Meat Bolognese Sauce

Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli
Italian Cuisine Expert and Food Blogger
Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli, the mastermind behind Nonna Box, has honed his culinary expertise for decades, inspired by family feasts in Emilia-Romagna. Mentored by his restaurateur nonna, he mastered Italian classics and furthered his skills with professional culinary studies in desserts and gelato making from Mec3. Today, he shares this rich legacy and authentic recipes through Nonna Box.
Expertise: Italian cuisine, Pasta, Pizza, Pastry, Dessert

What Is Bolognese Sauce?

Bolognese is a meat-based sauce from the Italian city of Bologna. The sauce is made from ground beef, pork, or veal, as well as tomato paste, tomato, red wine, and milk. It also includes soffritto, which is a vegetable base of carrot, celery and onion. It is often served over pasta or polenta in some regions.

Ragu alla bolognese recipe

The process of making meat bolognese sauce consists in simmering the sauce at low heat for usually 3-4 hours.

When my grandmother was preparing the dish every Sunday in Italy, no one in the family was late for lunch! I can still remember the aroma of the ragu that was cooking all morning. In my house, we strictly respected the Bolognese tradition in the making of this dish, but over the years she adapted the recipe to her taste. The recipe below is for the traditional Ragù alla Bolognese.

There are many different recipes for ragu, but the people of Bologna take it very seriously and have formed groups of chefs from the Accademia Italiana della Cucina to make sure that the original Bolognese recipe stays authentic and true to the tradition. In fact, here are strict rules that many restaurants in the United States don’t follow. For example, ragu is never served with spaghetti. So if you go to Italy, don’t ask for spaghetti bolognese!

This rich sauce recipe must instead be served with egg pasta (or even better, fresh pasta), and the pasta must be tossed with the ragu, not just ladled over the pasta.

Although they may seem strict, by following these rules you can truly say you have made authentic Ragu alla Bolognese. I made it the traditional way and I hope you do too, so that you can enjoy this authentic Bolognese dish and share it with your friends and family!

Pasta types that go well with bolognese sauce:

Ragu alla bolognese recipe

Homemade Bolognese sauce

A rich, meat-based sauce to be served over polenta or freshly made pasta.
4.36 from 53 votes
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Course: Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 290kcal


  • 6 oz. ground beef
  • 6 oz. ground veal
  • 1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes crushed
  • 3 oz. thinly sliced pancetta
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 carrots peeled
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1/2 cup dry red or white wine
  • 3 cups chicken or beef broth
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary finely chopped (optional)


  • To begin, use a kitchen knife to finely chop the celery, carrots and onion. Cut them equally in size to allow for even cooking.
  • In a large pot, add the extra virgin olive oil. Warm on the stove over medium heat.
  • Add the celery, carrots and onion to the pot. Cook over low heat until soft (approximately 12 minutes), occasionally stirring with a wooden spoon. If you use the rosemary, add it here and stir for a further minute.
  • Add the pancetta and cook until the fat is released. Add tomato paste and cook, mixing until fully incorporated with the pancetta, for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the veal and beef, sauté, breaking up the ground meat with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir continuously until browned, for about 15 minutes.
  • Add the wine and stir until it evaporates completely.
  • Scrap any browned bits from the pot and add the San Marzano crushed tomatoes.Stir to combine, then add 2 1/2 cups of the chicken or beef stock and stir.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer, occasionally stirring for 2 hours. If the meat appears to dry out during this time, add a little bit of broth or water. Once cooked, season with salt and pepper.
  • In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer then gradually add to the meat sauce.
  • Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce is too thick, add 1/4 cup of stock to thin the sauce if needed. Taste again for salt and set aside.
Serving: 100g | Calories: 290kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 0.4g | Cholesterol: 60mg | Sodium: 657mg | Potassium: 498mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 3613IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 89mg | Iron: 1mg
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Helpful tips for the Best Classic Bolognese Sauce

  • You can substitute ground pork with ground Italian sausage for additional flavor.
  • You can replace the San Marzano tomatoes with tomato sauce. If you do so, the sauce might need to simmer for longer to thicken.
  • Add a parmesan rind to the sauce while it’s simmering for additional flavor. The rind will slowly release the cheese into the sauce. You can eat the parmesan cheese rind after the bolognese is ready or discard it – but that would be a sacrilege!
  • Some recipes add red pepper flakes into the pasta sauce. This is not part of the tradition, however, you are totally free to do so!
  • When reheating this meat sauce, heat at low heat and mix in a knob of butter.
  • Be careful not to add too much salt in the beginning. By simmering for a long time, it will become more concentrated. You can always add it at a later time.
  • I see many recipes that use garlic or fresh basil in the bolognese sauce. It’s important to note that authentic Ragù alla Bolognese does not contain any aromatic herbs as part of  the traditional bolognese recipe.

Can you cook bolognese sauce in a slow cooker?

Yes! If you do, prepare the recipe until step 6. Then, transfer the bolognese mixture to the slow cooker. Add the chopped tomatoes, the meat broth, and stir. Slow cook on high for 2 hours or 4 hours on low, stirring occasionally. Finish as directed in steps 9-10.

Can you cook bolognese sauce in an instant pot?

Yes! Use the instant pot’s sauté setting to cook the sauce recipe from steps 1 to 6 as above. Then seal the instant pot and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes. Release all the pressure inside the pot by using the appropriate valve. If the sauce is too liquidy, turn on the sauté setting of the pot again and cook on low heat until the sauce thickens. Be sure to stir occasionally.

How to store bolognese sauce

The bolognese sauce may be stored in the fridge for up to three days in an airtight container. Alternatively, it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw before using.

What pasta goes best with bolognese?

To better enjoy the bolognese sauce, coarse pasta would be the best since would carry more sauce than any other type of pasta (this means no spaghetti!). According to tradition, fresh pasta is better, but if you’re unable to obtain this or make your own, the most popular types of pasta served with ragù bolognese in Italy are:

  • Ravioli
  • Tagliatelle
  • Pappardelle
  • Tortellini
  • Lasagne
  • Cannelloni
  • Orecchiette
  • Gnocchi
  • Garganelli

Looking for other meat sauce recipes? Why not try our Ragù Napoletano recipe or Braciole recipe?

6 Responses to “Meat Bolognese Sauce”

  1. Jeff Corcoran says:

    Where did you get your meat tenderizer?

  2. Giuliana says:

    I never seem to find a good canned tomato brand. Can you share your top favorites? Hopefully I can find them at my Whole Foods. Grazie

    • Nonna Box says:

      Ciao Giuliana – there are so many brands, for San Marzano tomatoes, I would make sure that they are imported from Italy and that they have the DOP (denominazione di origine protetta) symbol. Sometimes I use passata di pomodoro, I always buy the one that is imported from Italy. Mutti is a brand I find often in grocery stores.

  3. Laurie says:

    I can’t have fresh milk; what is a good substitute? And when would you add it? I can have 24 hr yogourt, but I think that would be too tangy, or would it work?

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