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!
GinnyMarch 9, 2023 at 4:35 pm
Very excited to try this recipe! If doing the 4-hour simmer in a slow cooker, would it be better to cook on low or high?
AlexMarch 10, 2023 at 1:53 pm
If you are just doing 4 hours, I’d go with high 🙂
Kristen BedeDecember 21, 2022 at 4:22 pm
Hi Alex! Love all your stuff — you are the GOAT! I am making this soon for family members and a few family members do not eat pork. Any recommended subs on this?
AlexDecember 21, 2022 at 8:53 pm
Hi! just sub in more ground beef in place of the pork and it’s still amazing!
AnnaDecember 4, 2022 at 6:00 pm
Hi! if I take out the veal should I just add in an extra pound of beef or pork?
AlexDecember 6, 2022 at 4:39 pm
You can use an additional 1/2 pound of both or a full pound of beef!
BaileyNovember 17, 2022 at 6:22 am
Hi Alex! Can I sub bacon for the pancetta? Or just omit? Thanks so much!
ElyseOctober 21, 2022 at 4:05 am
Hi Alex! Would this be suitable to make the sauce the day before and then reheat on the stove the following day?
I’d love to serve for this a small gathering of friends, but I won’t have the time to make the sauce the day of.
AlexOctober 21, 2022 at 5:06 pm
AlexandriaDecember 22, 2021 at 11:53 pm
Made this tonight.. left out the parm and used oat milk. So yummy!
AlexDecember 23, 2021 at 12:20 pm
LaurenMarch 24, 2022 at 1:09 am
Late to this party… but just made this tonight and it truly is THE BEST sauce!!!
AlexMarch 24, 2022 at 2:40 pm
Better late than never, right 😉
Audrey McCarthyMarch 25, 2022 at 3:05 pm
I’m making this now! Do your leave the pancetta in the sauce or just use the grease to cook veggies and get the flavor?
AlexMarch 25, 2022 at 3:37 pm
I leave it in there 🙂
AudreyDecember 21, 2021 at 4:26 pm
Can’t wait to make this for Christmas Eve for my family! Question, if I’m serving 11 people would it be best to double this? If so, should I make it in two batches or should the meat all cook okay in one big pot?
AlexDecember 22, 2021 at 1:16 am
i just doubled it for 14 people (8 adults and 6 kids) and i had quite a lot leftover. I am always afraid of not having enough though but the 1 batch does make a ton so depending on how many kids/adults the 1 batch might do it for you!! I cooked the double in one giant pot and it turned out great.
Susie KleinDecember 20, 2021 at 4:25 am
Can’t wait to make this for friends. What is your favorite pasta and brand for this? Thanks Alex.
AlexDecember 20, 2021 at 12:32 pm
I really love to use pappardelle pasta or rigatoni. My family definitely loves the pappardelle the most!
CharlieMarch 21, 2022 at 11:00 pm
Hi Alex! So excited to make this! Is it possible to do the last 4 hours (or more) in a crockpot or does that change it significantly?
AlexMarch 22, 2022 at 5:16 pm
You can definitely do that!!
JennDecember 6, 2021 at 7:42 pm
Hi Alex! LOVE all of your Recipes!! I know you don’t have a specific lasagna recipe and I prefer using your recipes for meals. With that said, could I use this sauce to make lasagna?
AlexDecember 6, 2021 at 9:36 pm
This would be delicious on a lasagna!
AbbyNovember 15, 2021 at 1:57 am
Best recipe I’ve made in a while! Subbed anchovy paste for anchovies. Otherwise followed directions as written. Soooo delicious. And my house smells like the best Italian restaurant 🙂
CaitlinJuly 31, 2021 at 8:09 pm
What’s your go to wine for this?
GinaJune 7, 2021 at 5:53 pm
The sell for me on using this recipe (I plan on making it tomorrow) is the anchovies. I use anchovies as my little secret ingredient, as many don’t think they like anchovies unless its a secret ingredient. One question for you…how much pasta do you use for this recipe?
AlexJune 14, 2021 at 12:16 pm
It makes enough to work with up to two boxes (1 lb each) of pasta (depending on how many people you are serving).
JimMarch 31, 2021 at 2:26 pm
After cooking the main ingredients, would it work to use a slow cooker for the 4 hour simmer? I have made this a few times and need to regularly check to make sure it is not burning on my stove. BTW, instead of milk, I use cashew cream, which works great.
