09.22.20

The Best Bolognese Sauce

The Best Bolognese Sauce

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. 😉

The Best Bolognese Sauce

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

Serves: 8 people
Print
5 from 16 votes
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time4 hrs

Ingredients

  • 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

For serving:

  • Pasta of choice, cooked according to package instructions
  • freshly grated parmesan
  • fresh thyme leaves

Instructions

  • 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!

Notes

*To "crush" the whole tomatoes, pour into a large bowl and using your hands, carefully squeeze the tomatoes until loosely broken up. They'll continue to fall apart and break down while cooking so you don't have to worry about doing it perfectly. 
 

71 Comments

  • Reply
    Jim
    March 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.

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 31, 2021 at 4:00 pm

      You can definitely pop it into the slow cooker!!

  • Reply
    Audrey
    March 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?

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 30, 2021 at 9:29 pm

      Keep cooking it, it should all mend and come together in the end.

      • Reply
        Audrey
        March 30, 2021 at 10:24 pm

        5 stars
        You’re a fortune teller– it did! Thank you so much! Delicious

  • Reply
    Lauren
    March 11, 2021 at 4:11 am

    5 stars
    This might be the best thing I ever ate. Truly incredible and very customizable. I have made it numerous times and everyone loves it!

  • Reply
    Pam Lamp
    March 8, 2021 at 12:02 am

    5 stars
    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!

  • Reply
    Hannah
    March 1, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    Could you use a bit of fish sauce in place of the anchovies?

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 7, 2021 at 6:21 pm

      definitely!! would work for sure.

  • Reply
    Chelsea
    February 18, 2021 at 12:39 am

    Can I use dried thyme instead of fresh? Forgot the fresh at the store!

  • Reply
    Cathy Montgomery
    February 15, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    Where can I find the lamb bolognese recipe? Thank you!

    • Reply
      Alex
      February 15, 2021 at 5:21 pm

      It’s on page 26 of my cookbook!

  • Reply
    Lily
    February 12, 2021 at 6:00 am

    5 stars
    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!

  • Reply
    Beth Perry
    February 8, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    How can you make this recipe dairy-free? Can you use plain almond milk?

    • Reply
      Alex
      February 10, 2021 at 2:07 pm

      yes, almond milk should be fine here.

  • Reply
    AN
    January 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!

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 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.

  • Reply
    Stacy Wong
    December 28, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    If we need to replace veal, do we just up the ground beef?

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 28, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      yes

  • Reply
    Abby Jennings
    December 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?

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 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).

      • Reply
        Abby Jennings
        December 29, 2020 at 6:39 pm

        Yes that makes sense, thank you!!

  • Reply
    Jessica HT
    December 23, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    5 stars
    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!
    Thanks Alex!!

    • Reply
      Sandie Tauscheck
      January 26, 2021 at 7:56 pm

      5 stars
      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

      • Reply
        Ashley
        March 28, 2021 at 3:06 pm

        5 stars
        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!!!!

        • Reply
          Alex
          March 28, 2021 at 11:18 pm

          so perfect!!!

  • Reply
    Britt
    December 22, 2020 at 3:15 am

    5 stars
    SOOOO good! Made this for family Sunday dinner and everyone loved it! So much flavor. Can’t wait to make it again.

    • Reply
      Molly
      January 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?

  • Reply
    Brenna Hull
    December 21, 2020 at 8:39 pm

    5 stars
    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! ❤️

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 21, 2020 at 8:54 pm

      loooove using ground lamb, great choice!!!

  • Reply
    Megan
    December 20, 2020 at 2:20 am

    5 stars
    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!

  • Reply
    Taylor Banzet
    December 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

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 18, 2020 at 6:29 pm

      Its fine to omit! no sub necessary it will still be delicious.

  • Reply
    Stacey
    December 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!

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 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.

  • Reply
    Maegan Withers
    December 15, 2020 at 4:23 am

    Can you use anchovie paste and if so, how much? Thank you!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 15, 2020 at 12:51 pm

      yes, you can sub 2-3 tsp

  • Reply
    Stephanie Gonzalez
    December 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?

    Thank you!!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 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! 🙂

  • Reply
    Karen
    December 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!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 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.

  • Reply
    Kim
    December 8, 2020 at 2:50 am

    Hi Alex!
    Is there possibly a substitute for the white wine? Maybe water or broth? Thank you!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 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.

  • Reply
    Terra Wissbaum
    December 6, 2020 at 3:42 am

    5 stars
    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.

  • Reply
    Abigail A
    December 1, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    5 stars
    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!!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 1, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      Yay! What a compliment! Glad you all enjoyed it.

  • Reply
    Cortni Wolff
    November 17, 2020 at 2:34 am

    5 stars
    Do you chop the anchovy? Or add it while? Looks so amazing, can’t wait to try! 😍

    • Reply
      Alex
      November 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.

  • Reply
    Emily Carter
    November 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!

    • Reply
      Alex
      November 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.

      • Reply
        Jenalie
        December 21, 2020 at 1:37 am

        5 stars
        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! 😍

        • Reply
          Alex
          December 21, 2020 at 12:05 pm

          wow thank you so much, Jenalie!

  • Reply
    Esmeralda Gomez
    November 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!

    • Reply
      Alex
      November 13, 2020 at 1:34 pm

      You can cook it for only 90, but the longer the better 🙂

  • Reply
    Denise
    November 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!!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      November 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.

    • Reply
      Mary
      February 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 😀

  • Reply
    Michelle
    October 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?

    • Reply
      Alex
      November 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.

  • Reply
    Sydney
    October 25, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    5 stars
    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.

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 25, 2020 at 8:57 pm

      you are most welcome!! enjoy! xo

  • Reply
    Leslie Zimmerman
    October 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.

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 23, 2020 at 9:43 pm

      while I typically don’t prefer to freeze items with dairy in it, this freezes very well!

      • Reply
        Hayley
        October 23, 2020 at 10:59 pm

        is it two anchovies or two cans or anchovies? can’t wait to cook this!

        • Reply
          Alex
          October 24, 2020 at 3:59 pm

          Two anchovies… but if you know you love anchovies id do 6… 🙂

          • Rebecca
            November 1, 2020 at 10:59 am

            5 stars
            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

          • Alex
            November 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!! 🙂

  • Reply
    SN
    October 23, 2020 at 2:51 am

    Can I ask why the milk and a sub it?

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 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.

  • Reply
    Kelley Gudahl - Sailing Chance
    October 20, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    Do you think this could be made in an instant pot?

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 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 🙂

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