Spaghetti Bolognese {Crockpot}

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Hearty, delicious, and veggie-packed Spaghetti Bolognese is slow-cooked and elegant enough to serve for company or it can be simplified for an easy weeknight meal. A few ingredients including fire-roasted tomatoes, ground Italian sausage, and the perfect seasonings put this Bolognese over the top!

Pair Spaghetti Bolognese with an easy Italian salad, simple Bruschetta, or Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

Large bowl of spaghetti bolognese with parmesan cheese on top

Without question, my oldest boy’s favorite meal is spaghetti. I’m convinced he could eat it for every single meal if I let him (and yes, that includes breakfast). And while I love making a good homemade marinara sauce, I usually just give him canned marinara sauce without any veggies or meat to the mix. But after this Beef Ragu was such a hit with my boys (my husband claims it’s his favorite meal), I thought I’d give a hearty Bolognese sauce a go for a change.

And now, this recipe is the result of my kitchen experimenting! And in case you were wondering, my oldest boy LOVES it.

One thing to note about this recipe is that it makes quite a bit. I did this on purpose, since it can take some time to make, and I wanted to make it worth my while. The good thing is that the leftovers will keep, and I’ve found that we easily finish the sauce in a couple of days by using the leftover sauce in different recipes (more on this later!). That said, you can easily halve this recipe and it will turn out perfectly!

Veggies being chopped for Spaghetti Bolognese.

So, first things first.

What is the difference between Bolognese sauce and spaghetti sauce?

The main difference between this Americanized Bolognese sauce and marinara (spaghetti) sauce is simply the meat. Marinara sauce is typically made with just tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and herbs. A Bolognese sauce generally includes meat, other liquids (usually wine and milk or cream), tomato, and soffritto (onion, carrot, celery). Bolognese sauce is generally found on pasta and in lasagna and is named after Bologna, the northern Italian city where it originated.

While I’m not claiming any authenticity on this recipe, it is adapted from a collection of recipes I was given after a cooking class I attended in Italy (more on that here!). 

Photos of veggies being sautéed.

Ingredients in this sauce

  • In Italian cuisine, celery, onion, and carrots chopped and then slowly cooked in olive oil are called soffrittoSoffritto is used as a base for many pasta sauces. Adding these three vegetables to this Bolognese sauce is also a great way to add in some “hidden vegetables,” making this sauce more nutritious -perfect for picky eaters!
  • Ground beef and sausage: I love these two ground types of meat together. The sausage adds a lot of flavor and juiciness. Using only sausage, however, tends to overpower the simple flavors of this sauce.
  • The one ingredient that makes a huge addition to this dish is the crushed tomatoes. I’ve tried a few different brands and my favorite for this sauce is Muir Glen® Organic fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (not sponsored, just a fan!) You can see the picture of these tomatoes below this text. I like the fire-roasted variety for a greater depth of flavor.
  • Beef broth: I use beef broth in place of red wine, which is typically used in a Bolognese sauce. I feel more comfortable using broth in this recipe, but that’s a personal preference. It is absolutely fine to use red wine if that’s what you prefer.
  • Cream: Bolognese generally has cream or milk in it, but in testing, I liked the sauce best without the cream. (Plus, it’s healthier without the cream!) However, if you do want to add cream to this recipe, I suggest using 1/2 cup heavy cream. Stir it in right before serving.

Tomatoes used in this Spaghetti Bolognese recipe.

Tips for this recipe

  • Add sugar if needed: Depending on the brand of tomatoes you use (and if you opt to use the beef stock instead of wine), you may need a few teaspoons of white sugar to counteract the acidity. Taste and adjust to preference.
  • Go light on the salt: This recipe uses reserved pasta water (which is salted), bouillon cubes, and salty parmesan cheese. These ingredients provide just the right amount of salt seasoning for me. Of course, you can always add a bit more salt if that’s what you prefer.
  • Emulsify the pasta: The final step of tossing the meat with reserved pasta water and hot pasta is one of the “secrets” to Italian pasta. It’s called emulsifying and that’s how you get a luxurious sauce that coats every bit of pasta. More info here.

