My Easy Pasta Bolognese Recipe is a classic Italian meat sauce that’s comforting and SO satisfying! It gets even better as it sits in the fridge, so plan to make a big batch over the weekend and enjoy it all week long.
Pasta Bolognese is an instant upgrade for your family’s favorite meat sauce
I grew up on a plain meat sauce made with a brick of frozen hamburger, some chopped onion, and a jar of spaghetti sauce. It doesn’t sound like much but my sisters and I loved it, and I continued the tradition when I cooked for my own girls. It was part of our rotation of family meals for many many years and was such a favorite I never thought to mess with success. But somewhere along the line I was introduced to the classic Italian Bolognese sauce, and it only took one bite to realize that we’d been missing a lot all those years.
Bolognese sauce or ragù alla bolognese
- it’s an Italian meat sauce that’s traditionally long simmered and very rich.
- it comes from the city of Bologna.
- Bolognese sauce is richer than American meat sauce; wine and a little milk or cream gives it a depth of flavor and a wonderful creamy texture.
What you’ll need to make bolognese sauce
- olive oil
- onion, carrot
- hot Italian pepper or red pepper flakes
- ground beef
- ground pork (the pork makes a big difference)
- crushed tomatoes (buy the good Italian tomatoes)
- tomato paste
- red wine
- bay leaf
- fresh thyme
- salt and pepper
- heavy cream or milk (heavy cream is best!)
- Worcestershire sauce (not traditional but adds a touch of acidity and umami)
The secrets to a perfect Bolognese
There are a few key elements that will transform any simple meat sauce into a fabulous Bolognese. The slow browning of the minced vegetables develops the first level of deep flavor. A combination of beef and pork adds a second level. The hot pepper creates a spicy note, the wine and the fresh herbs contribute complexity, and the cream adds a final but essential dreamy richness. It really doesn’t take much longer than a basic meat sauce, but it’s so much more rewarding.
What pasta goes best with Bolognese sauce?
If you want to be scrupulously traditional, you’ll toss your Bolognese sauce with tagliatelle, a flat strand egg pasta similar to fettuccine. I used pappardelle, which is wider, but still delicate. A flat strand pasta encourages the sauce to cling and the wide paparedelle makes this satisfying sauce even more satisfying. That being said, you can use a Bolognese sauce in any recipe where you need a meat sauce ~ I love it in my stuffed shells Bolognese.
More Italian inspired comfort food
- Wild Mushroom Pasta with Hazelnuts
- Italian White Bean Soup
- Easy Sausage Carbonara
- Sicilian Pasta with Almonds and Anchovies
Easy Pasta Bolognese Recipe
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, minced
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut in small dice
- 1 small hot Italian pepper, minced (if you don't have one you can use red pepper flakes, about 1/2 tsp)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb ground Angus beef, 85%
- 1 lb ground pork
- 26 ounces crushed or pureed Italian tomatoes (I like San Marzano tomatoes)
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste, I always keep a tube in the fridge
- 1/2 cup red wine (also use Marsala, or cognac)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- salt and fresh pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup milk or heavy cream (cream makes the sauce luxurious)
- 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, not traditional, but my secret ingredient
- 1 pound papardelle pasta
- fresh Parmigiano Reggiano
- fresh thyme leaves
- Cover the bottom of a heavy pot with olive oil and saute the onion, carrots, pepper and garlic for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. This is an important step towards developing the special flavors of the sauce, so don’t skip it. Add more oil if the vegetables start to stick and stir frequently.
- Add in the ground meats and cook until they are browned. While it is browning, break up the meat well, so there are no large chunks. Then add in the wine, tomatoes, and paste, along with the bay leaves and the fresh thyme leaves. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 tsp of each)
- Cover and simmer for about 2 hours on a low heat. (Make sure the sauce is simmering slowly, not boiling furiously.) Add the cream and Worcestershire sauce during the last half hour of cooking. Leave the top off during that time to thicken it.
- When the sauce is done, remove the bay leaves, and check the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if you like. The sauce can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
- Cook the pasta to an al dente stage according to the package directions and drain. Reserve a cup or so of the cooking liquid in case you need to loosen the sauce later.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and toss with tongs to coat, then heap into big pasta bowls and garnish with some fresh cheese and thyme.
- If you have the time, by all means cook this sauce, covered, for up to 3 hours on a low heat.
- This sauce gets better with age, so it makes wonderful leftovers. There’s nothing like coming home to a fridgeful of pasta Bolognese after a busy day ~ nothing!