When it comes to meat sauce, no one does it better than the Italians and Bolognese is the King of Italian Sauces. If you're not a red meat eater you can easily swap out the beef and pork with turkey or chicken to make a sauce that you'll enjoy time and time again.
When it comes to pasta with meat sauce, nothing compares to a traditional Italian Bolognese sauce. As with most Italian dishes there are as many ways to make them as there are Italian grandmothers.
Bolognese sauce is known in Italy as Ragù alla Bolognese or simply Ragù. The meat-based sauce has its humble origins in Bologna, Italy.
My Bolognese sauce embraces the classical traditions of the recipe with a few variations to make the recipe, creating the flavor profiles I find more appealing.
While the basic recipe starting with a soffritto (onion, celery and carrots) remains fairly constant, the amount of meat, types of meat, amount of tomatoes and types of herbs used varies from region to region.
But one thing remains constant, it’s delicious!
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make Bolognese Sauce. In Chef Speak this is called the Mise en Place which translates into Everything in its Place.
Not only does setting your ingredients up ahead of time speed the cooking process, but it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
Do I have to use all carrots, onions and celery in my Bolognese sauce?
No you don’t. But I urge you to try it with all the ingredients I’ve used before you make any changes. If you use a food processor to finely chop the vegetables you won’t even know they’re in the sauce.
My wife who is a cooked carrot hater, looked at me when she saw the carrots and wasn’t happy. This was the first time I’ve the made sauce for her and she couldn’t believe how ah-mazingly delicious it was (with no visible sign of carrots).
But as I’ve stated in the past, recipes are guidelines and if you cook with ingredients you enjoy eating, your going to enjoy cooking and spend more time creating delicious dishes for your friends and family.
Chef Dennis Tip**
Use a food processor to finely chop the carrots, onions and celery. This will make your sauce smoother and look less like a stew.
The first step in creating this classic Italian meat sauce is creating the soffritto. This mixture of celery, onions and carrots is cooked in butter over medium heat for about 10 minutes. This allows the veggies to slowly cook and caramelize.
At the end of the cooking process of the soffritto, add the minced garlic and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes.
I use my 6 qt. Copper Core 5-ply All-Clad pot for this soup. It’s classified as a roaster but works for soups, sauces and so much more. It’s the most used pot in my kitchen!
The next step is cooking the ground chuck and sausage meat along with the seasonings. Each type of meat should be cooked separately so the meat has room to brown with as much of it touching the pan as possible.
Don’t disturb the meat, let it cook without turning it over until the very end.
This allows the meat to caramelize adding another layer of flavor to the sauce. When the cooking is complete deglaze the pan with red wine. This will release all the flavorful bits that get stuck to the pan during the cooking process.
Chef Dennis Tip
Use a wire whip to break up the chunks of meat. It the quickest and easiest way to make the pieces smaller and more palatable.
Do I have to use sausage in Bolognese Sauce?
No, you don’t. As I mentioned earlier depending upon the region of Italy you’re in, the type of meats could be different. You can use any of these meats in your sauce, combining various types of meat or one single type.
- ground chuck
- sausage (pork, chicken or turkey)
- ground pork
- ground veal
- ground chicken or turkey
The next step is combining the cooked meats with the soffritto. Mix the ingredients together thoroughly. Add the tomatoes and milk to the pan and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook for 3-4 hours.
After the bolognese sauce has simmered for at least 3 hours, you’ll find that it has thickened.
If the sauce is too thick you can add a little water to the sauce.
The final step in creating this rich and delicious meat sauce is the addition of heavy cream and grated Romano cheese.
This bowlful of deliciousness will definitely bring smiles to your dinner tables. My recipe is also big enough so you can freeze some to be used another day.
What type of pasta should I use with Bolognese Sauce?
The short answer is to use whatever type of pasta you like to eat. Traditionally Italians enjoy using a wider noodle for the heavier meat sauce, my favorites are:
**Bolognese is also used when making classical lasagne.
Can I use a slow cooker or insta-pot to make bolognese sauce?
Yes you can, but to do justice to this sauce, you need to saute the vegetables first and let the meats cook and caramelize prior to putting everything into the slow cooker.
After cooking the vegetables and meats as described in steps 1 and 2 of the recipe, add all the ingredients to your slow cooker and allow to slow cook for 4-6 hours.
If you enjoyed this recipe you may also like these:
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Tomato Sauce and Sausage
- Restaurant-Style Clams and Spaghetti
- Fettuccine Alfredo
Traditional Italian Bolognese Sauce
- 2 Tablespoon olive oil
- 6 Tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion finely chopped (approx 1 cup)
- 2 large carrots finely chopped (approx 1 cup)
- 4 stalks celery finely chopped (approx 1 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 pound ground chuck 20% fat
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage meat loose out of casing
- 1 Tablespoon sea salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper to taste
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes to taste
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg optional ( I left it out, I don't like nutmet)
- 1 cup red wine *You can use a dry white wine if you prefer
- 84 ounces plum tomatoes 3 cans of crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes crushed by hand or food processor. (San Marzano variety if possible)
- ¼ cup Italian parsley finely chopped
- ¼ cup basil finely chopped
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup Romano cheese grated (parmesan can be used as a substitute)
- 1 cup heavy cream (Light cream or half and half can be used as a substitute)
- Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Then add onion, carrots, and celery, and sauté until the veggies begin to caramelize (about 6 – 8 minutes). Add the chopped garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.Remove the cooked vegetables (soffritto) from the pot and save until needed.
- Add the olive oil and ground beef to the pan. Season with sea salt and black pepper and cook for about 10 minutes until the meat browns. Don't be tempted to continually stir and break up the meat. Allow it to get brown well, caramelizing some of the natural sugars in the meat. When the ground beef is fully cooked break up the meat with a wire whip and remove it from the pan.Repeat this process with the sausage. Add more olive oil if needed.When cooking is complete add the cooked beef back into the pan.
- Add the red wine to the hot pan. It will deglaze the pan, releasing all the browned bits stuck to the bottom. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a large spoon to help get all the stuck bits loose.
- Return the reserved soffritto to the pot, mix well and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, milk, basil and parsley, mixing well. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. *If you want to add the nutmeg this is the time to do it. Traditionally nutmeg is added, but its a flavor I've never enjoyed or included in my Bolognese sauce.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 3 to 4 hours.
- Stir in heavy cream and Romano cheese, mix well to incorporate the cream and cheese into the sauce. If the sauce is too thick you can add a little water, red wine or milk to thin it out.
- Reseason with sea salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.
- Serve with your favorite wide noodle pasta, I used Pappardalle.