Thick, hearty, and rich Bolognese Sauce with traditional ingredients and some additions so it’s extra flavorful. It’s easy to make either on the stovetop or slow cooker, and a perfect topping for pasta or gnocchi.
Easy Bolognese Sauce
Today’s Bolognese Sauce recipe is one we’ve been enjoying for years and finally joins our pasta sauce website collection. Among our other Italian favorites are Spaghetti Sauce, Alfredo Sauce, Marinara, and Pesto. But that list just isn’t complete without Bolognese. We’ve tried so many variations over the years and tweaked it to our preferences. Our version is not considered authentic, but it maintains a lot of the standard ingredients and is 100% delicious! We’ve simplified it by cooking it in a slow cooker, but you can absolutely make it on the stovetop, too.
What is Bolognese Sauce?
Bolognese (pronounced boh-loh-nyeh-zeh in Italian or the simplified English way, boh-loh-nyehz) when referred to in cooking, is a meat sauce that comes from the region of Bologna, Italy. Interestingly enough, if you travel to Bologna, you won’t find bolognese sauce on restaurant menus since locally, they refer to the sauce as ragù.
What is the difference between Bolognese and Spaghetti Sauce? The two sauces do tend to look and smell the same, both made with meat and a tomato base, but Bolognese sauce usually includes vegetables, wine, and milk. Traditional Bolognese actually has very few ingredients, sans garlic or herbs, and a small amount of tomatoes. It tends to be creamier, and in Italy, almost always served over a flat, wide noodle such as tagliatelle or pappardelle. Of course this sauce has been adapted a million different ways all over the world with everyone’s personal spin.
Bolognese Sauce Recipe
This is one Italian sauce where I actually prefer our version over the authentic, which surprisingly has very little tomato, herbs, and no garlic. Like whaaaaat? Our Bolognese Sauce Ingredients include the following:
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- Meat: Traditional bolognese meat sauce is made with ground beef and pancetta, but I usually just use all ground beef, since I always have some in my freezer.
- Vegetables: Onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, aka Italian soffritto. Garlic isn’t usually included, but to me it’s a must.
- Tomatoes: We use a large can of crushed tomatoes (usually fire roasted, for added flavor) and also a 6 ounce can of tomato paste. This is the base for the sauce, so buy the best quality.
- Wine: Italian chefs will fight to the death over using dry red wine or white in bolognese sauce. LOL. We prefer red wine, but they’re both delicious, so use whichever you prefer. (See note below about omitting the alcohol.)
- Milk: We love the addition of whole milk that’s always included in this sauce. It gives the sauce a creamy texture and rich taste. For even more richness, sub in half-n-half or heavy cream.
- Seasonings: Again, not traditional, but I always include my homemade dried Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, cracked red pepper flakes, and a bay leaf for extra flavor. Oh, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley, for serving.
- Parmesan cheese: Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is the perfect topping!
- Include pancetta, bacon, and/or Italian sausage: Saute some pancetta or bacon along with the beef, or do a 50/50 combo of beef and Italian sausage. Sweet, mild, or spicy sausage are all great, depending on your taste.
- Add anchovies: Don’t scrunch up your nose! Anchovies get a bad rap. A couple crushed up anchovy filets or a teaspoon of anchovy paste add a subtle umami flavor, without making it taste fishy. They dissolve into the sauce and you wouldn’t even know they’re there, if nobody told you.
- Fresh herbs: Swap out the dried herbs with fresh and feel free to include oregano or basil.
- Replace the milk with heavy cream: As noted above, use half and half or heavy cream in place of the milk for an even richer flavor.
- Omit the wine: The wine adds depth of flavor and completely cooks off, but if you are avoiding alcohol, it can be replaced with beef or chicken stock.
- Stovetop or Slow Cooker: Unlike our super popular Spaghetti Sauce that slow-simmers on the stove for 4 hours, I almost always make this bolognese sauce in the crock pot. It’s just so easy to toss everything in, then set it and forget it. 8 hours later you have an awesome sauce to coat pasta with for dinner. But you can absolutely make this in a large saucepan or pot! Brown the beef and vegetables in olive oil first, then add all the other ingredients (except the milk and Parmesan), simmer for at least 1 hour (the longer the better), then stir in the milk to warm through and serve.
Leftovers: If you’ve got leftover sauce, let it cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will keep up to 3 days.
To freeze: Allow sauce to cool completely, transfer to a freezer safe container or ziplock bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat in a saucepan on the stove or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave.
What to Serve with Bolognese Sauce
Italians almost always serve this sauce over a wide, flat noodle such as tagliatelle or pappardelle, but it pairs well with any pasta, so use your favorite or whatever you have on hand. I rarely buy those types of pasta, so it usually ends up over regular spaghetti or penne. It’s also great served over gnocchi, topped over roasted spaghetti squash for a delicious low-carb option, or simply used to dip garlic bread into. So good!
Other Classic Pasta Recipes:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 28 ounce can crushed fired roasted tomatoes
- 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 large celery stalk , diced small
- 2 medium carrots , peeled and diced small
- 1 medium sweet onion , diced
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 1/4 cup dry red wine (or white)
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon of cracked red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- freshly grated Parmesan , for serving
- torn fresh parsley , for serving
- In a 6-quart slow cooker, mix together all the ingredients (except the milk, Parmesan, and parsley.)
- Cover and cook on low for 8 hours until meat is cooked through and vegetables are tender.
- Remove cover and discard bay leaf.
- Stir in the milk until warmed through.
- Serve with your favorite pasta with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.
- NOTE: for substitutions, additions, and stovetop cooking instructions, please refer to the full article.