This Slow Cooker Bolognese is bursting with flavour and it makes meal time's so much easier. It's rustic, rich, full of herby tomato goodness and the meat is melt in your mouth tender. But we have let the slow cooker do all the work for us! A fuss free family favourite for an easy weeknight meal.
I think most families can agree on a spaghetti bolognese when it comes to dinner time. Everyone loves the thick and rich meaty sauces as it clings to the al dente spaghetti that is gently sprinkled with cheese.
It's a classic family favourite, but it really should be cooked low and slow for best results. If you have ever seen an Italian Grandmother cook a bolognese, it's a labour of love. No need to stand over the stove for this recipe though, as this is bolognese in the slow cooker.
Why you will love it
- Minimal effort - All the flavour of a slow and low cooked bolognese but with very little effort. The slow cooker does all the work for you!
- A family favourite - This slow cooker spaghetti bolognese is going to be a favourite with your whole family and it can be cooking away when you get in the door.
- Freezable - This slow cooker bolognese freezes really well, making it great for batch cooking.
- Versatile - There are so many different ways to use this and we have given all our favourite options below.
- Onion - We used a small brown onion, but you could swap it for a couple of small shallots, which would give it a sweeter flavour.
- Garlic - Freshly crushed is always best, but you can save time by using frozen or ready crushed garlic in a jar is you prefer. Make sure it is finely crushed, almost like a paste, so it distributes evenly in the sauce.
- Mushrooms - This helps to add some chunkiness to the sauce. You could grate them if you wanted to hide them more. Also, if you wanted to reduce the amount of meat used, then use more mushrooms.
- Carrot - Make sure these are finely diced so that it cooks well in the slow cooker.
- Beef mince - We used less than 5% fat beef mince to keep this lean, but you could use higher fat which would add more flavour. You could use pork or turkey mince instead.
- Chopped tomatoes - This is where the majority of the sauce comes from. Try to use the best quality you can, as it really will make a difference. Cheaper brands tend to be really watery and don't have much flavour.
- Tomato puree - This not only helps to add lots more extra tomato flavour, but it thickens up the sauce too. You could use sun-dried tomato paste for extra flavour.
- Balsamic vinegar - This is my (not so) secret ingredient for any pasta sauce. It adds so much flavour. Again, good quality is best.
- Red wine - This adds a real depth and richness to the sauce. You can leave it out if you prefer.
- Vegetable stock - This helps to add some extra sauce and flavour.
- Dried herbs - We used basil and oregano, but you could just use one.
A full ingredients list with measurements is in the recipe card below.
How to make Slow Cooker Bolognese - Step by step
One: Prepare the vegetables.
Two: Put 1 teaspoon of oil in to a large pan and add the onion, mushrooms, carrot and garlic and gently cook for 3 minutes. Set aside.
Three: Put the rest of the oil in the same frying pan and add the beef mince. Gently cook for 3-4 minutes until browned.
Four: Add the vegetables to the slow cooker.
Five: Add the browned meat to the slow cooker with the vegetables.
Six: Add the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
We also think that vegetables are essential to a good slow cooker spag bol. I mean, the meat is the main ingredient, but as well as giving it a nutrient boost and some extra colour, we find that it adds a nice chunky texture once all the meat it broken down.
We went with mushrooms, onion and carrot to keep it quite traditional. If you wanted to "hide" the vegetables, then make sure to chop them up really small.
Other vegetables you can add include celery, peppers, courgette (zucchini) and you can even stir some spinach in about 30 minutes before it is cooked if you want to give it a proper green veggie boost.
For a vegetarian version, you can either a mix of mushrooms, cooked lentils or a meat alternative like Quorn mince. Cooking times will vary though. Why not try our Mushroom Bolognese for a vegetarian alternative?
What to serve with slow cooker bolognese
We went the classic route and served ours with a good quality spaghetti. If you want something else on the side, then you can't go wrong with garlic bread. Either buy some ready made, or make your own easy garlic bread by cutting up some French stick and spreading it with a mix of butter, crushed garlic and dried herbs. Then pop it in the oven for 10 minutes. Why not try our Cheesy Garlic Bread recipe or Air Fryer Garlic Bread?
As well as garlic bread, you can bulk the meal out with a big green salad. The key to an epic green salad is to use a variety of greens, like romaine, spinach, kale and rocket. You want leafy greens, but crunch too. Then you need the perfect dressing. Why not try our Lemon Vinaigrette, Honey and Mustard Dressing or Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette. You could also try our Grilled Little Gem Salad.
If you want to add a big side of vegetables, then we recommend our Garlic Spring Greens, Roasted Tenderstem Broccoli, Air Fryer Kale, Garlic Green Beans, Air Fryer Carrots, or Roasted Lemon Asparagus.
However with leftovers we often serve it on a crispy jacket potato, with rice or even in a quesadilla. Sometimes it's just a big bowl of it with a crusty chunk of bread in it. Why not use some to make our Bolognese Pasta Bake?