QUICK TIP

Have you been told to sprinkle cooked pasta with oil after cooking? The idea is to keep it from clumping, but you’ll also keep the sauce from clinging to the pasta! Follow the tip above for emulsifying pasta to help the spaghetti and sauce work together beautifully.

Overhead photos showing the process of making Bolognese sauce.

How to simplify this recipe

  • Halve the recipe: You can easily halve all the ingredients in this recipe to make a smaller batch of Bolognese. (See below for other recipes that use leftover Bolognese sauce.)
  • Use a food processor: Chop the onion, carrot, and celery in a food processor! While a bit less precise, it will get those veggies chopped quickly.
  • Don’t emulsify the pasta: To streamline this dish a bit, simply spoon the sauce over the cooked pasta and skip emulsifying.

Deliciously easy spaghetti Bolognese recipe in the slow cooker and on a plate.

How to use leftover Spaghetti Bolognese sauce

I love how much sauce this recipe makes because I can use the sauce in other recipes during the week. Sometimes we save the leftovers in the freezer for another meal, but here are some of the ways we’ve used leftover sauce:

  • Stuffed shells: We use 3 cups of this Bolognese sauce on top of this Stuffed Shells recipe. Use this Bolognese sauce in place of the marinara. Pour 1/2 cup below the shells and 2 and 1/2 cups on top. 
  • Spaghetti squash: For a veggie-packed meal, I’ve added a few heaping spoonfuls on top of a roasted spaghetti squash.
  • In lasagna or lasagna roll-ups: I’ve used this sauce in a lasagna recipe and it was a huge hit and very easy to assemble. (You’ll need about 6 and 1/4 cups for the lasagna.)
  • Stuffed peppers: Mix some cooked white rice with a few cups of this sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook bell peppers for 5 minutes; remove and drain well. Place about 1/2 cup of this sauce on the bottom of a 9x 13-inch pan and then fill peppers with the rice/sauce mixture. Top with 1 cup of marinara, cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover, add 1 cup of shredded mozzarella on top, and bake for another 5-10 minutes (until peppers are tender and cheese is melted).
  • Italian Sloppy Joes: Pile a few spoonfuls of the sauce on top of some crusty rolls, top with mozzarella cheese, and broil for several minutes.

Overhead photo of Spaghetti Bolognese.

Sides for Spaghetti Bolognese

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Spaghetti Bolognese

5 from 3 votes
Hearty, delicious, and veggie-packed Spaghetti Bolognese is slow-cooked and elegant enough to serve for company or it can be simplified for an easy weeknight meal. A few ingredients including fire-roasted tomatoes, ground Italian sausage, and the perfect seasonings put this Bolognese over the top!
Print Recipe

Spaghetti Bolognese

5 from 3 votes
Hearty, delicious, and veggie-packed Spaghetti Bolognese is slow-cooked and elegant enough to serve for company or it can be simplified for an easy weeknight meal. A few ingredients including fire-roasted tomatoes, ground Italian sausage, and the perfect seasonings put this Bolognese over the top!
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword Spaghetti Bolognese, Spaghetti Bolognese recipe
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours 30 minutes
Servings 12 servings (Note 2)
Calories 512kcal
Author Chelsea

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 1 pound lean ground beef 93/7
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 pound ground mild Italian sausage (or use ground pork)
  • 3 cups mirepoix (finely diced yellow onion, carrot, celery - Note 1)
  • 4 cloves garlic minced (reduce if sensitive to garlic)
  • 1 cup beef stock (or red wine)
  • 2 cans (28 ounces EACH) fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (I highly recommend Muir Glen or Cento)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon EACH: dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano
  • 2 large beef bouillon cubes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 packages (16 ounces EACH) thick spaghetti (Note 2)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Optional: freshly chopped parsley or basil