AlexMarch 31, 2021 at 4:00 pm
You can definitely pop it into the slow cooker!!
AudreyMarch 30, 2021 at 9:05 pm
Hi! Making this recipe now! I didn’t drain off any of the fat and now wish I would have (seems the other liquids aren’t as easily absorbing). Any fix or does bolognese just have lots of fat in it?
AlexMarch 30, 2021 at 9:29 pm
Keep cooking it, it should all mend and come together in the end.
AudreyMarch 30, 2021 at 10:24 pm
You’re a fortune teller– it did! Thank you so much! Delicious
LaurenMarch 11, 2021 at 4:11 am
This might be the best thing I ever ate. Truly incredible and very customizable. I have made it numerous times and everyone loves it!
Pam LampMarch 8, 2021 at 12:02 am
I made this for my husband’s birthday dinner last night. I used the anchovies (first time ever!) and subbed ground beef for the veal–grocery didn’t have it. It was fabulous! Everyone raved about it! I wasn’t surprised it was wonderful, because Alex’s recipes ALWAYS are!! Thanks so much!
HannahMarch 1, 2021 at 5:38 pm
Could you use a bit of fish sauce in place of the anchovies?
AlexMarch 7, 2021 at 6:21 pm
definitely!! would work for sure.
ChelseaFebruary 18, 2021 at 12:39 am
Can I use dried thyme instead of fresh? Forgot the fresh at the store!
Cathy MontgomeryFebruary 15, 2021 at 3:55 pm
Where can I find the lamb bolognese recipe? Thank you!
AlexFebruary 15, 2021 at 5:21 pm
It’s on page 26 of my cookbook!
LilyFebruary 12, 2021 at 6:00 am
I loved this bolognese sauce! I made this recipe over rigatoni, and everyone was so impressed. It was much easier than I thought it would be to create such a rich, umami dish. To everyone scared about the anchovies, just use them! The depth of flavor is amazing. My very fish-phobic family was unbothered by the slight fishiness. Highly recommend this recipe!
Beth PerryFebruary 8, 2021 at 5:08 pm
How can you make this recipe dairy-free? Can you use plain almond milk?
AlexFebruary 10, 2021 at 2:07 pm
yes, almond milk should be fine here.
ANJanuary 4, 2021 at 7:44 pm
Hi Alex, so excited to make this. I’m only cooking for 4, so I was thinking about halving the recipe. Do you have any suggestions when halving this recipe? What size dutch oven should I use? Thank you!
AlexJanuary 4, 2021 at 8:44 pm
it should half just perfectly and you can literally just half the ingredients! 🙂
You could use a 5 qt.
Stacy WongDecember 28, 2020 at 7:02 pm
If we need to replace veal, do we just up the ground beef?
AlexDecember 28, 2020 at 9:51 pm
Christina NJuly 22, 2021 at 4:49 pm
This recipe is SO good. I usually use half the recipe the day of over noodles and then use the other half for a GF lasagna. I substitute the milk with a dairy free option and haven’t had any issues. Everyone I’ve served it to loves it.
Abby JenningsDecember 26, 2020 at 3:07 pm
Hi Alex! I am excited to make this for our family’s late Christmas Eve night – have you ever used Italian sausage for this recipe?
AlexDecember 28, 2020 at 12:56 am
I haven’t!! I think it will change the flavor too much! you really want to the sauce to flavor the meat– not the meat flavor the sauce (if that makes sense).
Abby JenningsDecember 29, 2020 at 6:39 pm
Yes that makes sense, thank you!!
Jessica HTDecember 23, 2020 at 7:30 pm
This is it!
I’ve been on a bolognese pilgrimage (haha) and none of the recipes were perfect…until now!!
Loved it and wouldn’t change a thing!
Sandie TauscheckJanuary 26, 2021 at 7:56 pm
That’s exactly what I wanted to hear… A perfect sauce… I have been on the same pilgrimage… I will give this recipe a try… Thanks for doing the review
AshleyMarch 28, 2021 at 3:06 pm
Seriously so good. I’ve made this over and over and it is always a crowd pleaser. I freeze the leftovers into individual size servings and it tastes just as good thawed the second time around!!!!
AlexMarch 28, 2021 at 11:18 pm
BrittDecember 22, 2020 at 3:15 am
SOOOO good! Made this for family Sunday dinner and everyone loved it! So much flavor. Can’t wait to make it again.
