flesh with a spoon. Rub the flesh with the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and a pepper.
Place the squash cut side down onto a sheet pan and then place in the oven on a rack in the lower third. Roast until the exterior is golden brown and the skin can be pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes.
Remove the squash from the oven and carefully flip over. Using the tines of a fork, carefully rake the flesh, starting from the edges and moving inward, into long strands. Scrape the raked flesh from the skin with the fork, gently toss to incorporate the seasoning, and serve immediately.
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