Pesto Meat Sauce

No need to adjust the color on your screen. If you automatically read 'Pesto' in the title of this post and expected something green on a plate, you're not alone. My husband gave me a strange look when I told him we were having spaghetti with a Pesto Meat Sauce and this was served. So where's the bright, vibrant basil green pesto? It's in the sauce, my friends... it's in the sauce! This pasta sauce involves seasoning ground beef with homemade pesto and slow cooking over hours for deep, rich flavor....

This recipe came out of failed meatballs. I came across a recipe for pesto meatballs that I wanted to try. It called for breadcrumbs but I didn't have any gluten free breadcrumbs on hand. As a substitute, I made a panade, a paste of milk and {gluten free} bread, to mix into my meatball mixture as a binder. Sadly, it didn't bind very well. As my formed meatballs browned in a skillet, they began to crumble. I continued to brown the meatballs, allowing them to crumble and break up as they cooked. So instead of meatballs, I had seasoned beef that could easily cook into a simple meat tomato sauce. Operation meatball failure averted! I transferred the beef into a crockpot, added sautéed mushrooms, onions and tomato sauce to slow cook for hours. The result was a very flavorful, meaty sauce that's perfect with your favorite pasta and/or used in other pasta dishes like lasagna, baked pasta casseroles, etc. This can easily be made in advance and also freezes well.

Pesto Meat Sauce
inspired by Pesto Meatballs from Slow Cooker Revolution

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (6 oz)
1 slice white bread {gluten free if preferred)
2-3 tablespoons milk {any kind will do}
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (80/20)
1/4 cup pesto sauce, homemade or store bought
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

In a large bowl, combine the bread and milk by mashing with a fork to form a paste. Add the beef and pesto and combine; set aside.

In a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. When it begins to shimmer, add the garlic and onions. Sauté until onions have softened and become translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until softened.When done, transfer onion and mushroom mixture to a slow cooker; set aside.

In the same skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat. When it begins to shimmer, crumble in the pesto ground beef and brown in batches. Once browned, transfer the beef to the slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 6-8 hours.


  1. I love adding pesto to my tomato sauce. This looks delicious!

  2. This sounds delicious...and I just happened to have some pesto I put down, in my freezer! Yay! Everything happens for a reason...(I meant your meatballs falling apart!)