This slow cooker lamb ragu is the ultimate Italian comfort food. The lamb is braised for hours to create a delicious, rich sauce. Serve over your favorite pasta for a warming dinner for whomever you’re serving, whether it’s friends or the whole family.
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Why You'll Love this Lamb Ragu Sauce
In my home, rich and meaty slowly braised lamb ragu is the ultimate comfort food. This recipe in particular is one of my favorite slow cooker recipes of all time.
Rich lamb, sweet and acidic crushed tomatoes, savory onions and garlic, and Italian spices combine to create the perfect meat sauce.
Cooking meat in the slow cooker produces a deeply flavored sauce. The long cooking time allows the flavors to fully combine and the meat to become incredibly tender.
You can make this recipe all year long. This is a great recipe not just for cold winter nights, but for springtime when lamb recipes are often on the menu. And because you’re using a slow cooker, you can make this in the summer, too, as it won’t heat up the house.
Ingredients for Hearty Lamb Ragu
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- Ground Lamb Lean ground lamb is best here. If you use ground lamb with more fat, you may want to skim some of the fat off at the end before serving.
- Olive Oil
- Tomato Paste adds a wonderful depth of flavor to this sauce. This is my favorite brand of tomato paste.
- Crushed Tomatoes This is my favorite brand of crushed tomatoes.
- Italian Spice Blend Sometimes labeled Italian Seasoning. If you can’t find this, try using dried oregano instead.
- Red Pepper Flakes Also labeled as chili flakes
- Kosher Salt I always recommend kosher salt because it is less salty teaspoon than other varieties of salt, making it easier to taste as you go and harder to oversalt.
- Black Pepper Freshly ground black pepper is my recommendation.
- Fresh Herbs like parsley, basil, oregano, or fresh mint
- Parmesan Cheese
- Pasta of Choice
This is the Slow Cooker I use. I love it!
How to Make this Lamb Ragu
Step One To make the sauce, chop the onions.
Step Two Mince the garlic cloves.
Step Three Add the finely chopped onions to a frying pan over medium to medium-low heat and sweat until translucent.
Step Four Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Step Five Add the tomato paste.
Step Six Cook for a few minutes, until just caramelized.
Step Seven Add the lamb to the pan.
Step Eight Season and brown the meat.
Step Nine Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, and Italian seasoning to the pan.
Step Ten Mix well.
Step Eleven Transfer the browned lamb mixture to the slow cooker and slow cook on low heat for 4 to 6 hours.
Step Twelve Taste, season the lamb sauce with salt and pepper if needed, and serve over cooked pasta topped with grated parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.
Variations and Substitutions
- Use lamb shanks to create shredded lamb or chunks of lamb in place of the minced lamb used here. Brown on all sides before adding the sauteed onion, garlic, tomatoes, and spices in the slow cooker. Shred the lamb with two forks at the end of the cook time.
- You can use lamb shoulder using the method above. It needs to be trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1-inch cubes, and browned for a few minutes per side in a frying pan before adding the other ingredients for the lamb ragu in the slow cooker.
- Make lamb ragu with a few extra vegetables - celery, carrot, and mushrooms are great when cooked down with the onion. Bay leaves are a great addition if you have them on hand, too.
- For a creamy sauce, try adding a bit of cream and parmesan near the end of cooking.
- Try using chopped tomatoes for a more rustic texture.
- Try this over a different type of pasta, like gnocchi or rigatoni.
- Add a bit of red wine, beef stock or lamb stock for a richer sauce.
Storage and Reheating
Fridge If you have leftover lamb ragu, it’s sometimes even better the next day. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Freezer Let the sauce cool completely, then store in a freezer-safe container for about 6 months.
Reheating from Fridge To reheat, add to a saucepan over medium-low to medium heat on the stove. Bring up to a light boil and down to a simmer until heated through.
Reheating from Freezer Place the frozen ragu in the refrigerator overnight to defrost, then follow the directions above.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes. It won’t happen if you walk away from the slow cooker for an extra 10 or even 30 minutes, but you will want to cook the lamb on low heat and remove the ragu from the slow cooker sometime between 4 hours and 6 hours on the heat.
Browning the lamb before slow cooking renders a bit of the fat and caramelizes the exterior of the meat, creating a deeper, richer flavor in the final sauce.
You can. However, the flavor and texture of the lamb will be much better if you can take the time to brown it before adding it to the slow cooker.
How to Serve
I love to serve this slow-cooked lamb ragu with pappardelle pasta. You could also try serving it on your favorite pasta with these sides:
- A classic Garlic Bread
- A salad, like this fresh Arugula Caprese Salad or this creamy Burrata Salad with Balsamic Reduction
- Roasted Vegetables, like this Roasted Tenderstem Broccoli
- Allowing the tomato paste to caramelize a bit adds a deeply savory and lightly sweet quality to the finished sauce.
- The ground lamb does not need to be fully cooked when browning it. The time in the slow cooker will cook the meat.
- Cook pasta according to package directions or until al dente. I like to use the lower time on the package as a starting place, but subtract one minute. For example, if a package says to cook for 9 to 10 minutes, I will cook for 8 and then taste for doneness.
More Italian Dishes To Try
Slow Cooker Lamb Ragu
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion yellow or sweet
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes optional
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 1 pound pasta like pappardelle or rigatoni
- parmesan optional, freshly grated, to taste
- fresh herbs optional, like parsley, basil, oregano, or mint, to taste
- Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic.
- Add the finely chopped onions to a frying pan over medium-low heat and sweat until translucent.
- Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until just caramelized.
- Turn the heat up to medium and add the lamb to the pan. Season the meat and cook until browned, about 7 to 10 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, and Italian seasoning to the pan. Stir well. Trasnfer to the slow cooker.
- Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low heat for 4 to 6 hours.
- While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta to package directions.
- Taste, season the lamb sauce with salt and pepper if needed, and serve over pasta. Top with grated parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.
- You can add finely chopped carrot, celery, and mushroom while cooking the onion if you'd like.
- Try adding a splash of red wine, beef, or lamb stock for a richer sauce.
- Fridge If you have leftover lamb ragu, it’s sometimes even better the next day. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Freezer Let the sauce cool completely, then store in a freezer-safe container for about 6 months.
- Reheating from Fridge To reheat, add to saucepan over medium-low to medium heat on the stove. Bring up to a light boil and down to a simmer until heated through.
- Reheating from Freezer Place the frozen ragu in the refrigerator overnight to defrost, then follow the directions above.