Bolognese sauce, or “ragù alla bolognese” is a hearty meat sauce with a subtle Italian flavor. This recipe features spaghetti as the pasta, topped with a beef and Italian sausage meat sauce!
Italian restaurants often feature some sort of “bolognese” or “ragu” dish on the menu, simply because this Italian meat sauce, when made correctly, is absolutely delicious! The flavor is subtle, not “over the top Italian” with lots of Italian herbs. The ingredients are simple, but I think what makes this Italian dish so good is the addition of carrots, nutmeg, cream and red wine.
What Ingredients are in Bolognese Sauce?
Bolognese Sauce Ingredients are: carrots, celery, onion, garlic, red wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, nutmeg, cream, ground beef, ground Italian sausage, basil and Parmesan cheese for garnish. Note: there is no liquid (like stock or broth) included in a traditional Bolognese sauce.
It may seem odd to add carrots to an Italian red pasta sauce, but believe it or not, the carrots add a tiny bit of sweetness and balance any acidity from the tomatoes. The hint of nutmeg provides a bit of a smoky flavor, resulting in a meaty red sauce to die for! The red wine gives the bolognese sauce a bit of substance and depth, and the cream balances the acidity of the tomatoes and tenderizes the meat.
How to Make Bolognese Sauce
The secret to making a really good meat sauce is to use high quality tomatoes and organic carrots. I recommend using San Marzano tomatoes simply because their flavor is out of this world and they are less acidic than other types of tomatoes. Organic carrots offer a hint of sweetness to the bolognese sauce, more than conventional carrots. Here are the basic steps for making homemade Bolognese sauce:
- Saute onion, carrots and celery
- Brown beef and sausage
- Add tomatoes and tomato paste
- Add wine, bay leaves, cream, nutmeg
- Simmer, covered
- Serve over prepared pasta
What’s the Difference Between Meat and Bolognese Sauce?
Generally speaking, the primary difference between these two sauces is the inclusion or absence of liquid, usually in the form of beef broth. The only liquids in Bolognese sauce are milk (or cream) and red wine. Traditional meat sauces are thinner and include beef broth or beef stock.
In terms of flavor, Bolognese sauce is a subtle Italian meat sauce due to the inclusion of carrots and milk. Note there aren’t a lot of typical Italian seasonings in the recipe. Traditional “Italian” meat sauce often includes a host of Italian seasonings which may include thyme, oregano and/or basil.
How Long Does the Italian Meat Sauce Cook?
Bolognese sauce can be ready in about 35 minutes, however, for the flavors to fully marry, let the rich, meaty tomato sauce simmer for at least 45 minutes. Generally, I cook the sauce for an hour for a fully flavored meat sauce.
What Kind of Red Wine Should I Use?
I always say, when cooking with wine, “use a wine you’d drink,” however, if you don’t drink wine, a nice red blend works well in this Bolognese sauce recipe. You might also use a Cabernet, Merlot or Pinto Noir. When properly re-sealed, red wine holds up for about three months, so you can use a splash here and there in other recipes. The point it, the red wine does not need to be expensive, but a red cooking wine is not recommended simply because it doesn’t offer the same flavor profile as a non-cooking red wine.
Suggestions for Leftover Bolognese Sauce
If you have some meat sauce leftover, use it to make Lasagne or stuffed shells, like Cannelloni or Manicotti!
Spaghetti with Bolognese Sauce
- 1 lb. ground beef lean ground beef (90/10)
- 1 lb. ground Italian sausage mild or spicy
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup milk or heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ cup yellow onion , chopped
- ⅔ cup celery , chopped
- ⅔ cup carrot , chopped
- 2 tablespoons garlic , chopped or minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon basil , chopped (for garnish-optional)
- 3 oz. tomato paste
- 28 oz. crushed tomatoes San Marzano is recommended; not San Marzano "style"
- ½ cup red wine
- Parmesan cheese grated (as garnish)
- salt- to taste
- Dice onion, celery and carrot
Make the Sauce
- Add oil and butter to large stockpot; add chopped carrots, onion and celery; saute for 8 minutes
- Add ground beef and pork to vegetbles to same stockpot; cook until beef and pork are browned (no visible pink) (See Recipe Notes: "Cook the Meat")
- Add garlic, red wine, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper, nutmeg and bay leaves to stockpot; combine well
- Stir in milk or cream (See Recipe Notes: "Milk or Cream")
- Cover and allow to simmer at least 30 minutes; add additional pepper and salt to taste
- Remove bay leaves; serve over cooked pasta of your choice; garnish with basil and Parmesan cheese
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