Bolognese sauce is one of those classic recipes that keeps on getting better and better with time. It’s a pasta sauce that everybody loves. It is no coincidence that it’s on the menu of just about every Italian restaurant.
It originated in the city of Bologna in Northern Italy, and sometimes it’s called ragu Bolognese (or, more correctly, ragù alla bolognese).
The ground meat melts into the tomatoes to give you that hearty dressing you’ve grown up loving. Our Bolognese sauce recipe tastes just like the traditional version you would get in Italy. Pick your favorite pasta shape and add it to the saucepan at the end for the best results.
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Remember when you were a kid and you’d go to Sunday dinner at your grandparents house?
You’d walk in the door and the house would smell of wonderful tomato sauce, as your cousins dragged you away to whatever caught their attention that week. Your grandma would scream at you to “stop fighting and come eat some macaroni before it gets cold”.
Whatever sauce came to mind in that scenario, that’s what we’re making today.
What makes our bolognese sauce special?
I love to switch it up with a good Bolognese sauce instead of a regular marinara sauce at times. Sure, marinara sauce is a great easy recipe that’s been passed down in the legends of Italian food for generations. But sometimes, I need my meat incorporated throughout every bite.
To me, the level of meatiness in this is what makes it the absolute best bolognese sauce.
We make our Bolognese sauce a little differently here. Sure, it’s got all your classics; ground beef, ground pork, crushed red tomatoes, the works. But we’re adding some other meat to this.
Mortadella and pancetta.
When diced and sauteed, the mortadella and pancetta complement each other to give you that fatty, rich flavor with every bite.
The flavors melt down really nicely with the carrots, celery, and onions to make this great recipe one of a kind.
You don’t even need a food processor, slow cooker, instant pot, or anything like that. All you need is a saucepan and you’re good to go!
I promise, your grandmother would be so proud of you for making this homemade Bolognese sauce.
*Don’t feel like reading? Watch our youtube video on how to make authentic bolognese sauce below!*
Here's what you need...
There are many versions of this meat sauce around. Our personal Bolognese sauce recipe has the following key ingredients.
Crushed tomatoes: The base of this Bolognese sauce is all in 1 can of crushed san marzano tomatoes. Get some from the grocery store.
Olive oil: If there’s a time to use quality olive oil, it’s now.
Ground beef: The heart and soul of authentic bolognese sauce. The best flavor comes from 80/20 ground beef.
Ground pork: Equal parts ground beef and ground pork will work for this recipe.
Pancetta: Dice up about 4 oz of pancetta. You’ll be glad you did.
Mortadella: You don’t see this one in meat sauce a whole lot, but trust us, it works. Dice this just as you’ll do with the pancetta.
Onion: Just a plain old chopped white onion will do the job just fine.
Carrot: The secret with the carrot is to grate it so it dissolves in the sauce. You (and your kids) won’t even know it’s there!
Celery stock: When diced and sauteed at first, you won’t even know this one’s there either.
Garlic: Use fresh garlic cloves for this recipe.
White wine: We use dry white wine with this instead of red wine. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but don’t use trash either (aka grocery store cooking wine).
Parmesan cheese: A big heaping cup of grated parmesan cheese will give your sauce the perfect amount of creaminess, without having to add heavy cream to it at all.
Calabrian chili flakes: Use these dried red pepper flakes for a little extra zing.
Fresh basil: It really makes a world of a difference in the delicious flavor of true Bolognese sauce.
Salt & pepper: To season, obviously, but to also take some of the moisture out of the vegetables when sauteeing.
Now, for the fun part!
Add your olive oil into the saucepan you’ll be using. Let this warm up on medium heat.
Once veggies are prepped and the olive oil is heated, add them to the pot with some garlic, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir around with a wooden spoon to let them sauté for a bit.
Once veggies are in and cooking, add your pancetta and mortadella. Sauté these for about three minutes, to really let the flavors melt down into the veggies and olive oil.
