This delicious Authentic Bolognese Sauce or Ragu alla Bolognese is made with fresh ingredients and cooked low and slow. A true Bolognese sauce recipe takes time, but it is so worth it. For the true Italian tradition serve with fresh egg Tagliatelle or Pappardelle!
I have been asked a few times for a real Bolognese Sauce and after asking some friends and family, I am happy to say this is about an Authentic Bolognese Sauce is going to get without going to Bologna.
After spending a few days in Milan last spring, my eldest daughter who is a lover of anything and everything Lasagna, decided she had to try La Lasagna Milanese, which is made with a Bolognese Sauce.
The Lasagna consists of Bolognese Sauce, Besciamella Sauce, Parmesan Cheese and Lasagna noodles. A very rich and delicious Pasta dish. And yes she loved every mouth full. Although she also said she prefers our Classic Lasagna.
What is Bolognese Meat Sauce made with
- Olive oil
- Ground beef
- Ground pork
- Red wine
- Tomato paste
- Tomato Puree
- Bay Leaf
What is the difference between Meat Sauce (Ragu) and Bolognese?
The main difference, is the different cut of meat used in the preparation of the sauces. Bolognese sauce is made with ground meat, while meat ragù (Neapolitan) sauce is made with pieces of whole meat.
To cook a meat sauce (ragù), a mixture of cuts of beef and pork is generally used, opting for fatty meat that can withstand the long cooking times required for the preparation of this tasty sauce. Usually 6 hours is required whereas 2-3 hours is needed for Bolognese.
To obtain the best Bolognese sauce it is preferable to use tomato puree (passata). It is advised to never use canned peeled tomatoes and or fresh tomatoes because they release a lot of water during cooking and would therefore affect the intense flavor and its consistency.
According to Bolognese tradition, the tomato puree should be added to the meat at room temperature and not cold from the fridge. Whereas San Marzano tomatoes are used in the Naples ragù sauce along with a spoonful of tomato paste to strengthen the flavor. Although most Italians will use passata also for the sauce.
How to make Bolognese Sauce
Start by chopping the carrot, celery and onion very finely, but not too fine that it turns into a pulp.
Then in a medium to large pot add the olive oil and the chopped vegetables, cook the mixture covered on low heat until the onion is transparent.
Raise the heat to medium and add the ground beef and pork, stirring and breaking up the meat as it cooks and browns.
Raise the heat to high and add the red wine and cook until the wine has evaporated. The liquid should evaporate without burning the meat or veggies.
Lower the heat to medium and add the tomato paste and Tomato Puree (not stewed or pelati or fresh tomatoes), salt pepper and a whole bay leaf or two.
Bring the sauce to a boil, then gradually lower the heat to the lowest level. Cover the pot, and stir occasionally. The sauce must cook slow and low for three hours, do not boil or the sauce will burn.
During the last 15-20 minutes of cooking, raise the heat a little and cook on a slow boil, stirring often.
After three hours remove the bay leaf and add the milk, heat the sauce thoroughly, for a couple of minutes.
Serve over cooked pasta.
Why add milk to the Bolognese Sauce?
The milk (sometimes heavy cream is used) in the Bolognese sauce is generally added if the pasta you are serving it with is a dry pasta and is added at the end of the cooking time. But if you are using a fresh egg pasta, such as tagliatelle, adding it is optional. I always add it because I like the taste and flavor it gives the sauce.
What is the best pasta to serve with Bolognese Sauce?
In Italy, Ragu Bolognese is traditionally served with Tagliatelle. And preferably fresh egg Tagliatelle. Although I have been served pappardelle with the sauce. And of course, always cooked to al dente. The sauce is also used to make a very popular Lasagna alla Bolognese!
What to serve for dessert?
For dessert you are going to want a simple lighter dessert. For example a creamy Panna Cotta, a lovely Strawberry Semifreddo or how about a simple No-Churn Cappuccino Ice Cream?
Tips for making the Best Bolognese Recipe
- Use an equal part of ground beef and pork, make sure it is not too lean, more on the fatty side.
- Be sure to cut (with a knife) the carrot, celery stalk and onion finely but not so much that it may become pulpy.
- Sautee your vegetables first on low heat then add the meat, which is cooked on a higher heat.
- True Bolognese is cooked on the lowest heat for at least two – three hours.
- Bolognese sauce as you can see does not contain garlic, oregano or basil.
There is no such thing as a quick Bolognese Sauce, Authentic Bolognese must be slow cooked for usually three hours, nothing rushed here.
And when you try it, you’ll know it was worth every minute.
Can you use White wine?
Red wine is always considered better to use with meat dishes and white with fish dishes, but if you are out of red and only have white you could definitely use it.
How to store the Bolognese sauce
Any leftover sauce should be stored in an airtight container and kept in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge. The completely cooled sauce can also be frozen. Place in a freezer safe container, it will keep for up to 3 months. Thaw the sauce overnight in the fridge.
I’m sure this sauce was the actual reason for the Italian saying “Fai la Scarpetta” or “Make the little shoe” which means grab a piece of bread and wipe up any left over sauce in your plate, that way you enjoy every last bite! Buon Appetito.
More Authentic Italian Recipes
Authentic Bolognese Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small/medium carrot
- 1 small celery stalk
- 1 small onion
- 10 1/2 ounces ground beef (70-80%)
- 10 1/2 ounces ground pork
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 1/4 cups tomato puree (passata)
- 2-3 pinches salt
- 2 dashes pepper
- 1-2 whole bay leaves
- 1/3 cup milk (2 % or whole milk)
- Cut the carrot, celery and onion very fine (must not too much that it becomes pulpy when cooked).
