Classic Bolognese Sauce for Pasta

SauceItalianBologneseTomato Sauce

Classic Italian Bolognese meat sauce! Ground beef, pork, and Italian sausage, simmered for hours in a base of onion, celery, carrot, pancetta, and tomatoes. Seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Bolognese sauce is a classic Italian sauce for pasta made with ground meat such as beef or pork, slow cooked with a soffritto of onions, carrots, and celery, tomatoes, and milk to give it a creamy texture.

The sauce comes from the Bologna region of Italy, hence the name. Given the cultural history of this sauce, there are many variations, but they all seem to follow a basic structure of ground meat, a soffritto, a bit of tomato, some milk, and long, slow cooking.

This Bolognese sauce is a family recipe of one of our readers and is used in our Lasagna Bolognese recipe. Slow cooked for at least a couple of hours, the sauce is deep, rich, flavorful and worth the extra effort!

This sauce recipe includes ground beef, pork, and Italian sausage, which is essentially seasoned ground pork and pork fat. To start, you sweat the soffritto of minced onions, celery, and carrots with pancetta in butter. Then you add the ground meat to brown it, and sprinkle with ground clove, cinnamon, and pepper.

Add tomatoes, then milk, and simmer for at least 2 hours on low heat. Keep adding water if too much liquid simmers away.

Of course you can skip the long slow cooking if you want (we have a quick Bolognese recipe) but the flavor definitely improves with the longer cooking.

Bolognese sauce is traditionally served with fresh tagliatelle pasta, but you can also serve it with fettucine, pappardelle, penne, or other pasta.

 

Classic Bolognese Sauce for Pasta Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 3 hours
  • Yield: With pasta, makes enough sauce for 6.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Diced pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1 medium Spanish onion or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 11 oz ground beef
  • 4 oz ground pork
  • 4 oz ground Italian sausage
  • 1 freshly ground clove
  • Dash of freshly ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds peeled and chopped tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, packed in water)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Method

1 Make the soffritto: Combine pancetta, onion, celery, and carrot in sauté pan with butter and cook over medium heat until onion turns pale gold.

saute the soffritto for the classic bolognese sauce

2 Add the ground beef, pork, sausage: Add the beef, pork, sausage to the soffritto, and cook until browned.

brown the ground meat for the bolognese pasta sauce cook the ground meat with the vegetables for the bolognese sauce

3 Add the spices: Sprinkle with the clove, cinnamon, and pepper.

4 Add the tomatoes and simmer: Stir in tomatoes, bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. If you are using whole canned tomatoes, break them up as you add them to the sauce.

add tomatoes to make bolognese sauce

5 Add milk, salt, simmer for 2 hours: Add milk and season with sea salt. Then turn down the heat and simmer for 2 and 1/2 hours. Stir at least every 20 minutes.

add milk to make bolognese sauce simmer for hours to make a classic bolognese sauce

Whenever the sauce gets too dry and starts sticking to the pan, just add 1/4 cup of water and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Can easily freeze for future use.

Serve with pasta.

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Classic Bolognese Pasta Sauce

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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10 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Penny

    Yummy! Loved the seasonings, and served it on fried polenta.

  • Russell

    Hi, just a quick thing, the reason for the milk I would suggest comes from the days when most meat, cheap cuts etc were cooked in milk to tenderize them. With it being an old family recipe I would think that would be the most likely answer.

  • Greg Sanders

    Some of the people posting here will take this as blasphemy but I took this recipe added some garlic and smoked paprika and topped with grated smoked gouda and it was _wonderful_.

  • SC

    Garlic is almost never an ingredient in Italian soffritto (usually just: carrot, onion, and celery). Southern Italian recipes use more garlic than northern, but even those don’t even use half as much garlic as Italian-American cooking does. In any case, the “official” ragu’ alla bolognese recipe registered with the city of Bologna by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina does not contain any garlic, and the only spices it uses are salt and pepper. I personally always add a little freshly-grated nutmeg to any ragu’ I make — it goes very well with meat sauces.

  • athina

    In Italy they don’t use half as much garlic as we do here in the states…We’ve Americanized a lot of great Italian dishes, by over-doing the garlic, adding tons of Mozzarella cheese to everything. You will find that the truly authentic Italian dishes are not at all what we find in the Italian-American restaurants here at home.With garlic, less is more, and I don’t believe it belongs in a bolognese sauce.If you happen to check out the Lasagna Bolognese recipe on this website, you will see that it is not laden with Mozzarella, nor with ricotta, and it is the best lasagna I have ever had in my life!

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