There’s something incredibly satisfying about letting bolognese, the famous Italian meat sauce, simmer on the stove for hours, perfuming your whole house with its meaty aromas. Sigh! While this bolognese sauce is usually served with hearty pasta, you can also work it into baked potatoes, bell peppers, or nachos! I loved this bolognese recipe so much that I ate it with rice. (Editor’s note: Dear Beth, have I ever said anything more Puerto Rican?)
What Is Bolognese?
Bolognese is the traditional meat sauce of Bologna, Italy. It’s mostly ground beef with a bit of pork thrown in, stewed in tomatoes, with a touch of milk and butter added to round out the sauce’s acidity. You won’t find aromatics like rosemary, garlic, oregano, or bay leaves in traditional bolognese. Flavors are developed over a long simmer.
Ingredients for Bolognese Sauce
Our bolognese recipe is not traditional. To keep things budget-friendly, we omitted the pork that’s usually paired with ground beef. Instead, we used a bit of garlic to add depth. Here’s what you’ll need to make bolognese.
- Soffritto– the lightly fried flavor base of many Italian dishes. It’s simply sauteed carrots, celery, and onion.
- Ground Beef– because, after all, it is a meat sauce. The beef should be fatty. Lean beef does not work well for this recipe.
- Milk and Butter– adding dairy to the sauce helps round out the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Wine– you can use red or white. But if you use red, the sauce must cook much longer to mellow the flavor. White wine cooks down much faster, which is why I used it in this recipe. If you don’t want to use wine, substitute it with white grape juice with a bit of white vinegar.
- Crushed Tomatoes– traditional bolognese uses pureed fresh tomatoes that take many hours to break down into a sauce. We opted for canned crushed tomatoes for time’s sake and for their budget-friendliness. But feel free to use fresh if you prefer.
- Garlic– this is not a traditional ingredient. I added garlic to the recipe to create dimension since our sauce does not simmer all day and does not contain pork. If you want to keep it strictly traditional, omit the garlic, and let the sauce simmer for a few more hours.
What’s the Difference Between Bolognese and Meat Sauce?
The biggest difference between Italian Bolognese and American meat sauce is the ratio of meat to tomato. While bolognese is technically a meat sauce (or as they say in Italy, ragù) It differs from American meat sauce because it has a higher ratio of beef to tomato, making it much thicker. It’s also creamier as it’s made with a touch of milk. Another difference is that pasta bolognese is not made with spaghetti. It is made with heartier pasta that can hold the weight of such a meaty sauce, like tagliatelle, pappardelle, or rotini.
How To Make Bolognese Taste Better
- Use a large heavy-bottomed pot. A Dutch oven is perfect, as it retains heat and simmers ingredients without scorching them.
- Chop the onions, carrots, and celery into small dice. Ensuring all veg is the same size helps them melt into the sauce and creates deeper flavor.
- Be patient. Bolognese is a long game. Cook at a simmer for a minimum of 3 hours. Do not boil.
What To Serve With Bolognese
If you’re looking for some great budget-friendly dishes to serve with bolognese, I’ve got you covered! Try any of these Budget Bytes favorites:
How To Store Bolognese
Store the sauce in an airtight container, preferably glass or ceramic, as it stains plastic. It will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you’re freezing bolognese, try doing so in portions, so you only thaw it once. Reheat on the stovetop over medium heat, or in the microwave until it starts to steam. If microwaving it, top it with a paper towel over it so it doesn’t splatter everywhere.
- 4 Tbsp butter, divided ($0.56)
- 1 medium onion, diced ($0.38)
- 1/2 tsp salt, divided ($0.01)
- 2 stalks celery, diced ($0.48)
- 1 large carrot, diced ($0.18)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced ($0.11)
- 1 lb ground beef, 80/20 ($5.49)
- 1/4 tsp pepper ($0.01)
- 1 cup milk ($0.23)
- 1 cup wine (red or white) ($1.14)
- 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes ($1.69)
- Place a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add butter to the pan. When the butter foams, add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sautée until translucent.
- Add the celery and carrot and sautée for two minutes, until they have softened some.
- Next, add the garlic and sautée until fragrant, about 1 minute
- Add the ground beef and pepper. Brown the beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
- Once the beef has browned, add the milk, wine, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir occasionally and simmer until the liquid has evaporated completely.
- Add the crushed tomatoes. Mix until incorporated. Lower the heat as soon as the tomatoes come up to a boil.
- Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours. Stir occasionally. If the sauce dries out, stir in a half cup of water. Once it is finished, taste for salt and pepper.
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How to Make Bolognese – Step by Step Photos
Place a heavy-bottomed pot (like a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add 4 tablespoons of butter to the pan. When the butter foams, add 1 medium diced onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sautée until translucent.
Add the 2 stalks of diced celery and the diced carrot and sautée for two minutes, until they have softened some.
Next, add the 2 cloves of minced garlic and sautée until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the pound of ground beef and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Brown the beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
Once the beef has browned, add the cup of milk, the cup of wine, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir occasionally and simmer until the liquid has evaporated completely.
Add the 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Mix until incorporated. Lower the heat as soon as the tomatoes come up to a boil.
Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours. Stir occasionally. If the sauce dries out, stir in a half cup of water. Once it is finished, taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasoning. Serve this over hearty pasta like tagliatelle, pappardelle, or rotini. You can also pair it with a baked potato, stuff it into a bell pepper, or serve it over rice or nachos!