This Best Bolognese Sauce recipe is meaty mushroom version of the savory, classic meat-based sauce that originated in Bologna, Italy.
Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe
Traditional bolognese sauce (also known as ragù alla bolognese, or sometimes just ragù) is a slow-cooked labor of love made with a trio of meats (beef, pork, and pancetta), a soffritto (the holy trinity of Italian cooking consisting of finely chopped onions, carrots, and celery), white wine (some people use red although white is traditional in bolognese sauce), milk, and tomatoes. It tastes absolutely amazing and is totally worth the effort to make it from scratch, especially since this recipe makes a huge batch that can be divided and frozen for future use.
I have partnered with the Mushroom Council to bring you this recipe. Their Blenditarian Challenge is a great opportunity to stretch your dollar by adding mushrooms to meat to add bulk and volume to everyday dishes, stretching recipes into more servings for less money, while simultaneously adding flavor and health to your meals! Blending finely chopped crimini and porcini mushrooms is my not-so-secret weapon for adding even more delicious flavor and nutrition to this best bolognese sauce recipe!
What is Bolognese Sauce?
Not to be confused with a classic marinara sauce which is a simple, quick-cooking sauce highlighting the bright, acidic flavor of tomatoes, bolognese sauce is a slow-cooked, mouthwateringly savory meat sauce. Yes, there are still tomatoes in bolognese (and my version even uses more tomatoes than other recipes which famously only call for 3 ounces of tomato paste compared to 2 pounds of meat!), but much of the liquid in the sauce also comes from milk and wine (or broth if you don’t cook with wine), with a good amount of vegetables added in as well. Then it gets slowly simmered over a period of 4 hours until a thick, rich sauce is created and your kitchen smells amazing.
The list of ingredients might seem long, but traditional bolognese sauce is made with pork, beef, and pancetta, a soffritto made from onions, carrots, and celery, along with wine, milk, tomatoes, and other a few herbs, then simmered slowly. Bolognese sauce gets better the longer it’s cooked, so it’s not something you want to rush. The flavors really develop during the slow simmer at a low temperature, so this once you get all of the veggies softened and the meat and mushrooms browned, you could easily transfer everything to a slow cooker to finish the sauce in there by cooking on low for 4 hours, rather than letting it simmer on the stove.
This really is the best bolognese sauce recipe ever, and even though it’s more labor-intensive than some other recipes, what with chopping veggies, browning meat, and a long, slow cooking process, I promise it’s 100% worth the effort.
How to Make Bolognese Sauce
- First, brown the meat and mushrooms together. A large dutch oven or heavy saucepan works best for this. Just make sure you have plenty of room to work because we are making a huge batch of sauce (12 cups!) with this recipe. Drain any grease the cooks off and transfer the meat and mushroom mixture to a bowl so you can make the soffrito in the same pan.
- Develop a flavor base with a classic soffritto. Also known as battuto or odori in Italy, or mirepoix in France, a soffritto is just a combination of finely chopped onion, celery and carrot that is slowly sautéed, creating a depth of flavor that makes for an amazing sauce. Because of the fine chop and the slow cooking process, the vegetables practically melt into the sauce and they won’t be very noticeable in the end bolognese. But they are absolutely essential in any classic bolognese sauce. Garlic gets thrown in at the end for just a minute or so.
- White wine really does make a big difference in bolognese sauce. If you don’t like to cook with wine, just sub in chicken or beef broth instead, but I personally love what wine does for Italian cooking and it really is traditional. The alcohol cooks off, and if you don’t drink alcohol (like me), you can buy little 4-packs of wine at your local grocery store that are just the right size for cooking.
- Add the meat & mushrooms back into the pan, along with the rest of the ingredients. Crushed tomatoes, milk (yes! a little dairy does wonderful things for this sauce without making it taste creamy), and some simple herbs (thyme & bay leaves – nothing too bold since the flavor profile of this sauce is really about the robust meatiness, not an overwhelming amount of herbs and spices).
