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To me this is the absolute best Bolognese Sauce! It's an authentic recipe we learned in Bologna, Italy, the birthplace of this meaty, deeply flavorful, slow simmered sauce of pancetta, ground beef, onion, carrot and celery (soffritto), wine, tomatoes and a splash of cream. It's easy to prepare and just requires a little patience to let the sauce bubble away, developing it's rich flavor.
What pasta goes best with Bolognese sauce?
Italians are serious about pairing sauces with the correct pasta shape and Bolognese Sauce is traditionally tossed with flat, broad pasta shapes like tagliatelle, fettuccine, or (my favorite) pappardelle. The rich sauce clings to the wide surface area making every bite sing with flavor! And if you'd like to make homemade pasta, this food processor pasta dough is quick and easy.
Pappardelle Bolognese recipe straight from Bologna, Italy
We left our pasta making class at La Veccia Scuolo with pappardelle that we'd made by hand, an authentic recipe for Bolognese Sauce and a strong resolve to make it in our tiny apartment kitchen. It turned out to be the easiest grocery shopping experience of our entire trip to Italy.
We stop at a salumeria and say to the shopkeeper, "Bolognese?" His eyes ignite, "Si, si, si," he says. He turns and chooses one of the three pancettas he has for sale. He meets my eyes and makes a cutting motion with his knife. "Si," I answer, I would love to have him dice it for me. Next we go to the butcher. "Bolognese?," we say. His eyes ignite, "Si, si, si," he says. He wraps up just enough ground beef. Now down a small alley we choose a produce stand. "Bolognese?," we say. Her eyes ignite, "Si, si, si," she says. She turns and fills a small paper bag with one small onion, one carrot, one rib of celery.
We've been making this Bolognese recipe ever since.
As with many cherished recipes in Italy (like ragu sauce), the definition of 'authentic' varies by region and even by kitchen! But the basic components of Bolognese Sauce include a small amount of fatty pork, a generous amount of ground beef, soffritto, white wine, tomatoes, tomato puree, or tomato paste and milk or cream.
Some variations on this meat sauce recipe may include ground pork, ground veal, or Italian sausage swapped in for some or all of the ground beef, using dry red wine in place of white, adding a bay leaf while the sauce simmers, or cooking the pancetta and soffrito in a bit of good extra-virgin olive oil. Feel free to experiment to make this recipe your own. And it's not just for tossing with pasta, it works wonderfully in lasagna as well.
Some recipes call for long simmering the meat in whole milk, but I prefer to add a splash of cream to the sauce just before serving. It makes the sauce velvety smooth and creamy and tames any acidity from the wine and tomatoes.
This recipe takes about 90 minutes to cook, but the active time is 15 minutes or less. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but easy enough for a weeknight. You could also layer it between Homemade Lasagna Noodles in my Lasagna with Cottage Cheese.
How to make Bolognese Sauce
Step 1: In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook and stir the pancetta until the fat starts to render.
Step 2: Add onion, carrots and celery (soffritto); sauté until the vegetables are soft.
Step 3: Add ground beef; cook and stir, breaking it into smaller pieces until browned all over. Drain and discard any excess fat. Add wine; stir and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, until wine has mostly evaporated.
Step 4: Add tomatoes; stir and simmer 30 minutes.
Step 5: Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions so that it's al dente when the Bolognese Sauce is done or shortly after.
Step 6: Stir cream into Bolognese Sauce and scoop pasta directly from the cooking water into the sauce; gently toss to coat. Serve topped with grated parmesan cheese (ideally Parmigiano-Reggiano) and minced Italian parsley if desired.
- 4 ounces pancetta cut in to ¼ inch cubes
- 1 medium carrot cut in to ¼ inch cubes
- 1 small small onion cut in to ¼ inch cubes
- 1 large rib celery cut in to ¼ inch cubes
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 ¼ cups dry white wine
- 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with juice ideally San Marzano
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 pound pappardelle pasta or tagliatelle, cooked according to package directions
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste, optional
- minced fresh Italian parsley to taste, optional
- Heat a large pot over medium heat; add pancetta. Cook and stir until fat starts to render, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the soffritto of vegetables: carrot, onion, celery. Cook and stir until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add the ground beef; break up with a wooden spoon and stir until lightly brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and discard excess fat. Add wine and bring to boil; reduce heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes, or until most of the wine evaporates.