Instructions

  • Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large deep skillet over high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add in the ground beef. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Brown the beef, crumbling and breaking it up as you stir. Drain off fat and add meat to a slow cooker. Put the pork or sausage into the same skillet you cooked the beef in. (If you add sausage you'll likely need to add a tablespoon of oil.) Brown the meat, crumbling as you go. Again, drain off any rendered fat and add meat to the cooker. (We separate browning both types of meat to keep from stewing the meat. This helps a lot in the final texture and flavor.)
  • Add last tablespoon of oil to the same skillet, reduce the heat to medium low, and add in the finely diced onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add in the garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally for an additional 5-7 minutes until vegetables are softened and straw colored (you don't want to brown the veggies; reduce the heat if they start browning).
  • While the vegetables are cooking, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, thyme, basil, oregano, bouillon cubes (crumble them up), and water to the crockpot.
  • Return to the vegetable mix and turn up the heat to high. Pour in the beef stock or wine and bring to a boil. Scrape any browned bits from the skillet. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer over medium-low heat for 3 minutes or until reduced by half. Remove from heat and add to the crockpot. Stir everything together.
  • Cover the slow cooker, set to low, and cook for 5-6 hours. Stir occasionally if possible. Once finished taste and adjust salt and pepper to personal preference. Also taste for sourness -- if you use high-quality tomatoes it shouldn't be sour. On occasion, however, you might need to add a teaspoon or so of white sugar to balance out the acid. 
  • Near the end of the cooking time, follow package directions to cook the spaghetti to al dente. Remove about 1 cup of the pasta water. 
  • Two ways to serve: Either emulsify the pasta: (authentic way; see direction #9) or just spoon the sauce over the cooked noodles.
  • Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese as desired.
  • To EMULSIFY: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Follow package directions to cook the pasta but don't drain (yet). Scoop out a cup of pasta cooking water and set aside. Now, you can drain the pasta. In that same pot used to cook the pasta, add half of the Bolognese sauce. Add hot drained pasta right on top. Toss the pasta and sauce gently for a couple of minutes, slowly adding the reserved pasta water as needed until the sauce thickens and generously coats the noodles. (I usually only use about 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water, but it varies depending on a lot of factors. Add just enough until you have a thick rich sauce coating the noodles.)

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Chop vegetables very finely to get 1 cup of each which is about 2 stalks celery, 1/2 of 1 large yellow onion, and 2 large carrots.
Note 2: This batch of Bolognese makes enough for 2 batches of spaghetti meals (about 10-11 cups total of sauce). I like making more Bolognese because it's easy to make all at once, easy to freeze, and/or repurpose into other meals. I like using half of it with spaghetti one night and then for another meal a different night, or freeze the other half for an easy dinner down the road. (See the text above this recipe for several of our favorite ways to repurpose this sauce!)
Nutritional information includes spaghetti.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 512kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 52mg | Sodium: 593mg | Potassium: 508mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 107IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 3mg

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4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Great idea to make a big batch to re-purpose for other meals. Another idea would be to top over zucchini noodles. I love pasta but there are times I want to do lower carb like the spaghetti squash and stuffed peppers you suggested. Thanks! Am sending the link to your web page to a few friends. Your recipes are delicious.

  2. 5 stars
    Another great recipe! I only made half a recipe (1 28oz can of the Muir Glen roasted tomatoes). Husband and son loved it.
    I was a bit confused by the mention of “thick” spaghetti, but after thinking about it I decided you wanted to make sure we didn’t use thin spaghetti. Thick spaghetti is normal spaghetti because I could not find anything called thick spaghetti on the web.

  3. 5 stars
    Just made it for dinner tonight and everybody loved it! In fact I had leftovers and two people asked if they could bring the sauce home with them so all in all it was a huge success! Made it exactly like you said using grape juice instead of wine and I loved how it wasn’t sour. So many of my spaghetti sauce recipes I make with red wine have such a sour flavor to them so I’m kind of hooked on the grape juice now! Also using the food processor to mince the onion, celery and carrots was a huge time saver!

    1. Thank you so much for this kind comment Jennifer! I am so happy you all loved this so much! The grape juice really is a game changer! 🙂

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