Ragù alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce)

When I was young, pasta came with one of two sauces: tomato or meat. Now, I can appreciate that there’s a lot more to “meat sauce” than I used to think there was, and anybody who has ever tried to pursue that perfect Bolognese sauce knows just what I mean. For instance, despite its appearance, tomato should not be a huge part of the sauce–a variety of meats, slowly braised and simmered, is the true star, giving this sauce a full body and an incredible complexity. Of course, no matter how you make it, it won’t be hard to find somebody else who does it completely differently. Ragù alla Bolognese is one of those personal, family tradition kind of sauces that has as many recipes as there are people on the planet at any given moment.

I was inspired by the insights into the history and approaches to this sauce, and couldn’t resist throwing my hat into the ring as well. Given how hearty this sauce is, you’ll want to enjoy it with a meal of substance, but not something that’s going to get in the way of the sauce (e.g. contrary to how you might approach seafood, the star here is the sauce!). Thicker pastas are a good medium for enjoying this sauce–tagliatelle, lasagna, rigatoni, etc–and ideally, you’ll enjoy it with freshly made noodles. Heck, I could just eat this sauce alone, lol!

As for what it tastes like: incredibly rich, meaty, and hearty all come to mind, but the words simply don’t do it justice. You’d be hard pressed to pick out any one flavor in this sauce–the sum is truly greater than the parts. I used four kinds of meats (beef, veal, pork, and lamb), and after a few hours, these humble ingredients combine into the most entrancing aroma, perfuming your house with the most amazing aromas, clearly signaling to your neighbors that they should in fact be very jealous of what you’ll be eating tonight (just like when you make a good tomato sauce–what is it about Italian food?).

Plus, just look at it. That is a sexy sauce. This recipe yields a pretty generous amount of sauce, but don’t fret–it freezes wonderfully. I would estimate that this yields enough sauce to accompany between 2 and 3 pounds of pasta (recall: store-bought boxes of pasta are usually 1 lb each).

  • 4 carrot
  • 4 celery
  • 3 shallot
  • ~14 oz San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1-2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2-3 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 lb beef (I used ground)
  • 3/4 lb pork (I used ground)
  • 3/4 lb veal (I used tougher, shoulder and neck cuts)
  • 3/4 lamb (I also had the bones handy, so I included them)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1.5-2 cups white wine
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 whole cloves

To begin, warm up the stock in a saucepan. Reserve some in a bowl and mix in the tomatoes and tomato paste. While you’re cooking later, you will want to keep the untomatoed broth warm.

In another saucepan, scald the milk and add the whole cloves. Cover, remove from heat, and let steep for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, somewhat finely dice the shallot, carrot, and celery (called “sofrito”). Sauté the sofrito in olive oil, starting at medium/high heat and dropping to low/medium heat after 5 minutes or so. Let this sweat for 20-30 minutes, and be sure to stir periodically so things don’t stick and char. You just want them all to soften up a bit.

With the sofrito softened, crank the heat back up to medium/high and brown the meat in the same pan with a dash of salt and pepper. Once the meat is thoroughly browned all over, deglaze the pan with white wine and keep simmering until all of the wine is evaporated (figure 10-15 minutes).

With the wine evaporated, drop the heat down to medium and add in the nutmeg/tomato broth. Simmer this, cooking until the liquid is pretty much absorbed into the meat (anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes).

The rest is pretty much like cooking risotto: add in about 1/2 cup of hot broth (remember how you had that saucepan full of broth which you were keeping warm?), stirring and simmering on occasion, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup.

This process is a slow one and can take a few (open-ended number) hours. Just keep going until you use up all the broth and the sauce takes on a thick (but not too thick) texture that you’re happy with. If you had bones in the mix, once done cooking, go fish them out (and consider scraping any marrow into the sauce if you can get any out).

With the sauce done cooking, now, one final addition: remember the clove infused milk from earlier? Pour it in (after removing the whole cloves, of course), give things a mix, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes to get that integrated into the sauce.

Finally, the sauce is done. Take in the aroma of your kitchen and taste a scoop–this is awesome stuff. What you do with it now is up to you: I just boiled some rigatoni, topped if with some sauce, and scraped on some shreds of Parmigiano Reggiano. If you have way too much sauce for your immediate purposes, once it cools down a bit, freeze some for another day!

Enjoy!

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26 Responses to “Ragù alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce)”

  1. Taris Janitens Says:

    To be completely honest, I would love to know how much of a genius you are to be able to come up with these amazing recipes!! Bravo!!!! :D

  2. nina Says:

    Hester Blumenthal would be proud of you, Mike! I gree though, nothing beats a good sauce!!!

  3. Sam Says:

    I bet that tastes fantastic, Bolognese is probably my all time favourite pasta sauce!

