This recipe could have just as easily gone in my sausage chapter, but the consistency of the ground meat in the sauce stands out more than the sausage does.
A couple of ingredients may give you pause, but please use them. The bread and milk mixture is the key to the sauce’s consistency and the finely minced mushrooms provide a depth of flavor that I wasn’t able to achieve using the just the Smart Ground and Tofurky sausages alone.
I use brown crimini mushrooms or baby portobello mushrooms, but even if you can only find white button mushrooms, the sauce will still be tasty.
We enjoy this dish with a hearty Sangiovese or Zinfandel.
- 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided use)
- 6–8 mushrooms
- 3–4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 slice Italian or French bread
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 12-ounce package of Lightlife Smart Ground Original
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tofurky Italian sausages
- 2–3 bay leaves
- Several sprigs of fresh basil
- Several sprigs of fresh oregano
- 1-pound box spaghetti, linguine, or penne
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Put a liner into the slow cooker. Add the crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes, and begin cooking on high.
- Dice onion in the food processor. Wipe out the bowl. Heat a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, and begin sautéing the onion over moderate heat until translucent, about 6 minutes.
- Wipe any dirt off the mushrooms with a paper towel. Never wash mushrooms with water, because it makes them mushy. Cut each cleaned mushroom in half and put them in the food processor. Pulse in short bursts—1 to 2 seconds—until the mushrooms are finely minced. Add the minced mushrooms to the onions and continue sautéing for another 5–6 minutes. Add the garlic to the sauté, and cook for another minute or two.
- Add the onion and mushroom mixture to the tomatoes in the slow cooker, and season with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Wipe the skillet clean.
- Wipe out the food processor bowl and add the bread, torn in quarters. Pulse in a few short bursts until you have coarse crumbs. Add the milk, a little more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse again, then add Smart Ground, broken up into small chunks, and pulse until mixed. Heat your cleaned skillet again, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and sauté the Smart Ground mixture for 4–5 minutes until lightly browned before adding it to the pasta sauce in the slow cooker.
- Slice the Tofurky Italian sausages in half lengthwise and then thinly slice them. Either sauté the sausage pieces in a little olive oil or add them directly to the simmering pasta sauce in your slow cooker–your choice, because both ways work well.
- Add the bay leaves, basil, and oregano to the sauce, along with more salt and pepper as needed. (I save time by putting in the whole sprigs of herbs and then take them out later when I’m ready to serve.)
- Cook for 5–6 hours on high or about 8 hours on simmer. Taste carefully and adjust seasoning. Remove the bay leaves and the other fresh herb sprigs, and serve over spaghetti, linguine, or penne with plenty of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggianno.