Slow Cooker Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu

4.60 from 10 votes
10 hours 30 minutes
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This hearty pasta sauce comes together easily and then simmers away in your slow cooker to deliver that amazing long-cooked Italian red sauce taste. You’ll have plenty of this Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu to enjoy right away with plenty to “put away!”

Slow Cooker Spicy Sausage and Pepper Ragu over pappardelle in white bowl garnished with fresh basil.

Why This Recipe is a Keeper!

Italian sausage and bell peppers are a match made in culinary heaven. They come together here in a hearty pasta sauce that will rival your favorite homestyle Italian restaurant!

I had too many cans of tomatoes in various forms in my pantry so was happy to find this Slow Cooker Spicy Sausage and Pepper Ragu recipe in The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook: From Appetizers to Desserts 500 Recipes You Can Make in Advance from America’s Test Kitchen.  (Affiliate link below.)

Anytime a meal can:

  • Be prepped ahead
  • Simmer away in a slow cooker unattended or while I’m away
  • Make enough for another meal
  • Freeze and reheat beautifully … I’M IN!!

Slow Cooker Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu is perfect to make now for a meal to enjoy right away and you’ll have some to put away!

It’s also versatile! If you’re not into pork Italian sausage, substitute turkey or chicken Italian sausage or simply ground beef or ground turkey.

Slow Cooker Spicy Sausage and Pepper Ragu over pappardelle in white bowl with fork.

How to make Slow Cooker Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu:

Recipe Ingredients:

Here’s everything you’ll need to make this recipe along with how to prep. See the ragu recipe card below for the exact quantities.

Ingredients for Slow Cooker Spicy Sausage and Pepper Ragu in glass bowls.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions:

  • Italian Sausage: Our favorite brand is Johnsonville. If you just can’t do spicy anything, use mild or sweet Italian sausage. If you don’t consume pork, use turkey or chicken sausage.
  • Dry Red Wine: Always use a wine that you would enjoy drinking. It doesn’t have to be your best, but it should be palatable. A wine that has gone bad will only ruin your dish. AlcoholFree Substitute: Use a half-cup of pomegranate juice and a half-cup more beef broth. If you’re not opposed to red wine vinegar, add a splash or two and use more beef broth.
  • Crushed Tomatoes: Crushed tomatoes are a combination of finely diced tomatoes in a tomato puree.  Only have whole canned tomatoes? Take kitchen shears and chop the tomatoes as finely as you can in the can.
  • Tomato Sauce: Tomato sauce is thinner than tomato puree and sometimes has seasonings added. It’s used as a base for other sauces.
  • Diced Tomatoes with Italian Herbs: These are used as a substitute for fresh, diced tomatoes and have herbs and seasonings such as oregano, basil and/or garlic.
  • Tomato Paste: Tomato Paste is the most concentrated tomato product where tomatoes are cooked for hours to reduce the moisture content to a paste. Only 1-2 tablespoons are required in most recipes.
  • Hot Pepper Paste: Also known as Calabrian hot pepper sauce/paste. It’s available at Italian markets and through Amazon.

Step-By-Step Instructions:

  • Gather and prep all the ingredients.
  • First, brown the sausage (pork, turkey or chicken Italian sausage) in a skillet or saute pan then place in a slow-cooker.  If you’re not into sausage at all, you can use any type of ground meat.
Cooked Italian sausage in slow cooker.
  • Next, cook onions and garlic until nice and soft to really pull the flavor out.
Cooked onions in nonstick skillet.
  • Add tomato paste, spices and red wine and let that cook.
Onions in skillet with red wine that has been reduced.
  • Transfer that to the slow-cooker…
Sausage with onions and red wine in slow cooker.
  • Add beef broth, canned tomatoes, canned crushed tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes and Calabrian hot pepper paste to tolerance, and the bell peppers.  Leave the spicy stuff out if Italian sausage is spicy enough for you!
  • Cover and let simmer away for 8-10 hours on LOW or 6-7 hours on HIGH until nice and thick and full-flavored.
Ragu before being cooked in slow cooker.
  • Add some chopped fresh parsley and another shot of red wine at the end if desired.
  • The sausage ragu will thicken up as it cools.
Slow Cooker Spicy Sausage and Pepper Ragu in slow cooker garnished with fresh parsley.

Almost all red or tomato sauces need to have the acidity balanced.  Taste it and see!  You may like it as is, you may want to add a touch of sugar, or prefer it.  Another shot of red wine at the end made it just right!

Cool the sauce thoroughly before freezing.  Because there’s only two of us here, I divided it into three containers.  Each container will cover 12 ounces of pasta or provide 3-4 servings.

We enjoyed one right away over pappardelle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, garlic bread and froze the rest!  Sooo good!!  Just like our favorite homestyle Italian restaurant!

Two bowls of Slow Cooker Spicy Sausage and Pepper Ragu on blue napkin.

Chef Tips and Tricks:

  • Unless you buy tomato paste in tubes, you have to purchase it in a can meaning you’ll have some left over because most recipes like this sausage ragu call for using only 1-2 tablespoons. What do you do with the rest? I divide it up and place it into snack-size zipper-top bags then freeze it flat. When I need a small amount of tomato paste, I can use the entire bag or break off what I need.
  • Almost all red or tomato sauces need to have the acidity balanced.  Taste it and see.  You may like this Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu as is. Or, you may want to add a touch of sugar if it’s too tart or prefer it more with an edge.  In that case, give it a shot of red wine or balsamic vinegar at the end.

Ways to enjoy this hearty Slow Cooker Spicy Sausage Ragu:

  • Serve over pappardelle, spaghetti, rigatoni, penne or ziti.
  • Stuff pasta shells or manicotti with cheese then spoon the sauce over and bake.
  • Combine with cooked pasta, add cheese and bake later.
  • Make Eggs in Purgatory.
  • Replace the puttanesca sauce in this gnocchi recipe with the sausage ragu.
Slow Cooker Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu in bowls sprinkled with cheese and garnished with fresh basil.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is a ragu?

In Italian cooking, a ragu is a range of slow-cooked meat-based sauces with onions, red wine and tomatoes typically paired with pasta.  The meat can be sausage, ground beef, veal, pork.  A ragu shouldn’t be confused with a ragout which is a slowly-simmered French stew.

A Bolognese sauce is similar to a ragu and considered one but it has white wine instead of red and cream or milk is often added at the end.

How do you know a ragu is done?

The color of the sauce such as in this Spicy Sausage Ragu will deepen to a rich deep, reddish-brown terra-cotta color. The meat will give up its fat to further enrich the sauce and improve its texture. Italians say that when a ragu is done, it’s not yet done!

Can I make Sausage and Pepper Ragu on the stovetop?

Absolutely! Get everything pulled together, place it in a heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. Watch the heat as tomato sauces have a knack for burning on the bottom.

For more great make-ahead Italian-inspired meals, try my:

Get all my pasta recipes here! Pasta Recipes – From A Chef’s Kitchen

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Slow Cooker Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu over pappardelle in white bowl garnished with fresh basil.

Slow Cooker Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu

4.60 from 10 votes

Click to Rate!

By: Carol | From A Chef’s Kitchen
This hearty pasta sauce comes together easily then simmers away in your slow cooker to deliver that amazing long-cooked Italian red sauce taste. You'll have plenty of this Spicy Italian Sausage Ragu to enjoy right away with plenty to "put away!"
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 hours
Total Time 10 hours 30 minutes
Course Sauces Dressings and Marinades
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8
Calories 490 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil - divided
  • 2 pounds hot Italian sausage - bulk or casings removed if links
  • 2 large onions - chopped
  • 12 cloves garlic - chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry red wine - plus a little extra if needed at the end
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (28-ounce) tomato sauce
  • 2 cans (14.5-ounce each) diced tomatoes with Italian herbs - undrained
  • 1 tablespoon Calabrian hot pepper paste - or 1 Calabrian hot pepper from a jar, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper - seeds and membranes removed, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper - seeds and membranes removed, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste

Instructions
 

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, reduce heat to medium and brown well until no longer pink, approximately 5 minutes. Transfer to slow-cooker. Reserve fat in the skillet.
  • Place onions in the skillet. Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until softened and lightly browned.
  • Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, oregano and red pepper flakes. Stir until the garlic is fragrant, approximately 30 seconds.
  • Stir in the wine and beef broth bring to a boil. Cook 2-3 minutes then transfer to the slow cooker in small amounts (to prevent any sudden temperature change which may damage the slow-cooker insert).
  • Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and hot pepper paste or chopped Calabrian hot pepper and chopped bell peppers.
  • Cover and cook 8-10 hours on LOW or 6-7 hours on HIGH.
  • Add the chopped parsley, salt and black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning as desired and give it a splash of red wine if you like it more acidic.

Notes

Almost all red or tomato sauces need to have the acidity balanced.  Taste it and see.  You may like it as is. Or, you may want to add a touch of sugar if it’s too tart or prefer it more with an edge.  In that case, give it a shot of red wine or balsamic vinegar at the end.
The sauce will thicken up as it cools.
SUBSTITUTIONS:  May use ground beef, turkey or chicken sausage instead of pork sausage.
FREEZER-FRIENDLY:  Cool thoroughly and place in airtight containers in the quantity desired.  Freeze 2-3 months.  Thaw in the refrigerator, microwave or in a saucepan on the stove on the lowest setting.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 | Calories: 490kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 39g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 19g | Cholesterol: 86mg | Sodium: 1030mg | Potassium: 538mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1258IU | Vitamin C: 56mg | Calcium: 61mg | Iron: 2mg

These are estimated values generated from a nutritional database using unbranded products. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

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4.60 from 10 votes (10 ratings without comment)

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4 Comments

  1. I’m thinking of making this and adding a 2lb boneless pork butt alongside the sausage – do you think there are any changes you would make to the recipe?

    1. Hi, Liz, Thanks so much for your question. That sounds like a marvelous addition–more like a Sunday sauce. I think that pork butt will add some great flavor. The sauce will be thicker and the only change I can really think of is to use chicken or vegetable broth in place of the beef. While I think the sausage is assertive enough with the beef broth, it might not work with the pork butt. Thanks so much and let me know how it works!