On Tuesdays and Thursdays I keep the 8 year old's best friend after school until right at supper time. On Tuesdays we go to our house, and on Thursdays we give the boy an opportunity to be at his house. Unfortunately on Thursdays this means the 8 year old, and I don't get home until almost 6:00p.m. So Thursdays are almost always "slow cooker night." That way when I get home all I have to do is set the table, do some last minute prep, and put dinner on the table.
I've got to tell you, though, as much as I love my slow cookers, sometimes I get tired of the soft texture slow cooking does to meat. We've had some meals that I realized as we were sitting down to the table had no crunch or firm texture to them at all. It's discouraging sometimes to come home tired and hungry to a meal, that while full of flavor, has very little other appeal. So I've been on the look out for new recipes for the slow cooker that make use of its convenience but won't turn my entire meal into a pile of mush.
Parenting Magazine had a slow cooker meals slide show on their website that featured bolognese sauce with fettuccine. While I've never actually had bolognese sauce (insane, I know), it's always appealed to me. Full of hearty beef, vegetables, pancetta, and tomatoes, simmered slowly all day.... Yes, please. This is not a dump it all into the slow cooker and walk away from it sort of recipe. It does require some pre-cooking, some time, and some love before you get it to your little magic supper pot (as my husband calls it sometimes). But it's oh, so worth it.
I adapted the Parenting magazine recipe some to better suit our tastes and lifestyle. For example, I don't really cook with wine because it often brings the cost per serving up a bit. Also my husband really does not like celery, so I omitted it completely. One bite of this at the table, though, and I exclaimed "Oh MY!" George Takei style, and my husband's eyes lit up. The flavor was so bold and robust. This sauce is slow food at it's best. The only thing I regretted was that we weren't eating this on a cold winter's night in front of a beautiful roaring fire and all the romanticism that goes along with it.
This will serve 8 or more, so if you have a small family like mine, have some freezer containers on hand to freeze the leftovers for another meal.
Bolognese Sauce with Linguine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, diced
2 small onions, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 pounds ground beef
2 cups beef broth
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 cup half and half
1 pound uncooked linguine or fettuccine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and saute about 1 minute. Add onions, carrots and cook about 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Remove from pan and add to slow cooker.
In the same skillet brown the beef, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula, doing two batches if necessary. Drain beef of fat and stir browned beef into slow cooker.
Pour broth into the pan and raise the heat to high. Stir broth, making sure to scrap the bottom of the pan to loosen brown bits. Pour broth and tomatoes into slow cooker, stirring well.
Cover and cook on low heat for about 8 hours. Halfway through the cooking process, at thyme, salt and pepper. About 20 minutes before serving, stir in half and half.
Meanwhile cook pasta, drain and return to pot. Toss with about 2 cups of the sauce and portion into large shallow bowls or onto dinner plates. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top. Serve with wheat free pasta to make this dish gluten free.
Freeze remainder sauce for up to 6 months.