Quick and Easy Bolognese Sauce

Family Dinner IdeasQuick and EasyItalianPasta Sauce

Rich, meaty Bolognese Sauce is easy to make and can be on the table in 35 minutes. Use it to top pasta noodles, or layer in lasagna. It’s freezer-friendly too. Make a double or triple batch to enjoy all winter long!

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

During the cooler months, and sometimes during the summer, I make a huge pot of classic slow-cooked Bolognese to satisfy my craving for a thick and meaty pasta dish—and to have enough left over to freeze for later.

I call it my ‘Patience of Job Bolognese’ because it simmers for at least three hours, and up to four, but I discovered an easier way.

I tinkered with my favorite recipe to see if I could cut back on time, and I am happy to say that the results are in, and they are good!

WHAT IS BOLOGNESE SAUCE?

As the name suggests, Bolognese sauce originated in Bologna, Italy. It is a thick meat sauce made with ground beef or a combination of ground meat such as pork, beef, and veal.

Typically, it starts with a soffritto (finely chopped carrots, celery, and onions) gently cooked in butter. Milk or cream, white wine, and a small amount of tomato enrich the sauce.

The ingredients are added in stages, with each ingredient taking time to cook before adding the next ingredient. When they are all in the pot, the sauce simmers for three to four hours to produce a finished product that is more meat than tomatoes, with a very rich and luscious texture.

A beautiful fast bolognese sauce on a blue patterned plate with noodles and fork.

Tips for A FASTER, EASIER BOLOGNESE SAUCE

As much as I love the traditional sauce and even enjoy the slow cooking, sometimes at the end of a busy day I want my pasta tonight! Here are two easy things I did to make a quicker bolognese sauce:

  • Pulse the vegetables in a food processor instead of chopping them by hand.
  • Cook the sauce in a wide skillet instead of a Dutch oven.

The wider surface area of the skillet allows the vegetables to cook faster and speeds up evaporation, allowing the remaining ingredients to reduce and concentrate their flavors in less time.

I was down to about 35 minutes from start to finish, and I still had a sauce that was delicious and satisfying.

Did I lose anything in this condensed cooking time?

Truth: just a smidgen. The long-simmered sauce has a lot of depth, while the shorter version is not quite as sweet and creamy. But frankly, it wasn’t a deal breaker. Unless you taste them side by side, you can hardly tell the difference.

Bolognese in 35 minutes? I’ll take it.

A homemade meaty bolognese sauce in a skillet on a marble countertop with a wooden spoon.

WHAT PASTA GOES BEST WITH BOLOGNESE?

While spaghetti is often a favorite choice (the British even call their dish ‘spag bol’), I love the long, flat ribbons of tagliatelle or fettucine. The meaty sauce is balanced perfectly with the texture of the wider noodles. You can use the sauce to make lasagna, too.

HOW LONG CAN YOU KEEP BOLOGNESE SAUCE?

Stored in an airtight container, the sauce will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator, and up to six months in the freezer. It’s still safe to eat after that, but loses some quality.

I recommend storing it in small-ish (two-cup) containers to give you more choices when reheating. To defrost, place the frozen sauce in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil on top of the stove over low heat.

LOOKING FOR MORE GREAT PASTA RECIPES?

Updated September 26, 2019 : We revised and updated this recipe to make it even better and easier to make on a weeknight. Enjoy!

Quick and Easy Bolognese Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 cups sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large yellow onion, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 large stalk celery, thickly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano or other good quality tomatoes with thick juice
  • 12 ounces cooked pasta (for serving)

Method

1 Chop the vegetables: In a food processor, combine the onion, carrot, and celery. Pulse until finely chopped.

Soffritto in a food processor to be used for the best bolognese sauce.

2 Cook the vegetables: In a deep, wide skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent but not browned.

Soffritto being cooked in a dark skillet as the foundation for the perfect pasta bolognese sauce.

3 Cook the beef: Add the ground beef to the skillet with the sautéed vegetables. Add the salt and pepper. Break the meat up with a fork or a potato masher and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, mashing it until it is crumbly and no longer pink. You are not actually browning the meat, just cooking it until it no longer looks raw.

Ground beef and soffritto combined to make fast and easy bolognese sauce in a dark skillet.

4 Simmer the meat and milk: Add the milk to the skillet and simmer, stirring often, for about 4 minutes, or until the milk has almost completely evaporated. Stir in the nutmeg.

Seasoning and milk ground beef to make fast and easy bolognese sauce.

5 Add the wine: Add the wine to the skillet and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until it has almost evaporated.

Seasoning ground beef to make fast and easy bolognese sauce

6 Crush and add the tomatoes: Pour the tomatoes into a bowl and squish them with your hands to break them up so there are no large pieces.

Add them to the skillet and bring the sauce to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick. If the sauce begins to look dry, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons hot water. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you feel it's needed.

Tomatoes ready to be crushed in a glass bowl to make the best pasta sauce recipe. Tomatoes being crushed in a bowl to make the best pasta sauce recipe. Meat and tomato sauce being stirred togehter with a wooden spoon in a skillet to make the perfect bolognese sauce. A homemade bolognese sauce in a skillet on a marble countertop

7 Serve: Serve the sauce over a bed of cooked pasta.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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5 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Carol

    Prep time 5 minutes???? Not according to your directions. Quite misleading.

    Show Replies (2)
  2. Ana*Maria

    This was excellent! I can’t wait to make it again. I love the flavor the soffrito and butter impart. Don’t fear the fat! I was a little scared it would be to greasy, but it coated the pasta quite nicely. Also, I misread the amount of ground meat as 1 pound so the sauce was a little watery at first, but I just let it simmer a little longer to tighten up.

    xxxxxyyyyy

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A beautiful fast bolognese sauce on a blue patterned plate with noodles and fork.Quick and Easy Bolognese Sauce