Classic Bolognese Sauce for Pasta

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.

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


  • 2 ounces diced 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
  • 11 ounces ground beef
  • 4 ounces ground pork
  • 4 ounces 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 one 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, packed in water)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


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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  • Barb Leahy

    Hi! I see you cover it when you first add the tomatoes, After that is it covered?? For the next 2 hours?? It smells great!

    • Carrie Havranek

      Hi, Barb! It does not need to be covered; if you take a closer look at the steps, Elise says you can add a little water if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, which can happen if you are simmering a sauce for any length of time. Hope you loved it!

  • Meg

    Thank you, Elise!!! I can’t get enough of this Bolognese, and wish I could give it more stars! I literally have cravings for it. I’ve made it about once a month since I discovered it, and I’ve played around with it quite a bit, just depending on what I have on hand, and trying it with different meats. It’s delicious as-is, but everyone deserves to eat this delicious sauce, so here are some tips that might help tweak it to your preferences!
    -It is time consuming. Make a double batch! Why spend 3 hours on two different occasions, when you can do it once and freeze half? To do this, just use a dutch oven or stock pot.
    -Whole Foods was out of pancetta the first time I made this, so I omitted. However, it’s so flavorful that I never felt the need to put it in any other time I’ve made it.
    -I’m not a huge carrot-as-an-ingredient fan, so I’ve made it with and without. Great either way! My go-to is just the onion and celery.
    -I’ve used the 3 meats Elise calls for. I’ve also just used beef and pork (the same meats I use for meatballs), but currently I have a double-batch of Bolognese on the stove with 2lbs of ground turkey. I feel like I’m being health(ier) whenever I make it with ground turkey, and it’s just as amazing as using the other meats!!
    -I haven’t made it with just the ground cinnamon and cloves, because I was looking for a bolognese recipe with nutmeg from the start. I’ve used all 3 every time! I pre-mix them with the pepper so they all distribute evenly when I throw them in.
    -I’ve only used canned whole and peeled tomatoes, and because of this recipe, always have a few cans on-hand. The first few times, I broke up the tomatoes, as directed, but find it hard when I’m making a double recipe, since the tomatoes sink to where I can’t see them. Also, I hate getting a bite that has the root(?) of a tomato. To prevent this, I drain the liquid from the can into the pot. Then, I take the whole tomatoes, put them into a shallow bowl, cut the ends off and discard, then chop the tomatoes up with just a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, and throw them into the sauce. Don’t do this on a cutting board! You’ll lose all of the juice from the tomatoes. It’s extra work, but is worth it.
    -Due to a weird curdling incident once, I’ve always been weary of adding milk to any recipe. Any time I add a dairy product to a soup or sauce, I temper it first. To do this, make sure the sauce is simmering on low for a couple minutes first. For the Bolognese, I use what I’ve got on hand (which is never whole milk, but usually a combination of 1% or 2% and light cream or heavy cream), and put it into a bowl. I then add some of the warm sauce into the milk, stirring the whole time. Then I dump it into the sauce while stirring. I allow the sauce to simmer on low from here on out, but after just adding the milk, I stir every couple of minutes until it slowly warms up to the rest of the sauce. It’s an easy step that could prevent you from wasting a lot of ingredients and time!
    -Don’t skimp on time!! Cook it for the entire time Elise instructs. Bolognese gets its flavor from simmering for a while.
    -I saw a review that said the sauce was thinner than they wanted. Next time, just throw a little flour in (maybe 2 tablespoons for a single recipe, 1/4 cup for double), after the vegetables have sauteed, and cook it, stirring constantly, until it turns to a pale tan. It will thicken the entire sauce without having to make a roux.


  • Lisa

    This was my first time making a Bolognese sauce. The flavor was good but I was expecting the sauce to be thicker and cling to the pasta. I’m wondering if I didn’t cook at a high enough temperature. Any suggestions?


  • Penny

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


  • Tina

    Elise, I made this last night to serve with farfalle pasta. I have been searching for the perfect Bolognese recipe for nearly a year and THIS IS IT! It was DELICIOUS! I hope you will consider posting just the sauce recipe by itself under ‘pasta’. I made it as-is EXCEPT I used ground cloves and cinnamon, plus I added garlic with the onions (can’t make anything without garlic) and instead of using 1/4 cup water to thin the sauce, I used 1/4 cup red wine. It was WONDERFUL! Thanks for ANOTHER great recipe! :)


  • 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!

  • Erin M.

    I am looking for a good bolognese recipe and this looks great, but I have a question… why no garlic? I noticed that Marcella Hazan’s recipe doesn’t have garlic either.. I thought that garlic was a must with Italian cooking.

  • Randall

    I like the above, and is similar to what I’ve been doing for years.

    Two potential changes: That recipe needs at least a half cup of chicken livers… cook them in the sauce and then mash them against the sides of the pan to disappear. Second point – keep some rich brown beef stock handy instead of water… or veal stock is also a good choice for a velvety finish.

  • Lauren

    Is it necessary to use the clove and cinnamon? I have used things like these and all spice in the past and was not a huge fan of the flavor. I want an authentic bolognese though so should I add them?

    I think you should do whatever you want. You might want to try it out with smaller quantities of those spices. ~Elise

  • Maravillas García

    Just a question, what’s the milk for? sort of like using cream, only not so rich?

    Note from Elise: yes, the sauce is definitely rich enough without using cream.