MollyJanuary 10, 2021 at 7:05 pm
If you are diary free would you recommend using a vegan Parmesan cheese or just leave it out? Additionally, what type of diary free milk would you suggest using?
Brenna HullDecember 21, 2020 at 8:39 pm
This was simply delightful! I made this for our early Christmas dinner with the family. My only tweak was using ground lamb instead of veal. Everyone loved it, so tasty! Thank you Alex! ❤️
AlexDecember 21, 2020 at 8:54 pm
loooove using ground lamb, great choice!!!
MeganDecember 20, 2020 at 2:20 am
Easy and incredibly delicious! Bolognese is my absolutely favorite dish. Made this with from scratch papparadelle and it was even better than our favorite restaurant. We made a “half plus a little” recipe and left out the veal. So good!
Taylor BanzetDecember 18, 2020 at 6:23 pm
Hi – I need to omit the anchovy due to a shellfish allergy (Anchovies actually contain the same form of protein as shellfish!). Is there anything you would recommend subbing it for?
Thank you! & I love your cookbook and all of your recipes!! xo
AlexDecember 18, 2020 at 6:29 pm
Its fine to omit! no sub necessary it will still be delicious.
SusanApril 22, 2022 at 11:01 pm
how much rigatoni do you use for 1 recipe? Did you use the extra large size?
AlexMay 2, 2022 at 5:17 pm
These aren’t the extra large sized, they are regular… and any pasta really works here!! You can do up to 2 lbs for this recipe– it makes a lot of sauce. I usually just do 1 lb and freeze leftovers if needed… but all depends on how many i am serving.
StaceyDecember 17, 2020 at 5:34 am
If I make this the day before, do you recommend I mix everything together, refrigerate it and then heat it up the next day, all day or should I cook it all day and then refrigerate and reheat right before serving? Thanks!
AlexDecember 17, 2020 at 1:10 pm
I would cook it all. Then the next day dump it into a big pot, reheat and keep on low for 30 mins or so to really get it nice and warm before serving.
Maegan WithersDecember 15, 2020 at 4:23 am
Can you use anchovie paste and if so, how much? Thank you!!
AlexDecember 15, 2020 at 12:51 pm
yes, you can sub 2-3 tsp
Stephanie GonzalezDecember 12, 2020 at 11:56 pm
Hi Alex! I’m so excited to make this comforting meal for some friends. I have a couple of questions.
1. Do you think I can make this the day before?
2. If you say yes to question #1, do I wait to add the milk until before I serve it?
AlexDecember 13, 2020 at 1:34 pm
you can definitely make it the day before (in fact, I find it’s even better day two!) I’d go ahead and add the milk– it’ll be totally fine! and just reheat on the stovetop nicely the day before serving! 🙂
KarenDecember 9, 2020 at 2:10 pm
Hi! I’m making this today. My family doesn’t eat red meat so I’m using ground turkey. It can sometimes be bland. What do you suggest for a modification? I’m so excited to try this!!
AlexDecember 9, 2020 at 6:20 pm
I haven’t yet tried this recipe using turkey– but I would definitely use 4-6 anchovies to add more flavor.
KimDecember 8, 2020 at 2:50 am
Is there possibly a substitute for the white wine? Maybe water or broth? Thank you!!
AlexDecember 8, 2020 at 8:32 pm
Yes, I’d opt for broth here! You may just want to add a little lemon juice to add some tang/brightness.
Terra WissbaumDecember 6, 2020 at 3:42 am
Best Bolognese I’ve ever had. Well worth the time. Even my daughter, who does not like sauce, has requested this. Will definitely make this again. Thanks for a fabulous recipe loved by my whole family.
Abigail ADecember 1, 2020 at 6:55 pm
I married an Italian man who lives and dies by his mother’s homemade spaghetti recipe. After one taste of this bolognese, he jumped ship and said it was the best pasta he’s had in his life! I’d say that’s a huge win! I had all 9 of my siblings over for “Italian Night” and I barely had any leftovers. Thank you for sharing with us Alex!!!
AlexDecember 1, 2020 at 7:00 pm
Yay! What a compliment! Glad you all enjoyed it.
JillianMay 3, 2023 at 6:50 pm
Hey Alex! I’m wanting to half this recipe, would the all day cook time stay the same?
AlexMay 3, 2023 at 8:01 pm
Yes, all would stay the same!
