Slow Cooking the America's Test Kitchen Way: Big-Batch Bolognese Sauce as Prepared by Catherine

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This is the third in a series of America's Test Kitchen slow-cooker recipe tests. I will soon have all our posts under one link.

Hey Claire,

Do you know what's fun? FINALLY making something from America's Test Kitchen's new cookbook, Slow Cooker Revolution. I was so giddy about our new project that I bought the "ATK-approved slow cooker" which, to my great pleasure, looks like a giant Cylon. It is SO, and oh, how I love shiny things. I have named it Chief Tyrol. (Um, spoiler alert?)

But enough about my gleaming new cookware and predilection for Sci-Fi -- to the cooking!


You picked such great recipes for me to try out, so I decided to make the Big-Batch Bolognese Sauce (page 171), because who doesn't love a good meat sauce? I also wanted to make something in a large enough quantity so that I could freeze any extra (more on that later). It also felt like the right thing to make since there's still a bit of a chill here in L.A. Whither, Spring, whither?

I ended up making a slight revision to the recipe. When I went grocery-shopping for this dish, I wasn't able to find ground veal at my local market to complete the three pounds of meatloaf mix needed. Thankfully, ATK's recipe states that one can substitute 1 1/2 pounds each of ground beef and of ground pork to make up the mix, so I went with that. I'm rather picky about what kind of meats I buy and stay away from packaged ground beef, so I had the butcher grind a piece of boneless chuck roast for me. It ended up being such a good call: you can really taste the difference between freshly ground meat and the pre-packaged stuff. I bought ground pork and what I *thought* was a ground pork cutlet, but it turned out to be whole -- whoops! I panicked for a bit but then realized that we have a meat grinder attachment for our Kitchen-Aid stand mixer I had yet to use, so this gave me the chance to break it in. (Yes, this means I could have ground my boneless chuck roast myself, but that's what the butcher is for. At least I know I have the option to do it myself.)

Grinding my own meat was immensely satisfying. I now want to do that with all the meat I buy as well as buy all of the proper attachments. Is there an ATK slow cooker recipe requiring fresh sausage? If so, I call dibs.

Once all the meat was ground, I was ready to start cooking. A proper mise en place pleases me.

Call it being overly eager to jump right in with this recipe, but I soon learned that my head wasn't entirely in the game. The first step of the recipe involves sauteing onions, carrot, celery, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme in melted butter. Now, dear Claire, do you notice anything missing from the mise en place photo? Onions. I KNOW. How could I have forgotten to prep the onions? Reading (the recipe) is fundamental. I turned off the burner underneath the skillet, minced an onion, and got back on the horse.

I already loved this recipe because this first step was a hit. The combination of the ingredients smelled so great: the fresh thyme (you can use either that or dried) especially imparted a wonderfully sweet fragrance. I added some white wine to de-glaze to the mix and, after a few minutes de-glazing the pan, put the just-sauteed vegetables into the cooker, and stirred in the crushed tomatoes to combine.

Letting the vegetables and tomatoes rest, I mashed together some bread and heavy cream with a fork to make a panade. I had made a panade for a meatloaf, but never thought about adding one to a meat sauce until now. Thanks, ATK! After I finished the panade, I mixed it in with the meatloaf mix by hand, keeping one hand clean for photographing purposes, which was a little tricky to do.

I added the panade/meatloaf mix combination to the slow cooker, making sure to break up any large pieces before starting the cooking process. This was hard to do with already-sticky fingers, so I broke down the meat mixture with a spoon afterwards.

You should know that when I saw the meat lying in the tomatoes like some flesh island in a sea of blood (appetizing!), I immediately thought of Billy Idol's "Flesh for Fantasy," which I kept singing to myself that night. Fantastic.

I turned on the slow cooker and let it do its magic for nine hours on Low (which must have contributed to my dreams of eating meat because the house smelled unbelievably good during the night), and woke up to this:

Doesn't it look delicious? I thought it looked a lot like chili, but it took on a much more sauce-like appearance after stirring:

Because I made the sauce with the intention to take it to work for lunch, I boiled some Spaghetti Rigate and gave it an early morning whirl:

HELLO. This was the best meat sauce I had ever made. It was fragrant and rich, yet slightly sweet as well. The pork and beef gave the sauce a wonderful mouthfeel, so I can only imagine how much more luscious it must taste with veal. I was struck by how much of a difference the fresh thyme made: I'm sure that dried thyme would have imparted the same taste, but the smell of the fresh herbs from the sauteing until now was heavenly and most likely could not be duplicated with something from a jar. Also striking: the sheer amount of sauce produced. I was able to freeze four pounds of sauce for future use, and that was *after* eating several servings!

I really hope you try making this soon, and with veal, just so you can tell me how it is. (Unless you are veal-averse, which I understand.) I'll definitely make it again once I work my way through the extra sauce and have it with another type of pasta, or perhaps even use it in a lasagna, because I like to bend the rules like that. I'm such a RISK-TAKER.

What's going on in your kitchen now?