Hearty, delicious, and veggie-packed spaghetti bolognese is slow cooked to perfection in the crockpot. This spaghetti bolognese is elegant enough to serve for company or can be simplified for an easy weeknight meal. A few ingredients including fire-roasted tomatoes, ground Italian sausage, and the perfect seasonings puts this bolognese over the top!
Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large deep skillet over high heat. Once 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 crockpot. Put the pork OR sausage onto the same skillet you cooked the beef with. (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 crockpot (the reason we separate browning both types of meat is to keep from stewing the meat which 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 grape juice or beef stock 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 dump into the crockpot. Stir everything together.
Cover crockpot and cook on low 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 and the grape juice, 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 crockpot cook 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 al dente 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 (less dishes!) 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, so add just enough until you have a thick rich sauce coating the noodles).
Note 1: Very finely chop vegetables 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 the bolognese with spaghetti one night and then for another meal a different night OR freezing 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!)