- Add crushed tomatoes and their juices; stir. Simmer 30 minutes more. This is a good time to put water on to boil for your pasta. (Cook pasta according to package directions, timed to be ready just after you've stirred cream into the sauce. And reserve some of the pasta water for loosening the sauce if necessary.)
- Remove sauce from heat and stir in heavy cream.
- Season ragu with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add hot cooked pasta to sauce and gently toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce.
- Divide pasta and sauce among serving bowls. If desired, top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and minced fresh Italian parsley; serve.
Josephine Chierchio says
Both your ragu and bolognese sauces look delicious. I’m making lasagna for Thanksgiving. My Dad usually makes the sauce and I do all the rest. I’m doing it all this year. I was wondering which sauce you would recommend for lasagna. I’m using the ready bake lasagna. I find that that uses a lot more sauce than regular lasagna. Thanks for your help!
Marissa Stevens says
Hi there, Josephine! For a special occasion lasagna, I'd definitely opt for the richer Bolognese Sauce. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Thanks ! You too!
If I don’t have the type of pasta mentioned, would this work with fusilli or penne?
Marissa Stevens says
Hi there, E. Sure. Though long pasta is the traditional choice here (pappardelle, spaghetti, linguine, etc.), you can make it with any pasta you like.
This was unbelievably good. How the simplest ingredients make such a complex flavor is amazing! The best meat-based sauce I have ever made!
Marissa Stevens says
That's so wonderful to hear, Susan! Thank you for coming back to let me know!
I really loved this recipe! And made it tonight! It was delicious! I was just wondering, why no garlic? I honestly didn't miss it - but was just curious! Thanks for this recipe--its definitely a keeper!!
Marissa Stevens says
I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Mary! If you do an internet search about garlic in Bolognese, you'll find that it's hotly contested. We learned to make it without garlic, and I love it this way. (Even though I'm a garlic lover!) But feel free to add garlic if you like... 🙂
Thank you for a wonderful recipe, I don't eat pork, is there anything I could replace the pancetta with?
Hi Sofia! I would substitute a beef bacon or turkey bacon or sausage. You could also make Ragu Sauce instead, delicious and no pork required. 😊
So, why no herbs, like rosemary, thyme, basil? Or would that make it a different sauce?
Hi Doug! That's a great question and "yes" is the answer. It would be a different sauce. But you'll be surprised at how complex the flavors are even with such simple ingredients - the same is true with this ragu sauce. I hope you'll give it (them) a try!
Great recipe, Marissa! A good bolognese is the BEST.
Thanks so much, Sabrina!!
Great sauce! I love trying new sauces on my pasta! Cannot wait to cook this up!
Thanks, Kevin! Hope you and David love it!
Katherine | Love In My Oven says
I have a secret....my husband LOVES his mother's bolognese sauce...but I don't really like it! Eek! I've been looking for a recipe that he will love just as much, and that I love too! Yours looks like it might just do the trick. I've gotta try it soon!
I'm cracking up, Katherine! I hope this recipe does the trick for you... 😉
Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary says
First of all, how did I miss this when you originally posted it?! Shame on me! Second, you learned to make bolognese sauce in Bologna, Italy?!?!? I am beyond jealous! I swear I can smell how good this sauce is just by looking at it on my computer screen! I am drooling!!!! Hand me a shovel, because I want to dive in! Pinning to try! Cheers!
Aww...thank you so much, Cheyanne! You leave the sweetest comments.
Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen says
Bolognese is a favorite at our house Marissa! Your recipe looks delicious. Such a fabulous fall comfort dish!
Thank you very much, Mary Ann!
I cannot wait to try your traditional, tried and true bolognese recipe! It sounds amazing!!!
Love to hear that, Liz! Thank you so much!
David @ Spiced says
It's so interesting how soffritos (plural?) change across cultures. Onion, carrot, celery in Italy. Onions, celery, bell peppers in the Cajun south. But that soffrito is the base of everything to come! I absolutely love a good bolognese sauce, and I love that you learned how to make this one in Italy, Marissa! I've got to make this version...ASAP. You know how much we love our pasta around this house! 🙂
hmm, you've got me on the plural of soffritto. 😉 But it's so true! Interesting how different cultures start many of their classic dishes with a similar base. Thanks so much, David!
Jeff the Chef says
What a delicious looking Bolognese! I love that it includes carrots and cream.
Thank you, Jeff!