If you are looking for a truly luxurious pasta sauce, there is no better candidate than a classic Italian Bolognese.
Slow cooked for at least a couple of hours, the sauce is deep, rich, flavorful, and worth the extra effort!
What Is Bolognese Sauce?
Bolognese sauce is a classic Italian sauce for pasta made with ground meat such as beef or pork. It's slow cooked with a soffritto of onions, carrots, and celery, tomatoes, and milk to give it a creamy texture.
Pronounced "bow-luh-nez," 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.
How to Make Bolognese Sauce
This Bolognese sauce is the family recipe of one of our readers and is used in our Lasagna Bolognese recipe. The 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 it partially covered, but add 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.
What to Serve with Bolognese
Bolognese sauce is traditionally served with fresh tagliatelle pasta, but you can also serve it with fettuccine, pappardelle, penne, or other pasta.
Can You Freeze Bolognese Sauce?
Yes! Bolognese will freeze well for up to 6 months. (Here's our favorite method.)
More Classic Italian Pasta Dishes to Try:
Watch This Classic Bolognese Sauce Recipe
Spaghetti Sauce vs. Bolognese Sauce
In the U.S., we commonly think of spaghetti sauce as a tomato-based sauce, simmered with ground beef or sausage, and served over spaghetti. Bolognese sauce is a meat sauce that may or may not have tomato in it. It's a thicker, heartier sauce and includes milk, which adds richness and tenderizes the meat.
The Best Pasta Shapes for Bolognese
With a hearty sauce like Bolognese you want to pair it with pastas that capture it well, such as those with wide ribbon shapes. Some good options include:
Looking to make your own homemade pasta? Let us show you how: How to Make Homemade Pasta (Without a Pasta Maker!)
Classic Bolognese Sauce
- 2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
- 1 medium Spanish onion or yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 ounces ground beef
- 4 ounces ground pork
- 4 ounces Italian sausage, casings removed, if needed
- Dash ground cloves
- Dash ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds peeled and chopped tomatoes (or one 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, packed in water)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Make the soffritto:
Combine pancetta, onion, celery, and carrot in sauté pan with butter and cook over medium heat until onion turns pale gold, about 10 minutes.
Add the meats:
Add the beef, pork, and sausage to the soffritto, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the spices:
Sprinkle with the clove, cinnamon, and pepper.
Add the tomatoes and simmer:
Stir in tomatoes, increase the heat to bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat back 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.
Simmer for 2 1/2 hours:
Add milk and season with sea salt. Then turn down the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. Stir at least every 20 minutes.
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.
Taste and Serve:
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Bolognese is traditionally served with fresh tagliatelle pasta, but you can also serve it with fettuccine, pappardelle, penne, or other pasta. Sauce freezes well for future use.