Store: This slow cooker bolognese recipe is an ideal batch cooking dish, so it makes a great leftovers dinner. They will keep in an air tight container in the fridge for three days.
Freeze: You can portion it out in to freeze containers and freeze for up to 3 months.
Defrost: Make sure to defrost thoroughly in the fridge overnight before reheating.
Reheat: You can either reheat it in the microwave for a couple of minutes or on the hob. Make sure it is piping hot before serving.
If you find that you have too much liquid in your bolognese when it has finished cooking, then you can add a little cornflour (cornstarch) to it. I find that the tomato puree makes the sauce nice and thick though.
This recipe does need a little prep, like browning the onions, carrots, mushrooms and meat first and it really shouldn't be skipped as it really does give the meat a deep and richer flavour. When the mince is cooked, it releases fat and water which doesn’t evaporate in the slow cooker, so would simply sit on top of the sauce which isn't great. You could just dump it all in the slow cooker without browning, but we wouldn't recommend it.
You can either cook it on high for 4 hours, or on low for 8 hours. If you can, cook it for the longer time on low as you will get the best flavour. It's a really forgiving recipe though, and even 10 hours on low is fine.
If you don't have a slow cooker, but also don't want to be standing over the hob for hours cooking this, then it can be slow cooked in the oven. Do everything you need to on the hob first, then add everything in to a big casserole dish and put in the oven at 170°C/325°F/Gas 3 for 2 to 3 hours.
Yes, you can do that although it isn't our favourite way to cook pasta. About 30 minute before the bolognese has finished cooking, add the pasta and about 100ml of stock (as the pasta will absorb liquid from the sauce) and mix well.
There really is no rule here, just make sure that the meat you are cooking can fit in your slow cooker. We use a Crock Pot DuraCeramic Slow Cooker and we love it. What I love most about it is that you can put the bowl insert on the hob too. So, you can brown the meat in the slow cooker bowl. You can also sear the meat in it first. I also love that it has a clear lid, as I am so impatient that I want to keep looking and seeing what it is doing. If you don't have a clear lid, then lifting it to see will release lots of the heat and add to the cooking time.
Chianti is a great wine to go with a bolognese. It is a dry, red wine made only in a specific part of Tuscany.
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Slow Cooker Bolognese
- 1 teaspoon Olive oil - for the vegetables
- 1 teaspoon Olive oil - for the beef
- 1 Onion - peeled and diced
- 6 Mushrooms - diced
- 1 Carrot - peeled and diced
- 3 Garlic clove - crushed
- 500 g (1.1 lb) Beef mince
- 800 g (1.75 lb) Chopped tomatoes - canned
- 3 tablespoon Tomato puree - (tomato paste)
- 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- 1 Vegetable stock cube
- 75 ml (0.33 cups) Red wine
- 1 tablespoon Dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon Dried basil
- Put 1 teaspoon Olive oil in to a large pan and add 1 Onion, 6 Mushrooms, 1 Carrot and 3 Garlic clove. Gently cook for 3 minutes. Set aside.1 teaspoon Olive oil, 1 Onion, 6 Mushrooms, 1 Carrot, 3 Garlic clove
- Put another 1 teaspoon Olive oil in the same frying pan and add 500 g Beef mince. Gently cook for 3-4 minutes until browned.500 g Beef mince
- Add the vegetables to the slow cooker.
- Add the browned meat to the slow cooker.
- Add 800 g Chopped tomatoes, 3 tablespoon Tomato puree, 2 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar, 75 ml Red wine, 1 Vegetable stock cube, 1 tablespoon Dried oregano, 1 tablespoon Dried basil and 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper to the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.800 g Chopped tomatoes, 3 tablespoon Tomato puree, 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper, 2 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar, 1 Vegetable stock cube, 75 ml Red wine, 1 tablespoon Dried oregano, 1 tablespoon Dried basil
- You want the mince to be really broken up, rather than big chunks. So use a fork to break it all up whilst it is browning.
- If you wanted to add a bit of creaminess to this dish, then add a glug of single cream about 15 minutes before the bolognese has finished and stir well.
- Want to give the dish a veggie boost? Add some peppers and courgette and then stir in some spinach about 30 minutes before it is cooked.
- Make sure the vegetables are finely chopped so that they are nice and soft.
- Looking for a vegetarian bolognese? You could use just mushrooms or even Quorn mince or cooked lentils. Cooking times will vary though.
- You don't have to add red wine to this dish, just simply leave it out with no need to replace it with anything.
- Don't have a slow cooker? This can all be slow cooked in the oven at 170°C/325°F/Gas 3 for 2 to 3 hours.
- For some extra flavour you can add some chopped and browned pancetta.
- If the bolognese feels a little too thick once mixed with the pasta, then you can loosen it up a little with starchy pasta water.
The nutritional information provided is approximate and is calculated using online tools. Information can vary depending on various factors, but we have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible.