Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy. The sauce is typically made with ground beef or pork, tomatoes, garlic, white wine, and milk or cream. It is often used as a pasta sauce but can also be used on other dishes such as polenta or gnocchi.
The earliest known recipe for a sauce similar to Bolognaise was created in the late 18th century by chef Teodoro Cimarosa. The sauce gained popularity in the 19th century and became a staple of Italian cuisine. It is now one of the most popular sauces in the world.
The secret to the best Italian bolognese sauce is slowly cooking it until it is perfectly to the thickness you enjoy.
Our recipe combines beef and mushrooms with onion, garlic, and seasonings. Adding mushrooms is optional but highly encouraged due to the natural umami flavors.
What is Bolognese Sauce?
Bolognese is a meat sauce made with beef and pork garlic, onion, celery, and carrot. It also includes milk and is thicker and creamier than a typical American meat sauce. Some people add tomatoes or tomato sauce to it, but others say that's not authentic. I like adding a bit of tomato paste and some garlic because it tastes good. You can also add a splash of heavy cream at the end for extra creaminess.
Where Did Bolognese Originate From?
The sauce is named after the city of Bologna, Italy. The first known recipe for a meat-based sauce served with pasta was published in the 1390 cookbook Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Martino da Como, a chef from Northern Italy. Of the notable Chefs to have mastered Bolognese, Marcella Hazan is highly respected.
Ingredients & Variations
Meat: 🥩 Classically, Veal is the protein of choice. Ground beef is the more common meat. The addition of pork will create a deeper depth of flavor.
Vegetables: 🧄 The base includes onions, carrots, and celery, which in Italy is called the Soffritto. Adding garlic is encouraged and a classic Italian ingredient.
Tomatoes: 🍅 Best to use in-season tomatoes for the most flavor. During off-season months, selecting tomatoes from glass jars provide the freshest taste. To make the best bolognese sauce use San Marzano tomatoes as they are the best in the world.
Peppers: 🌶️ This is an optional ingredient; I love the added flavor. I'll explain how to use the peppers without the added spicy heat below.
Wine: Traditionally, red wine is used.
How To Make Bolognese Sauce
High-quality Bolognese sauce is cooked with love. This sauce does not like to be hurried, and it's even better the next day.
Cooking the Vegetables: Cook the mushrooms first and add the remaining vegs. Chop all vegs, then reserve half to be purred in a food processor or blender. Saute the chopped ingredients first, add the purred vegs and cook together. By purring/blending half, the finished texture will be perfect and traditional.
The Peppers: Chop and remove all the seeds and the white stem within the rib. To keep the spice of the peppers, do not remove either. Middle ground: Remove only the seeds for medium plus spice level.
Meat Cookery: Add the ground meat to the sauteed vegetables and cook for 4 minutes, then add tomato paste and wine. Cook off the raw alcohol in the wine for 3 minutes.
Simmer: Add all remaining ingredients and cook on low until the desired doneness. The sauce can cook on the stovetop for up to 4 hours.
What Kind of Pasta Goes with Bolognese Sauce?
When it comes to Bolognese sauce, the options for pasta are endless. Rigatoni is a classic choice, but any types of pasta will work well.
If you want a heartier dish, you can go with a thicker pasta like rigatoni or penne. For a lighter dish, use a thinner pasta like spaghetti or linguine. There are no wrong choices regarding the pasta for Bolognese.
What To Serve With It
Think about what you enjoy with classic spaghetti and meatballs.
The first thing that comes to mind is serving a type of bread. Our Ice Box Diner Rolls recipe comes from a lady about to be 100 years old. They can be stored in your refrigerator until you're ready to bake.
Then there is cornbread, it seems I can never make enough of our Mexican Cornbread. It's good enough to be the star of the meal.
And for dessert? What about something genuinely remarkable, Homemade Cantaloupe Ice Cream?
How To Make It Spicy Bolognese Sauce
If you're looking for a little bit of extra spice in your Bolognese sauce, there are a few things you can do to give it some extra kick. First, you could add more red pepper flakes to the recipe. You could also add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper. Another option is to add a teaspoon or two of sriracha sauce to the recipe.
Tip 1: Peppers with straight stems are usually not as hot as peppers with curved stems.
Tip 2: When viewing a pepper-like jalapeño, keep an eye on the pepper's side. Look for any signs of stress fractures. They also have the appearance of bruises. Those peppers are guaranteed to be spicy! Seek out peppers with thicker skin and no cracks or roughness on the surface for a lower spice level.
