The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Rich ragout sauce recipe for the slow cooker or crock pot

Home grown tomatoes

Spaghetti bolognaise is a favourite in the cottage. Our recipe is high on vegetables and low on meat  – delicious and economical, it’s difficult to tire of it. I cook it in the slow cooker and freeze it in bags flattened to about half an inch (one and a half centimetres) so that it can be gently unfrozen in a frying pan (lid on) when needed. No waiting for defrost!

The slow cooker/crock pot really enhances the flavours of this dish. I’ve tried cooking it on the stove top but it just doesn’t taste as good.

In March this year I didn’t bother to check our recipe and threw together a vast batch that just didn’t taste very appetising. However much I tried to tweak it, as a spaghetti sauce it was a failure. Danny ate it once and the next time pushed his plate away.
“Normally your spaghetti sauce is so delicious. What went wrong?”
His face was mournful as he struck spag bol off the menu for the rest of the month.

Unbeknown to D the sauce was added surreptitiously to other meals.

But this thin sauce set off a longing for a rich tomatoey ragout sauce and I made this. It is so punchy that you don’t need much sauce to accompany spaghetti it’s also perfect for a deluxe lasagne or even topped with cheese encrusted mashed potato for a summery pie full of deep flavours. It still has a lot of vegetables but the secret ingredients for richness are the chicken livers and streaky bacon. Incidentally it’s very easy to make your own streaky bacon/ pancetta by just using a saline soak – we have detailed instructions here.

I divided this into 2 person portions to freeze and eat on demand.

Rich ragout sauce for 12 hungry people


800g of minced beef (10% fat ideally)
125g of chopped unsmoked streaky bacon
400g of chicken livers – chopped
500g of courgettes – washed and grated (skin on)
200g of carrots – washed peeled and grated
200g of celery – de string and slice very fine
250g of red bell peppers – de seeded and chopped
100g of chopped red onion
3 chunky cloves of garlic – squashed, de skinned and chopped fine
5g of porcini mushrooms – soaked in a cup of boiling water for 5 minutes and then chopped. Pour the liquid into the slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients.
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
400g of pasatta
200g of double concentrated tomato puree
1 tsp of anchovy sauce or one salted anchovy cut up fine
1-2 tsp of Lea and Perrin’s Sauce
1 tsp of dried savoury or thyme at a pinch
1 litre of boiling vegetable stock – I used 3 tsp of vegetable stock powder3 heaped tbsp of plain flour
Salt and lashings of ground white pepper to taste before serving
Freshly grated parmesan to serve
1. Prepare all your vegetables.
2. Add all the ingredients except the liquids to the slow cooker and stir well to distribute the flour evenly. Then add the liquids and stir well particularly the base of the slow cooker to make sure that flour is’nt stuck there
3. Switch to high until the ingredients are bubbling (lid on) – this takes about an hour.
4. Switch to low and cook for a further 3 hours or so (lid on) – testing after 2 hours. When the vegetables are soft the dish is ready.
5. Season to taste.
6. Serve with fresh grated parmesan and hot crusty bread.


  Leave a reply


  1. Hi there! I am a housekeeper and shepherdess at a manor house and the shooting season is fast aproaching….I decided to buckle down to some bulk meal prepping and I came straight to your blog. The slow cooker recipes are fabulous. I really want to thankyou because so far the past few days I have made enormous(very big slow cooker!) pork au feu and the rich ragu sauce, chicken and red pepper casserole and I have just written down the steak and kidney to do.

    Seeing the ready prepped meals stack up in the freezer is making me grin. All can be reheated easily and will save me from going doolally juggling small children,working shoot lunches and herding sheep lol!!

    Love from a very grateful GTMx x x

  2. Still no red tomatoes here,so having to drool over your recipe helplessly….wondering if they will ever ripen!

  3. Looks great. Now I am an American so I am doing okay transferring from metric to American weights, although I am sure I mess up from time to time. But what is a courgette? I am new to your blog so you have probably talked about this before but could you help me with this? I am planning on going back thru your previous posts but want to get this in the crockpot today. Thanks so much.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Patsy

      Many apologies – a courgette is a zucchini – will update the recipe for our American friends 🙂

  4. Love the look of this recipe, am going to try it today 🙂

  5. Sounds delicious, Fiona. I remember seeing some Italian chef on TV several years ago (may well have been Antonio Carluccio) who said that a proper authentic ragout sauce needs to be simmered slowly for several hours to get the necessary depth of flavour. So doing it your way in the slow cooker will be just the job. I’m going to be busy with lots of jobs tomorrow, and we will be out most of the day on Sunday (so no time to prepare a Sunday roast) and this recipe will be perfect – I can chuck it in the slow cooker tomorrow and forget about it while I’m busy, then assemble some with a mash topping for our Sunday dinner later on, and portion up and freeze the rest. Thanks for that.

  6. Marget Olamit

    I can mine. It’s pretty easy, and it doesn’t take up freezer space. For the first batch, I didn’t leave enough head space, so none of the jars made a seal and I had to can it twice. This much processing lead to brownish, not so flavorful, but perfectly edible sauce. Luckily, my husband will eat anything, so it was only my pride that suffered. For the next batch, I added a little more lemon juice and left ~1 1/4″ of head space. The second batch didn’t lose its color, and tastes the same as the day I canned it, that is to say, earthy and tangy and delicious;). We like it with whole wheat angel hair.

  7. Rob Gibson

    P.S. tomato sauces of this type are never thickened with flour or
    cornflour . if you have a glut of tomatoes you can pulp them with a blender and use instead of passata .

  8. Rob Gibson

    seems a bit complicated to me. my recipe :- saute fine-chopped onions in good e.v. olive oil with crushed garlic – don`t let onions brown . add minced beef steak and brown-off on low heat . grind fresh black pepper directly into the pan , grate about 3/4 of a nutmeg (or mace) in as well . add sea salt and vegetables of choice ( mushrooms are my favourite ) . then add chopped skinned tomatoes and passata . cook on a low heat , stirring occasionaly for at least 1& 1/2hrs until reduced by half , add some torn basil leaves near end of cooking. if mixture is for lasagne or canelloni , then it doesn`t need to be reduced as much . serve with short pasta ( penne pref , wholewheat ) and grated cheese of choice ( vintage cheddar is my fave ) BUONO APPETITO !

  9. Ben the Crock Pot King

    Hi, Great recipe, please stop by, and see whats there I definitely think there’s a few other recipes you’d enjoy.
    Once again, Great article, Keep it up! Bravo!!!

  10. I have always said pasatta AND chopped tomato is the secret to a good bolognaise sauce! Will be trying the grated veggies next time though, sounds delightful

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