I have a few bolognese sauce recipes out there in the world, but this is seriously The Best Bolognese Sauce and my favorite for special occasions. When I make a big batch of this on the stovetop and allow it to cook all day long, it seriously makes me so happy. The smell makes me go straight back to my childhood and watching my family enjoy it just brings me the most joy. In the book, you’ll find my “easy weeknight lamb bolognese” and you can also find this Whole30 Bolognese from the blog archives.
What is bolognese exactly and how is it different than “meat sauce”? A traditional American “meat sauce” is a combination of some ground beef tossed in a marinara sauce. Bolognese is a much creamier, thicker sauce. There are a lot of arguments out in the world about what makes a bolognese sauce truly authentic. Many say that bolognese should just have a touch of tomato and that garlic doesn’t belong in the sauce; however, my mom taught me differently. So if you’d like to call this somewhere of a mix between bolognese + meat sauce– I am ok with that. Whatever you want to call it, you do you. 😉
Now, while my Mom is proud of her Italian heritage (my grandfather was 100% Italian) I know that recipes get passed down, adjusted, and lost in translation over years. This is, more or less, how she taught me to make bolognese (you know I always give things a little spin of my own). First off, I can honestly say that I don’t think I have *ever* seen my Mom cook a dish in her life that didn’t have garlic in it. It’s a fact! Secondly, the woman loves a tomato-based sauce and she definitely loves putting tomatoes in bolognese– as sacrilegious as it may be. Lastly, a trio of meats was what she told me made a good bolognese– which is why I opted to use ground beef, pork, and veal. Oh, and don’t forget the pancetta to get the base of the sauce started! If you don’t eat pork or veal, you can certainly opt to sub with all ground beef– but this is the way my family does it.
The end result is just phenomenal — The Best Bolognese Sauce — and it’s my youngest daughter, Winnie’s, favorite dinner at the moment. For her 5th birthday this year, she requested it over some rigatoni pasta (aka ‘the big round pasta’) and I have to say– I love her request. I typically like my bolognese served with pappardelle or linguine pasta– but hey, what the birthday girl wants, the birthday girl gets!
The Best Bolognese Sauce
- 4 ounces diced pancetta
- 2 flat filet anchovies (packed in oil)
- 2 cups finely diced yellow onion or 1 medium onion
- 1 cup finely diced carrot or 1 large carrot
- 3/4 cup finely chopped celery 1 large stalk
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1.5 lbs ground beef (80/20)
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 lb ground veal
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 [28-oz] can whole peeled san marzano tomatoes crushed using hands (*see notes below)
- 1 [15-oz] can tomato sauce (not to be confused with marinara. Just canned "tomato sauce")
- 1 [6-oz] can tomato paste
- parmesan cheese rind
- 2 bay leaves
- 10 sprigs of thyme
- 1 cup milk
- Pasta of choice, cooked according to package instructions
- freshly grated parmesan
- fresh thyme leaves
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and the pancetta is just crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the anchovy, onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook, mashing up the anchovies so that they break into a paste-like consistency. Continue to cook, stirring, until the veggies are tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the ground beef, pork, veal, salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon, until the meat is just cooked through (no longer pink), about 7 minutes. Drain off excess fat if necessary... (I like to leave a little in there though for flavor!)
- Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the san marzano tomatoes, the tomato sauce, and the tomato paste and stir until well combined. Bring to a boil.
- Once the sauce is boiling, reduce to a light simmer (low heat). Add the parmesan cheese rind, the bay leaves, and the thyme. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until the flavors have melded and the meat is extremely tender and flavorful-- at least 4 hours, but I like to cook mine all day!
- About 30 minutes prior to serving, stir in the cup of milk and continue to cook, uncovered and slightly simmering, until ready to serve. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
- Remove and discard the cheese rind, bay leaves, and thyme bundle.
- Serve the sauce tossed in pasta cooked al dente. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan and fresh thyme leaves. Enjoy!