Tip 3: When cleaning or chopping peppers, the seeds are hot. Removing them reduces the heat of the pepper's capsaicin/oils. The "rib" is the white part of the pepper where seeds are attached and are hotter than the seeds.
Can You Freeze Bolognese Sauce?
You can freeze bolognese sauce, but it's best to do so in smaller batches as this is the best method to store bolognese.
Once thawed, the sauce may be a little watery, but it will still taste delicious. To freeze, place the sauce in an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to three months.
Recipes To Try
📖 Recipe Card
Bolognese Sauce Recipe
- 1 pound Ground Beef
- 12 caps Cremini Mushrooms
- 2 caps Portobello Mushroom
- 1 tablespoon High-Quality Butter
- 1 medium Vidalia Onion
- 1 large Carrot
- 1 stalk Celery
- ½ cup Red Wine
- 4 tablespoon Tomato Paste
- 1 can Tomatoes Use whole tomatoes and break them up by hand.
- ½ teaspoon Dried Thyme
- 3 Bay Leaf
- 1 tablespoon Italian Herb Blend
- ½ cup Heavy Cream optional
Ingredients To Make The Sauce Spicy
- 1 Jalapeno Pepper
- 1 Serrano Pepper
- 1 Dried Ancho Chile
- 1 Guajillo Pepper Dried
- 3 Thai Chiles Cut in half lengthwise. No seed or rib
- ½ Habanero Pepper Cut in half lengthwise. No seed or rib
- 1 Red Bell Pepper
Making The Bolognese Sauce
- Optional Ingredient: Prepare the MushroomsRinse/wash the mushroom off under cold water. Do this quickly, as mushrooms will absorb some water. Using a spoon, clean off the spores from underneath the mushrooms. If not, you'll impart a more earthly flavor profile that most will not enjoy. Almost a dirty flavor. Remove the spores.Next, chop the mushrooms into small sizes. We will be sauteing. Cut the mushrooms the same size for even cooking and appearance. No big chunks.Option: If preparing the vegetarian version, some large chunks would be a nice touch for additional texture. Be sure to double the number of mushrooms to use that amounts to what you like. I would suggest mixing in a few different types of mushrooms. Idea: Try using some dried mushrooms. Place them into warm water to soften. Be sure to add some of the liquid to add a big flavor. I would suggest tasting the dried mushroom liquid before adding it to make sure you think it will work with the recipe.
- Cooking The MushroomsAdd butter to a large skillet over medium heat, then add the mushrooms. But only add half of them at this point. Add a small pinch of salt and dried thyme at this time.Cook until they have shrunk in size and caramelized, then add the second half and cook them alongside the cooked mushrooms. This ensures the mushrooms get caramelized for maximum flavor. Otherwise, there would be too much mushroom in the skillet and likely just steam.
- Preparing The VegetablesSet up your food processor close to a cutting board.Chop the onion, carrot, celery, jalapeno, serrano, guajillo, habanero, Thai chile, ancho, and bell pepper, into a size that helps the food processor do its job. Do not add large chunks to a food processor or risk uneven blending.I used half of each pepper, and it turned out great,t but not very hot. If you watch the video, you can see how to cut the peppers, i.e., how much is used exactly.Add each ingredient one at a time to the food processor until everything is smooth/purred.Next, add the "base" to the cooked mushrooms and start reducing the liquid. We want to cook off some of the liquid and tighten the sauce up a bit.
- Simmering Every Ingredient TogetherNow add in the ground beef. Add salt and pepper and cook the meat through.Next, add a few tablespoon of tomato paste and stir it in. Then add in the red wine and cook off the alcohol.Lastly, I like to add something fresh. I like adding a whole tomato from the can. The canned tomatoes will be soft and have the right texture to add quickly.Next, add a few tablespoon of tomato paste and stir it in. Then add in the red wine and cook off the alcohol.Lastly, I like to add something fresh. I like adding a whole tomato from the can. The canned tomatoes will be soft and have the right texture to add easily.After a few minutes and the red wine has cooked into the bolognese sauce TSA: Taste - Season - AdjustDoes it need more tomato paste? Salt? Does the color look good? Add in more tomato paste for a deeper color.
- Finishing The SauceCook until the flavor has come together. About 15 minutes on low. Longer if you like, up to 4 hours. Thirty minutes to an hour is plenty of time to develop the flavor.Adding a cream element is still within the classic bolognese sauce technique. Use heavy cream or half-&-half.Topping the sauce with a fresh herb like parsley helps round out the over-heaviness of the meat sauce.