Bolognese Sauce is a luscious, hearty Italian meat sauce made with ground beef, Italian sausage, pancetta, wine, and tomatoes. Served with pasta, this rich sauce makes the most satisfying pasta dinner.
Why This Bolognese Sauce is the Best
There is nothing quite like pasta served with a rich meat sauce. And Bolognese reigns supreme as the richest, most flavorful meat sauce.
- Bolognese is made with 3 types of meat, which all work together to give the sauce dimension and heartiness.
- The meat sauce is simmered with spices and onions and garlic to develop a sauce that is nuanced and balanced.
- My recipe for Bolognese calls for dry wine and balsamic vinegar, which cut through the richness and balance the sauce.
- Heavy cream finishes the dish with a luxurious mouthfeel and richness.
This classic Italian meat sauce does require a bit of time to produce the richest, tastiest, Bolognese Sauce. But that effort does not go unnoticed! This sauce is so comforting and so flavorful it will become a family favorite.
Notes on Ingredients
Yes, there are quite a few ingredients needed to make classic bolognese. However, most of them are staples you probably always have on hand.
- Pancetta: You can find pancetta in just about grocery store, often sold in the deli section or where you find bacon. For this recipe, you want to use pancetta cubed in about ¼-inch pieces. You can opt to purchase the pancetta already cubed, or a ¼ to ½-inch slice of pancetta that you can dice yourself.
- Sausage: Use Italian flavored sausage, not bulk sausage or breakfast sausage. Either purchase raw links of Italian sausage and remove the meat from the casings, or purchase ground Italian sausage. Feel free to use pork, turky, or chicken Italian sausage.
- Ground Beef: For this recipe, I recommend using lean ground beef, such as 90/10. There is enough fat rendered from the pancetta and sausage, you don't want your ground beef to render off much fat.
- Vegetables: To add richness and the classic flavor of bolognese, this recipe calls for celery, onion, carrots, and garlic. This combination is often referred to as soffrita in Italian cooking.
- Wine: To add depth to the sauce, select a dry white wine such as Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. Be sure it is a wine suitable for drinking, do not use cooking wine, as the flavor will not be even close to the same. If you are opposed to adding wine, simply use additional broth in its place.
- Broth: This recipe calls for chicken broth, not beef broth. While you can use beef broth, it can overwhelm the sauce, so it is best to use low-sodium chicken broth.
- Tomatoes: Use crushed tomatoes or pureed whole tomatoes. Tomato sauce can have added sugars and ingredients.
- Balsamic Vinegar: The vinegar will round out the sauce and add depth. Don't overlook this ingredient!
- Heavy Cream: Feel free to use half and half or omit for a dairy-free Bolognese.
How to Make Bolognese
- In a large dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is heated, add in the pancetta, and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan and reserve to add back to the sauce later.
- While the pancetta is browning, prepare the vegetables. Instead of chopping up the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, I prefer to pulse them in a food processor fitted with an s-blade. This not only saves time but really breaks down the vegetables, allowing them to blend perfectly into the sauce.
- If the pancetta did not render off much fat, add a bit more oil to the pan and then add in the beef and sausage. Cook until the meat is nearly fully browned, breaking up the meat into small chunks as it cooks.
- Add the vegetable mixture to the meat mixture and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and tomato paste and stir into the meat mixture. Allow that to cook for 1-2 minutes to toast and develop the flavor of the tomato paste and spices.
- Add in the wine (or additional stock), and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. All those browned bits will really add to the flavoring of the sauce. Allow the wine to come to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes allowing the alcohol to cook off and reduce.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, 1 cup of chicken stock, nutmeg, balsamic vinegar, and reserved pancetta. Bring the sauce to a boil, and then lower the heat to as low as it will go.
- Simmer the sauce, partially covered, for 2 to 3 hours, until the sauce is thickened and the meat is very tender. Be sure to check on the sauce every 20 minutes, giving it a gentle stir, and checking to see if additional stock is needed. You can add up to ½ cup additional stock as the bolognese simmers if needed.
- Once the sauce has simmered, stir in the heavy cream and basil. Heat through for 3-4 minutes.
Bolognese sauce is classically served with pasta. I suggest selecting a pasta, like tagliatelle, cavatappi, pappardelle, or rigatoni, that can really catch the rich sauce and complete the dish.
I highly recommend only partially cooking the pasta and then finishing cooking the pasta in the sauce with a bit of the pasta cooking water. This really allows the noodles to soak up the sauce and adds flavor to the sauce as well.
Storage and Reheating Instructions
Bolognese sauce itself freezes and reheats well. However, I don’t recommend freezing the sauce with the pasta, as the consistency after freezing and defrosting may cause the pasta to become a bit on the mushy side.
- Store Pasta Bolognese in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator and reheat individual servings in the microwave in 30-second intervals until warmed through.
- Store Bolognese Sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and reheat over low heat on the stove until warmed through.
- For freezing, place the Bolognese Sauce in an airtight, freezer-safe container, leaving a bit of room for expansion, and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight and reheat on the stove over low heat, until warmed through.
You can omit the cream to keep the Bolognese dairy-free, but it will not have the same classic flavor. Although, it is still delicious and will save a few calories.
While the pancetta is traditional and adds an incredible amount of flavor to the Bolognese, you can omit it if you do not have it on hand. I would not substitute bacon for the pancetta in this recipe, as the smokiness from the bacon will overpower the delicate notes in the sauce.
Wine adds a deep flavor along with notes of acidity that helps to balance out the richness of the sauce. However, if you do not drink alcohol, feel free to use additional chicken stock in place of the wine.
Yes! While white wine is traditional, a dry red wine, such as Merlot or Cabernet, can be used in place of the white wine and the results are delicious.
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If you enjoyed this recipe for classic Bolognese, please be sure to leave a comment and review below.
- 1 medium onion cut into large chunks
- 1 large carrot peeled, and cut into large chunks
- 1 stalk celery cut into large chunks
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 ounces pancetta cubed in ¼-inch pieces
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ½ pound lean Italian sausage turkey, or pork
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup dry white wine such as chardonnay
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 1 to 1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken stock
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
- 8 leaves basil sliced into skinny ribbons
- 2 pounds dried pasta such as tagliatelle, pappardelle, or rigatoni
- In a food processor fitted with an s-blade, pulse the onion, carrot, celery, and cloves of garlic until finely minced. Reserve to add to the sauce.
- In a large dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is heated, add in the pancetta, and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan and reserve for later.
- Add the beef and sausage into the same pan the pancetta cooked in. Cook the meat until the meat is browned, breaking up the meat into small chunks as it cooks.
- Add the vegetable mixture to the meat mixture and cook until the vegetables are softened about 5 minutes.
- Add in the oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and tomato paste and stir into the meat mixture. Allow that to cook for 1-2 minutes to toast the tomato paste.
- Add in the wine, and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Allow the wine to come to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes allowing the alcohol to cook off.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, 1 cup of the chicken stock, nutmeg, balsamic, and reserved pancetta. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to as low as it will go. Simmer the sauce, partially covered, for 2 to 3 hours, until the sauce is thickened and the meat is very tender. If the sauce becomes too thick as it simmers, add in up to ½ cup more stock.
- Stir in the heavy cream and basil and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta of your choice for 2 minutes less than package directions in heavily salted boiling water. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid.
- Add the cooked pasta, reserved cooking liquid, and Parmesan cheese to the sauce. Increase the heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook, tossing constantly, until pasta is al dente and liquid is slightly thickened about 2 minutes.
- Serve with additional parmesan.