Go ahead and add your ground pork and ground beef to the mix. Let them cook up in the pan with everything, stirring frequently.
When pork and beef are cooked down, it’s time to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Italians call this step sfumare.
Take about a cup of white wine and add it directly to the saucepan. Then let it simmer until it’s reduced to about half. It will balance the taste of the meat and melt part of its fats, making your sauce creamier.
Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. That’s flavor!
Once simmered, add the crushed tomatoes, about half of the basil, and half a cup of parmesan cheese. Give it a slow simmer on low heat for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
Here’s how your bolognese sauce should look if you followed at the end of the process:
When the sauce is almost finished, begin to prepare your pasta.
Add a ton of salt into a boiling pot of water. If you think you’ve used too much salt, add a little bit more. Boil your pasta for about eight minutes, until al dente.
Drain off your pasta, and immediately coat with the finished sauce (NEVER OLIVE OIL), mixing everything together so that every piece of pasta is coated in the Bolognese sauce. Top with remaining basil and parmesan cheese.
That’s it. If you followed all these steps correctly, you’ve mastered one of the most popular pasta sauces in Italian cuisine. Buon appetito! Your grandparents are as proud as ever!
And if you want to become a real pro, stick with me for a few more minutes. I have some more advice to give.
Bolognese sauce FAQs
Q: What is the best pasta shape for a Bolognese sauce?
A: I like pasta that is long and wide, like tagliatelle or Pappardelle. But any type of pasta will be great with this delicious Bolognese sauce.
Q: How long should I simmer bolognese sauce?
A: The reason why all ragouts take so much time to make is that slow cooking allows the meat to soften. In Italy, the bare minimum accepted cooking time is 2 hours. However, there’s no risk to over boil it, and in my opinion, you should let it simmer for at least 3 hours. This way, your sauce will get a nice, velvety texture and will be easier to digest.
Q: What if I can’t find pancetta?
A: If your grocery store doesn’t carry pancetta, you can use prosciutto.
Q: What cheese can I use if I don’t have parmesan?
A: Pecorino Romano is a great substitute for parmesan.
Q: The addition of milk – I’ve heard that some people mix their bolognese sauce with whole milk. Should I do that as well?
A: Yes, you can. Instead of using parmesan, many Italians add a glass of milk to their ragu a few minutes before the end of cooking. This is because lactose helps counterbalance the acidity of the tomato puree. We prefer to use grated cheese for that, but we won’t judge you if you want to add both 😉
How to store Bolognese Sauce
One thing I love about bolognese sauce is that you can make it in advance and store it for when you really need it.
After all, you’ve seen how long it takes to make it. You can’t do it in a hurry just before your guests arrive. It only makes sense to prepare big batches when you’re free and to use them later.
Also, what do you do with leftover ragu? It would be a shame to let any of it go to waste.
So, let’s spend some time to see how to properly store bolognese sauce.
If you used too much and are planning to finish it soon, you can just leave it in the fridge for 1-2 days. But if you need to store it for longer, the best way is freezing.
Put it in a sterilized airtight container and leave it in the freezer. This way, you can store your bolognese sauce for up to 6 months!
What to do with my Bolognese sauce
What to serve with it
Wine: You can’t go wrong with a delicious red wine. Try a Pinot Noir or a Chianti, it’ll blend together nicely with the rich sauce.
Appetizer: I always eat my Bolognese sauce with a nice big Italian salad. Chop up lettuce, cucumbers, whole tomatoes, and onions and toss them around with some olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and an Italian herb mix.
Side dish: This is the perfect excuse to make some easy roasted broccoli rabe.
Now you really know everything you need to make an outstanding bolognese sauce. Have fun preparing it for your next dinner or Sunday lunch.
I’ll leave you with the recipe card. You can use it as a shopping list, or print it and keep it at home. Scale the ingredients according to how many people you want to serve, and don’t forget to let us know what you think of our bolognese sauce!