    I’ve been meaning to try it with chunks of steak slow cooked I must get around to doing that!

  4. We Are Never Full Says:

    thanks so much for the mention! ragu… true ragu… is often misunderstood in this and other (ahem, england) countries. the coolest thing is that in italy, recipes change from family to family and even from different areas/parts of bologna! the thing to remember is long simmering makes for a better sauce. you have to wait for perfection!.

    interesting touch w/ the ground lamb meat!

  5. Hélène Says:

    What a great recipe. At my home there was only one kind: canned tomato meat sauce. I’m glad I can cook because this was not the best. I hope to make this recipe someday.

  6. Alexa Says:

    This dish is pure comfort food… I bet your home smelled amazing while the sauce was simmering. Your recipe is full of lovely flavors.

  7. noble pig Says:

    I’ve seen people almost go to blows over how to make the perfect bolognase because they are so passionate about it. Yours looks divine, love your handiwork here.

  8. pam Says:

    Bolognese sauce is my favorite, I love it simple all the way to complex. It’s always good.

  9. heather Says:

    ahhh bolognese sauce is so good. such a hearty italian dish. i’m planning a trip to italy now… dreaming of pestos and pastas and sauces..mmm

  10. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) Says:

    Now if only you could make a true Bolognese without pork… it always looks so delicious, but I can’t eat it. I’ve tried substituting ground turkey, but it never tastes quite right to me.

  11. Ivy Says:

    I had a completely different idea of what Ragù was. I thought it was a recipe with veal and a lot of veggies in tomato sauce. The recipe sounds delicious.

  12. grace Says:

    well, i’m glad you don’t discriminate against animals. :)
    looks to be an amazing sauce, mike.

  13. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy Says:

    Bravo, Mike! I think you have hit on the perfect Bolognese. That is one sexy sauce, indeed. It looks marvelous!

  14. Peter Says:

    Mike, a fine homage to Ragu and I like your veggie additions, which the sauce some wonderful undertonal flavours.

    The meat combo also takes your sauce to Italiano heights.

  15. Bunny Says:

    Oh the wonderful pasta dishes that could be created with this sauce! Wonderful Mike!

  16. [eatingclub] vancouver || js Says:

    I love ragu bolognese and am always interested in seeing different versions of it. Yours look fabulous!

  17. Choosy Beggar Tina Says:

    I add some rehydrated porcini mushrooms to my sofrito, and I will also admit to some pancetta being in the pot….there’s just something about a good Bolognese sauce that makes those long winter nights more bearable.

  18. joanne at frutto della passione Says:

    The ultimate comfort food!! This is one of my faves, and I often do eat the sauce without the pasta – of a slice of fresh Italian bread, it makes a fab mid afternoon snack!

  19. Kevin Says:

    That is looking really good!

  20. mikky Says:

    thanks for the tip… braising a variety of meats slowly makes a great sense… :)

  21. Jennifer Says:

    This looks so delicious! There is nothing better than homemade slow cooked sauce. It’s worth the effort and I like to make bigger batches too so I can freeze extra for later on.

  22. Fanny Says:

    i’ve just made this dish tonite.
    it’s wonderfully delicious.
    my husband cant wait for tomorrow to hv the leftover for lunch.
    thx for sharing.

  23. Penne with Ragù of Roasted Tomato and Sausage from Mike's Table Says:

    [...] not sure what it is, but its the kind of meal that just always does it for me. While I had visions of bolognese sauce dancing in my head, I knew I didn’t have the time to make it this week, so instead, I opted [...]

  24. Kristin Says:

    This recipe is wonderful!!!! I was really craving a real, true, delicious bolognese. This was EXACTLY what I was looking for. My husband took one bite and feel in love. He had two bowls (which is not really like him). As for cooking time, I was pleasantly surprised when the whole process came in just over two hours. It was such an easy sauce to make and doesn’t take a lot of complicated effort. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this recipe! It’s already been printed out and put in my kitchen recipe collection for next time. Delicious!!!

  25. peggy Says:

    I researched Ragu alla Bolognese all day long and have concocted my own, using this as the biggest base. The biggest changes to mine is that I’ll also be using a small amount of pancetta and cook the sofrito in the drippings, I’m going to add a few finely chopped chicken liver, and I’m adding a few cloves of garlic and MOREL(!) mushrooms to the sofrito. I’m also leaving out the nutmeg and finishing it by slowing adding a little heavy cream, instead of milk. I found some fresh porcini tagliatelle at the store, so that is what I’ll be serving the sauce on. This will be a six hour expedition. Thanks for the guidance, I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  26. Bruce Prosser Says:

    I made this with ground wild boar, venison, lamb, and veal. CRAZY GOOD!

    Love your site.

    B.

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