Cortni WolffNovember 17, 2020 at 2:34 am
Do you chop the anchovy? Or add it while? Looks so amazing, can’t wait to try! 😍
AlexNovember 17, 2020 at 12:21 pm
When you add the whole anchovies to the pot, they’ll start to dissolve and you mash them so they end up turning into a paste-like consistency.
Emily CarterNovember 13, 2020 at 2:36 pm
Hi! Huge fan of your recipes 😍 Is the pasta shown gluten free? I have celiac and I would love to find those noodles!
AlexNovember 14, 2020 at 2:34 pm
In this photo, they are not GF. I haven’t had a good GF Rigatoni or know of one.
JenalieDecember 21, 2020 at 1:37 am
The best sauce I’ve ever had! Tastes as good as my Sicilian grandfathers. It’s so savory, hearty, and FLAVORFUL and the added cheese rind is genius. Thanks Alex! 😍
AlexDecember 21, 2020 at 12:05 pm
wow thank you so much, Jenalie!
Esmeralda GomezNovember 13, 2020 at 3:34 am
Cooking it for the first time and I already tasted it! however; is it a huge difference if I only cook it for 90 minutes? otherwise I will let it cook 4 hrs or overnight and eat for tomorrow. it was so easy!
AlexNovember 13, 2020 at 1:34 pm
You can cook it for only 90, but the longer the better 🙂
DeniseNovember 7, 2020 at 3:40 pm
Hi! Can’t wait to make this! What are your thoughts on using evaporated milk? I saw this used in another recipe and wanted to get your feedback. Thank you!!!
AlexNovember 8, 2020 at 4:14 pm
Evaporated milk is very sweet, I wouldn’t use it here, personally– I think it’d end up tasting like a jar of ragu (and not in a good way, in my opinion)! haha. I’d do regular milk or heavy cream.
MaryFebruary 25, 2021 at 10:22 pm
Making this right now and have been eating it with a spoon out of the pot while it simmers all day! It is so good and I hope to not eat it all before I can serve it 😀
MichelleOctober 31, 2020 at 1:18 pm
I can’t find a parmesan rind anywhere, do you think it will be okay if I just add the cheese afterward?
AlexNovember 1, 2020 at 12:54 pm
If you buy a piece of parmesan cheese, you can just trim off the rind and use that. You can definitely omit the parmesan rind if you don’t have it and just top with some grated cheese when serving. I wouldn’t put the cheese directly in the sauce and stir it up, though.
SydneyOctober 25, 2020 at 5:19 pm
I just made this bolognese for my birthday too 🙂 So delicious!!
For anyone curious, I did sub nutpods for the milks and it worked out great.
AlexOctober 25, 2020 at 8:57 pm
you are most welcome!! enjoy! xo
Leslie ZimmermanOctober 23, 2020 at 2:54 pm
Do you ever freeze this sauce? I am curious if that would work since there in milk in it.
AlexOctober 23, 2020 at 9:43 pm
while I typically don’t prefer to freeze items with dairy in it, this freezes very well!
HayleyOctober 23, 2020 at 10:59 pm
is it two anchovies or two cans or anchovies? can’t wait to cook this!
AlexOctober 24, 2020 at 3:59 pm
Two anchovies… but if you know you love anchovies id do 6… 🙂
RebeccaNovember 1, 2020 at 10:59 am
This truly is THE BEST BOLOGNESE SAUCE!! I’ve made it twice now and it’s so good, my family love it! I freeze half for a future meal and found it freezes and reheats perfectly. I’m keen to try it in a pressure cooker next time to see if the time saving impacts the flavour of the slow stove top cook. Thank you so much for sharing x
AlexNovember 1, 2020 at 12:48 pm
I am so glad you love it!!! let us know if you try the Pressure Cooker and how it turns out!! 🙂
SNOctober 23, 2020 at 2:51 am
Can I ask why the milk and a sub it?
AlexOctober 23, 2020 at 9:44 pm
Traditional bolognese sauces have heavy creamer or milk in it. If you need a DF option, i’d go for nutpods original dairy-free creamer.
Kelley Gudahl - Sailing ChanceOctober 20, 2020 at 9:05 pm
Do you think this could be made in an instant pot?
AlexOctober 22, 2020 at 1:25 pm
Absolutely! Just be sure to brown the meat first on the saute function. Then I would do 30-45 mins on manual High Pressure cook. Then I would stir in the milk and let it reduce a bit after (on the saute function) for 10 more mins 🙂