- Partially cover and let the sauce simmer the afternoon away! It takes a while for the liquid to cook down into a rich, complex sauce, but it is so worth it. Just be sure to stir every 20 minutes or so if you are doing this part on the stove so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. But this could also be done in the slow cooker if you need a more hands-off approach.
Which Pasta to use for Bolognese
The best pasta for bolognese sauce is tagliatelle, not spaghetti, even though you have probably had spaghetti bolognese before. In Bologna, where bolognese sauce originated, it is customarily served with fresh tagliatelle pasta, which are broad, flat, egg-based noodles shaped like ribbons, similar to fettuccine.
Tagliatelle bolognese is one of, if not THE signature dish, of Bologna, in northern Italy, and you would never see bolognese sauce served with spaghetti noodles when traveling there. And for good reason! Using the right type of pasta for the sauce is important because spaghetti’s circular shape doesn’t hold on to the hearty bolognese sauce, which slides right off. A broad, flat noodle is much better suited to this thick, meaty sauce.
One of these days I’m going to get a pasta attachment for my KitchenAid and learn how to make fresh pasta, but until then I can usually find it in the refrigerated section at some well-stocked grocery stores or use dried tagliatelle.
If you have a hard time finding tagliatelle, good alternatives include other flat pasta shapes like papperdelle or fettucine, or tube shapes like rigatoni and penne that will hold up to the thick, meaty sauce.
Are mushrooms a vegetable?
Technically, no, mushrooms are neither a vegetable or a fruit. Or even a plant! Mushrooms are fungi, which are don’t have leaves, roots, or seeds and don’t need light to grow. But mushrooms ARE super good for your health since they are fat-free, cholesterol free, low in calories, and provide important nutrients like vitamin D, B vitamins, antioxidants and potassium.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies mushrooms as vegetables because they provide so many of the same vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional attributes of vegetables. Blending mushrooms with meat adds an easy serving of vegetables to the plate. Plus, they just taste amazing and add depth of flavor and umami to any dish.
If you are interested in more great Italian food recipes, you should definitely try my version of Zuppa Toscana, representing the Tuscany region. Or try making a creamy roasted garlic & mushroom risotto, which is a classic Italian rice dish that further solidifies my deep and abiding love of mushrooms. And roasted garlic.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 6 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
- 12 ounces crimini mushrooms, chopped
- 1 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in warm water for 30 minutes, then dried and chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree
- 2 cups milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- Flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- Parmesan cheese
- Fresh tagliatelle pasta (if available)
- Heat a large dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When hot, add the ground beef, ground pork, pancetta and chopped mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Brown, breaking up the meat and cooking until the mushrooms are cooked and the meat is no longer pink. Transfer the meat to a separate bowl and drain the grease from the pan.
- To make the soffritto, reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the dutch oven. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and mix together, cooking until the vegetables are soft begin to caramelize, about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the vegetables and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add the wine to the soffritto and cook for 3 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan, until slightly reduced.
- Return the browned mushrooms and meat to the pan, then add in the crushed tomatoes, tomatoe puree, milk, bay leaves and thyme. Stir to combine, then bring to a simmer. Reduce meat to low and partially cover the dutch oven with a lid. Simmer for 4 hours, stirring frequently.
- When the sauce has thickened, remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, then taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
- When the sauce is ready, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Add the fresh pasta and cook for just 2–3 minutes. Drain the pasta, then return to the pan and toss with however much bolognese sauce you would like. Remaining sauce freezes and reheats well and can be used in lasagna bolognese. Garnished with chopped Italian parsley and Parmesan cheese.
Red wine can be used, but white is traditional. If you don't want to cook with wine at all, you can replace the wine with chicken or beef stock.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 340 Saturated Fat: 8g Cholesterol: 67mg Sodium: 270mg Carbohydrates: 8g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 3g Protein: 17g
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