- In a medium to large heavy pot add the olive oil and chopped vegetables, cook covered on low heat (stirring occasionally) until onion is transparent.
- Increase the heat to medium and add the ground beef and pork. Stirring as the meat is cooking to break up the pieces. Once the meat has browned turned the heat up to high and add the wine.
- Cook until the alcohol has evaporated (about 20-30 seconds) and the liquid has evaporated. Decrease the heat to medium/low and add the tomato paste, puree, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Gradually decrease the heat to the lowest setting cover and let simmer for three hours (the mixture should not boil). Stir occasionally.
- After the time has passed remove the bay leaf and add the milk, heat thoroughly for a couple of minutes. Serve over cooked pasta. Enjoy!
Updated from September 18, 2019
Anne Marie says
Bolognaise a great dish if you want to have an argument , particularly with Italian chefs and grandmothers, about which is the best and most authentic recipe. So I am humbled Rosemary, and partially reluctant to rate yours the best, after making many excellent versions over 35 years. I made one minor change and otherwise followed your recipe exactly; I added very finely chopped pancetta to the onion/celery/carrot to compensate for my beef/pork being on the lean side. Thank you for this truly superb recipe, from a perfectionist!
Hi Anne Marie, thanks so much and yes a lot Italians add pancetta to the sauce. I will have to try that next time. Take care and have a great weekend.
I made this few months ago and planning to again today. I add Beef liver with mine (pre-soaked with milk) and it tastes delicious, even my niece and nephew love it!
Hi MJ, thanks so much, that’s interesting with beef liver. Have a great week.
That was absolutely delicious!!
Hi Sam, thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed it. Take care.
Thanks Bill. Take care.
Bobbie Joe Reynolds says
First visit. Liked very much! Great presentation!
Thanks so much Bobbie Joe, glad you liked it. Take care.
Looks delicious. I have always wondered whether after browning the meat , whether you need to drain most of the fat out of the pan. I use mixture of ground pork, medium ground beef , and ground veal. Sometimes this can be a full cup or more of fat. But no recipe suggests doing this ? I have always done this but I might not be doing it correctly.
Any thoughts ?
Hi Lancej, I would drain out most of that fat if there is a lot, I usually don’t have more than a couple of tablespoons, let me know how it goes. Take care.
My suggestion would be to pick lean cuts of beef, pork and veal and have them ground by the butcher right there and then. Or, grind the meat at home. Also, Lydia Bastianich offered a nice tip: add a little warm milk to the ground meat mixture, it breaks easier and and is easier to stir. And after you’ve browned the meat, use a mixture of warm milk and stock to the pot (gradually!) as the sauce cooks. I made Bolognese following Lydia’s recipe (which is actually very similar to this one) many times, and it is really tasty.
This recipe was a huge hit for my family! Everyone thought it was going to be like spaghetti but I knew better lol. Thank you for the amazing recipe
Hi Domonique, thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed it. Take care.
I made this recipe for my mum when she was visiting and we both thought it was yum! I made it the day before we intended to eat it because I know that dishes like this are often better let to sit and develop its flavour. We had it over the course of three nights and each night it was better than the last. The only adjustment I made was using a good quality pure grape juice instead of the dry red wine.
Hi Regan, thanks so much, so glad you both enjoyed it. And yes it gets better over time. Good idea using grape juice. Take care.
Elaine King says
The first time I ate Bolognese sauce was in 1956/7. My friend & I stayed in a hotel in Cattolica. I was bowled over by the flavour…. The next time I tasted it was when working in London and I ‘found’ a small cafe off the Farringdon Rd. I went in & Tried their Bolgnese sauce and to my amazement , it was EXACTLY the same as the one in Cattolica! I ate there every day, and just adored it!. After marrying, I moved away and, sad to say I have never tasted the same sauce again!. I am now very elderly and have spent my life trying to create ‘that taste’ To no avail. I’ve tried every meat, every herb – you name it. I don’t know what created that special flavour – but it was sublime! Even the little waxed carton of Lasagne sold on the station platform at Bologna had that taste!.
Hi Elaine, interesting, maybe it was the combination of meat or a secret herb. It would be great to discover. Take care.
Taking so long for wine and all liquid to evaporate, steam rising! I’m afraid all meat flavor will be gone??? How long does it take to totally evaporate till the next step which is adding paste, toms? Hope it comes out okay. I have double batch going.
Hi Nancy, it only takes about 20-30 seconds to evaporate at high heat. I hope that helps.
Cooking off the liquid will in fact intensify the flavour.
I’m doubling the recipe and hoping for the best! I’m also adding veal…okay?
Hi Nancy, veal is fine, I hope you enjoy it. Have a great weekend.
Delicious and easy! Thank you a family favourite now.
Hi Lyndal, thanks so much, so glad everyone enjoyed it. Have a great weekend.
Chamali Mendis says
Hi, this recipe looks amazing. May I please know if you can recommend a substitute for red wine? Thanks
Hi Chamali, you could substitute with a beef or vegetable broth. Hope that helps.
Hi Elaine, thanks so much, glad you like it.
Paola Carini says
Complimenti! Ricetta perfetta!
Just a little hint: bay leaves should always be dry (never fresh from the plant and, of course, never dried out on the plant) whatever the recipe. It makes a difference, believe me!
Hi Paola, thanks so much, great tip I never knew that. Have a great week.
Why not fresh? Is it the volatile oils?