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The Best Bolognese Sauce

Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
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The Best Bolognese Sauce

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This is the absolute best Bolognese sauce recipe! It’s rich and flavorful and perfect for making restaurant-quality pasta bolognese at home. The best Bolognese sauce is an Italian meat sauce made with ground beef & pork, pancetta, red wine & tomatoes, which simmers for hours until tender.

This classic Bolognese sauce is best served over a pile of perfectly al dente pasta with a mound of parmesan cheese. I’ve tested and tweaked this recipe for many years and this is truly THE BEST Bolognese Sauce recipe.

The Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe Ever

Handmade pasta was one of my specialities when I was a restaurant chef. My pappardelle was legendary and so Italian cuisine has always had a special place in my heart.

If you come to my house for dinner and I’m making handmade pasta, there’s a strong chance that it’ll be smothered with this bolognese sauce. There’s just something special about a homemade bolognese sauce! It’s the ultimate expression of culinary love to make a recipe that requires time and TLC.

Not only is it the coziest meal, but it is a show-stopping impressive dish. When you whip out the this recipe for the best Bolognese sauce, your guests will be completely wowed!

While Bolognese sauce takes time, it’s shockingly hands off! All the work happens up front and the sauce simply simmers for a couple of hours. You can even make the sauce ahead of time! Bolognese is one of those recipes that only gets better when it sits.

Then, all you have to do is cook up some of your favorite pasta, and swirl it together in a pan with some pasta water, cream, and gobs of the best Bolognese sauce. Finish with a mound of grated parmesan and dinner is done!

The Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe

Bolognese vs Ragu

In Italian, “Ragù” is a hearty meat sauce of ground meat, vegetables, wine and some tomatoes. “Bolognese” is also a meat sauce, but it’s a regional variation prepared in the style of Bologna hence the name: Ragù Bolognese.

Ragu is also often made with different proteins like beef, veal, pork, rabbit, etc. In Ragu, the meat is meat to be the star of the dish. Bolognese sauce is more about harmony between all the ingredients.

Bolognese is a type of ragu sauce, made with beef & pork. Originating in Bologna, the largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy, authentic bolognese is typically made with beef, pork, white wine, milk, & a little tomato.

Ragu is also typically served with spaghetti-style noodles, but Bolognese is best served with wide, flat pasta like pappardelle or tagliatelle. In this instance, I’m using Paccheri pasta which is giant flat tubes, perfect for Bolognese sauce.

If you’re looking to try a variation on bolognese, try my White Bolognese sauce.

Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe

What Makes this the Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe?

There are thousands of recipes for Bolognese sauce out there, so what makes this the best recipe?

Tried and true – I have been making and tweaking this recipe for years, both at home and in restaurants. When I have guests, it’s one of the most requested recipes ever! Anyone who has tried it begs for the recipe. It’s a tried and true recipe that is sure to serve you well.

Layers of flavor – The key to any great sauce is to build layers of flavor. This comes from the crispy pancetta, ground beef and Italian sausage mixture, and all the aromatic veggies. Milk, wine, and tomatoes seal the deal and a couple of hours of simmering melds all the flavors.

Streamlined for ease – Instead of spending forever finely chopping veggies, and they DO need to be finely chopped, we use a food processor. For the veggies to melt into the sauce, they need to be tiny and the food processor makes quick work of this.

Balanced – The Best Bolognese Sauce is always balanced! You don’t want a sauce that’s too acidic or too sweet. Using the right ratio of ingredients yields the perfect Bolognese sauce that you’ll turn to over and over again.

Best Bolognese Sauce Recipes

How to Make the Best Bolognese Sauce

As with all my braises, soups, and long simmering recipes I always recommend investing in a dutch oven. They distribute heat evenly and are total workhorses in my kitchen. No home cook is complete without one!

Tools Needed

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Meats. This recipe calls for ground beef and Italian sausage, as well as pancetta for flavor. Plain ground pork is traditional, but I just love the extra flavor that Italian sausage adds.
  • Veggies. Soffritto is the backbone of the sauce and contains onion, celery, and carrot.
  • Garlic. It’s not a sauce without garlic!
  • Bay leaves. A couple of bay leaves add tons of flavor.
  • Wine. Opt for a medium-bodied red wine and in keeping with the theme, choose Italian! If you want a lighter sauce, you could use white wine instead.
  • Crushed tomatoes. Find high-quality crushed tomatoes. You could also use tomato passata or whole tomatoes crushed by hand.
  • Tomato paste. Tomato paste adds richness and depth of flavor.
  • Half and half. Half and helps tenderize the meat and gives us a silky and tender sauce. You could swap in whole milk, but don’t go with anything with less fat.
  • Parmesan. Ditch the pre-grated stuff and get a small wedge of parmesan cheese. Add the rind to the sauce for extra flavor and freshly grate the rest on top when serving.

The Process

  1. Crisp up the pancetta. Melt the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the pancetta, and cook while occasionally stirring, until crispy. This process takes about 10-12 minutes, don’t rush. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta from the pot and transfer to a small bowl.
  2. Finely mince the veggies. While the pancetta cooks, Add all the veggies and garlic to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until everything is finely minced. This saves tons of time!
  3. Cook the beef and sausage. Add the ground beef and Italian sausage to the pot and keep the heat low. Cook while stirring often until the meat is cooked through and really finely broken up. Don’t brown the meat, just cook low and slow until it’s cooked through.
  4. Add the veggies. Increase the heat to medium and add the finely chopped veggies to the pot. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft. Add the tomato paste to the pot and really mix it in. Cook until it’s darkened in color, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients. Add the wine to the pot and use it to help scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the milk, tomatoes, bay leaves, crispy pancetta, and parmesan rind to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot.
  6. Simmer. Simmer on low for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, stirring every hour or so. The sauce should be thick and deep red in color. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove the bay leaves.

Tips for Making the Best Bolognese Sauce

This is a forgiving recipe that doesn’t require a ton of culinary know-how. Even a novice cook can easily throw this recipe together! Here are my tips for making the best Bolognese sauce every time.

  1. Use a food processor. In order for the veggies to melt into the sauce, they need to be teeny tiny! Instead of spending excessive amounts of time dicing, use a food processor to get the veggies uniformly and finely chopped.
  2. Let the meat come to room temperature. If you let the meat come to room temperature before cooking, it breaks up a lot easier! Bolognese sauce needs meat that’s been really broken down into tiny pieces. Starting with room temperature meat makes the cooking process so much easier!
  3. Don’t brown the meat. Browning the meat can often times make it tough and dry, so I always cook the ground meats over medium-low heat. Cook low and slow, breaking the meat up into fine bits as it cooks.
  4. Don’t skip the milk. It may sound odd to add milk to a red sauce, but the milk helps tenderize and break down the proteins in the beef and pork. The end result is a soft and luscious sauce–hence our Best Bolognese sauce title!
  5. Use a drinkable red wine. I am of the mind that you should cook with wine that you’d drink! This doesn’t mean you need to use expensive wine, but use something that you’re happy to drink if there are leftovers. Trader Joe’s is my favorite place to pick up affordable and delicious wines!

Making Pasta Bolognese at Home

The biggest mistake people make when trying to make pasta Bolognese at home is just dumping sauce over some pasta. This is not the way! If you only ever take one thing away from this recipe, know that restaurant-quality pasta is more than that.

Great pasta is always, always finished in the sauce with some starchy pasta water and just a splash of cream. Finishing the pasta in the sauce ensures that the pasta absorbs all the flavor from the sauce. At the restaurant, we would actually make our Bolognese sauce in advance and just re-warm small portions with pasta and pasta water to order.

Making Pasta Bolognese at Home

  1. Cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water to al dente (according to package directions). I love serving bolognese sauce with pappardelle, but you can use any pasta (long or short) you love most. I am obsessed with this Paccheri pasta–so perfect for the bolognese sauce!
  2. Warm some of the sauce in a large skillet. I always make enough bolognese to freeze half of it and I always make it ahead of time because the sauce gets better as it sits. Rewarm some of the sauce in a large nonstick skillet.
  3. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta waterthen carefully drain the pasta. Resist the temptation of rinsing your pasta with water once it’s drained. Doing so rinses away the starches on its surface, preventing it from properly adhering to the bolognese sauce.
  4. Toss! Add the hot pasta straight into the skillet with the bolognese sauce, tossing to combine well. Use your judgment & adjust pasta bolognese as needed (a splash of the reserved pasta water will help loosen up the pasta bolognese; a handful of extra parmesan will tighten it up a bit, etc.).
  5. Simmer: Let the pasta bolognese simmer for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to absorb some of the bolognese sauce as it finishes cooking.
  6. Serve! At last, the best part! Portion into individual bowls & serve immediately. Top with a mound of freshly grated parmesan.
Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe

What to Serve with Pasta Bolognese

If you’re throwing a dinner party or just want a nice dinner to enjoy, here are some of my favorite dishes to serve with Best Bolognese Sauce Pasta.

Leafy salad – I love starting a meal with a big leafy salad! My recipe for KALE CAESAR SALAD is one of my favorite salads ever and pairs so well with Bolognese. You’re going to love the homemade caesar dressing! This ITALIAN CHOPPED SALAD is also a great option.

Warm Bread – I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for warm bread with dinner! I love sopping up any extra juices with a slice. Try my foolproof No Knead Focaccia!

Dessert – A special dinner requires a special dessert! Some of my favorites are my Nutella Lava Cakes, Coffee Panna Cotta, or individual Cherry Clafoutis!

Storing, Freezing, and Reheating Best Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese sauce stores SO well – it’s one of those things that gets even better as it sits & its flavors have the chance to meld together. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Whip up a batch of pasta bolognese during the week by reheating the bolognese sauce in a skillet, & following the steps above.

 Bolognese sauce is incredibly freezer-friendly! To freeze, transfer the cooled bolognese sauce to a freezer-safe ziplock bag. Take care to press most of the air out before sealing, this helps prevent freezer-burn. Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and rewarm in a skillet.

Best Bolognese Sauce FAQs

What’s the best meat to use for best Bolognese sauce?

The combination of ground beef and ground pork is perfection! However, I take it a step further and add Italian sausage for the pork because it adds so much extra flavor.

Can I make this Bolognese Sauce ahead of time?

Yes! Bolognese sauce is so make-ahead friendly! Like many other stews & sauces, the flavors of this bolognese sauce will continue to meld & develop as it sits. I always make my Bolognese sauce a day or two before I plan to serve it. I also typically freeze half unless I’m feeding a huge group.

How long should I simmer the Bolognese sauce?

The flavor develops more deeply the longer you let it simmer. I always let it simmer for the full 2 1/2-3 hours, but the minimum amount of time that I would simmer it would be 90 minutes. This is a great recipe for a weekend where you have more time on your hands.

Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe

More Italian-Inspired Recipes

White Bolognese Rigatoni
Cacio e Pepe for Two
Roast Chicken Piccata
Tomato Risotto

This post may contain affiliate links from which I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links allow me to keep providing great recipes for free and I never recommend products that I don’t love and personally own.

Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe - 10 Cozy Dinner Ideas
Main Dishes

Best Bolognese Sauce

This is the absolute best Bolognese sauce recipe! It's rich and flavorful and perfect for making restaurant-quality pasta bolognese at home. The best Bolognese sauce is an Italian meat sauce made with ground beef & pork, pancetta, red wine & tomatoes, which simmers for hours until tender.
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time: 3 hrs
Makes: 12 cups sauce
scale:

Ingredients

Bolognese Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 6 oz pancetta, diced small
  • 1 lb ground sirloin (90/10)
  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage
  • 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 – 28 oz can high-quality crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups medium-bodied red wine
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 parmesan rind
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly cracked pepper

Pasta Bolognese

  • 10 oz dried pasta, like pappardelle or paccheri
  • 3 cups bolognese sauce
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Instructions

Bolognese Sauce

  • Crisp up the pancetta. Melt the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the pancetta, and cook while occasionally stirring, until crispy. This process takes about 10-12 minutes, don't rush. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta from the pot and transfer to a small bowl.
  • Finely mince the veggies. While the pancetta cooks, Add all the veggies and garlic to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until everything is finely minced. This saves tons of time!
  • Cook the beef and sausage. Add the ground beef and Italian sausage to the pot and keep the heat low. Cook while stirring often until the meat is cooked through and really finely broken up. Don't brown the meat, just cook low and slow until it's cooked through.
  • Add the veggies. Increase the heat to medium and add the finely chopped veggies to the pot. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft. Add the tomato paste to the pot and really mix it in. Cook until it's darkened in color, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the remaining ingredients. Add the wine to the pot and use it to help scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the milk, tomatoes, bay leaves, crispy pancetta, and parmesan rind to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot.
  • Simmer. Simmer on low for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, stirring every hour or so. The sauce should be thick and deep red in color. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove the bay leaves.

Pasta Bolognese

  • Cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water to al dente (according to package directions). I love serving bolognese sauce with pappardelle, but you can use any pasta (long or short) you love most. I am obsessed with this Paccheri pasta–so perfect for the bolognese sauce!
  • Warm some of the sauce in a large skillet. I always make enough bolognese to freeze half of it and I always make it ahead of time because the sauce gets better as it sits. Rewarm 3 cups of the sauce in a large nonstick skillet.
  • Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta waterthen carefully drain the pasta. Resist the temptation of rinsing your pasta with water once it’s drained. Doing so rinses away the starches on its surface, preventing it from properly adhering to the bolognese sauce.
  • Toss! Add the hot pasta straight into the skillet with the bolognese sauce, tossing to combine well. Use your judgment & adjust pasta bolognese as needed (a splash of the reserved pasta water will help loosen up the pasta bolognese; a handful of extra parmesan will tighten it up a bit, etc.). Add the cream and stir everything.
  • Simmer: Let the pasta bolognese simmer for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to absorb some of the bolognese sauce as it finishes cooking. Season to taste, as needed
  • Serve! At last, the best part! Portion into individual bowls & serve immediately. Top with a mound of freshly grated parmesan.

Notes

This recipe makes A LOT of sauce! I tend to freeze half of it for later use unless I’m feeding a huge crowd. Follow the instructions in the blog post for storage and freezing.
The bulk of this recipe is about making the Bolognese sauce. For in-depth instructions on making Pasta Bolognese, read the above blog post. 
Bolognese sauce only gets better as it sits. I always make my sauce a day before I plan to serve. 
The pasta Bolognese recipe as written feeds 4 or so. However, it makes much more sauce than needed. 

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  1. 5 stars
    Delicious! This recipe does make a ton of sauce and I’m excited about it! I didn’t add the starchy pasta water to the sauce with cream in order to keep it a thicker sauce. I loved this one little change. I’ll definitely be making this sauce again and again. Yum.

  2. 5 stars
    I think I forgot the leave five stars in my last review (oops!). But this deserves five stars for sure! Made exactly as instructed and really appreciated the tips about using Italian sausage (instead of the usual ground pork), mincing the veggies in the food processor (a tip I’m adopting for life), and loosening the pasta with cream at the end. It was amazing!

  3. This truly was the best bolognese. Love the tip about using Italian sausage instead (bought mild, uncased sausage), using a food processor for the veg, and cream at the end. It was a lovely activity for a cold indoor day. Will be making again.