Authentic Bolognese Sauce (Ragù alla Bolognese) is an Italian pasta sauce made with ground beef, pancetta, vegetables – onion, carrot, celery – and tomato passata.
There are NO AROMAS in this traditional Bolognese sauce, so NO bay leaves, parsley, rosemary, garlic, nutmeg or red hot chili peppers.
The perfect pairing for Bolognese sauce is fresh, homemade pasta such as tagliatelle or pappardelle. When serving pasta with Bolognese sauce, bring grated Parmigiano cheese to the table for your guests to sprinkle on top.
Bolognese sauce is also the authentic meat sauce used to make lasagna bolognese.
Read also: Tagliatelle Bolognese Recipe
Widespread throughout Emilia Romagna, not only in Bologna (hence the name), it’s one of the most famous Italian recipes in the world. Do not confuse it with the classic Italian meat sauce, the Neapolitan meat sauce or the Piedmontese white meat sauce.
These are all meat pasta sauces that belong to the Italian culinary tradition. Each region has its own recipe, each family its own variant. Whatever the version or variant of this recipe, the characteristic that links them is the long cooking time, of 2/3 hours.
In 1982, the Academia Italiana della Cucina, officially registered this recipe with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.
So the recipe we are going to show you is the authentic Italian Bolognese sauce recipe. That is, the traditional Italian recipe, in terms of ingredients, doses and cooking time.
How to Make the Authentic Bolognese Sauce Recipe
- Prep Time: 15 Min
- Cook Time: 2 Hr 20 Min
- Yelds: 6
Bolognese Sauce Ingredients
- 300 g (10 oz) of ground beef
- 150 g (5 oz) of minced pancetta or ground pork
- 1 small carrot
- 1 celery stalk
- 300 g (1 1/4 cup) of tomato passata or crashed peeled tomato
- 1 small onion
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) of dry white wine
- 300 ml (1 1/2cup) of meat broth
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) of whole milk
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) of heavy whipping cream (optional – use it only if you have to season dry pasta)
- fine salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Step 1) – Cut the carrot, celery and onion in very tiny pieces and set aside.
Step 2) -Now cut the pancetta into cubes and then as finely as possible with a sharp knife. It may be difficult to cut the fats from the pancetta with a knife. In this case, chop with a food processor for 1 minute.
Step 3) – Place the minced pancetta in a saucepan with high sides and a thick bottom. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Step 4) – Now add the extra virgin olive oil and the finely chopped vegetables.
Step 5) – Stir and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes then add the ground beef.
Step 6) – Stir and cook for 5 minutes over medium / high heat. Now put the heat on high and add the white wine. Stir and let it evaporate.
Step 7) – Finally add the tomato passata. Cover with a lid and simmer over LOW heat for about 2 hours.
During cooking, the sauce could dry out too much and become thick, risking burning. In this case, add a little meat broth or water, adding salt if necessary.
Towards the end, add the milk to dampen the acidity of the tomato. Season with salt and pepper.
When the sauce is ready, according to the Bolognese custom, add the heavy cream if you want to season dry pasta. For tagliatelle, pappardelle and other fresh pasta its use is to be excluded.
Authentic Bolognese sauce is ready!
How to Store Bolognese sauce
You can make authentic bolognese sauce ahead of time and re-heat when needed.
Keep it in an airtight food container for a maximum of 2-3 days in the refrigeretor.
If you prefer, you can even freeze it and store in the freezer up to 3 months.
How to Serve Bolognese Sauce
Bolognese sauce is used in Italy to dress pasta or as an ingredient in lasagna alla Bolognese, from which it takes its name.
You can, however, also serve this delicious Italian meat sauce over slices of homemade bread.
Or another way to enjoy ragu alla Bolognese is with polenta, a typical dish from northern Italy made with cornmeal.
What is the Best Meat to Make the Authentic Bolognese Sauce Recipe?
Meat is the main ingredient of this recipe. In Emilia Romagna region in the last century, they made Bolognese with older cows, when they were no longer able to work in the fields. For this reason, they needed at least 5-6 hours of cooking.
They already used milk, which breaks down the fibers of the meat. The milk gives a “sweet” touch to the sauce, removing acidity from the tomatoes.
With the meat available today, 2 hours maximum of cooking are enough.
The best cut of beef for authentic Bolognese sauce recipe is the chuck. Due to its fat content, beef chuck is excellent for making ground beef.
It must be not too lean, but must have a fat part that allows it to endure long cooking.
If you make this authentic Italian Bolognese sauce to season pasta, it’s better to grind the beef only once. This way the sauce has a coarser grain. On the contrary, if you want to use Bolognese ragu for lasagna Bolognese, grind the meat twice.
Authentic Italian bolognese sauce recipe calls for pork. In addition to beef, you can use pancetta. Finely chop it, either with a very sharp knife or with a food processor.
If you can’t find the pancetta, you can replace it with minced pork. Many in Italy use pork sausage.
Tomato Passata or Peeled Tomato?
Authentic Bolognese sauce should not be too “red”. That is the amount of tomato must always be less than that of the meat.
So, don’t add too much tomato. Add only what is needed, which must be less than the weight of the two minced meats.
Actually, the very first recipes of Bolognese sauce were without tomato.
This is due to the fact that the tomato made its appearance in Italian cuisine only towards the end of the eighteenth century. And even when they added it, it was only the amount needed so as not to unbalance the already proven flavors.
Someone prefer tomato passata. “La Passata” is usually made in summer with perini tomatoes (San Marzano), the sweetest and most ripe.
When making the passata at home, you should avoid using acidic varieties of tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or too watery ones, such as vine tomatoes.
If, on the other hand, you buy the ready-made passata (and on the market there are a lot of great quality), it’s better to use a rustic, thick one.
You can also use peeled San Marzano perini tomatoes, as long as you mash them with a fork before adding them to the meat.
Alternatively, you can pass the peeled tomatoes with a vegetable mill, using the disc with the smallest holes to completely remove the seeds of the tomatoes.
Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce: History and Curiosities
It’s difficult to establish the origin of Bolognese sauce. There are those who trace it back to the times of the ancient Romans, who prepared a kind of stew.
During the barbarian invasions, the French Gauls revived the recipe. They used it as a sauce to spread on croutons.
Also in France, they said that the chef of Louis XIV, originally from Bologna, had the idea of grinding this stew and using it to season pasta.
Other sources cite the cook Aberto Alvisi from Imola. At the end of the eighteenth century, he was in the service of bishops and cardinals. He has been the first to cook a sauce similar to the one we know today. It was made with melted lard, butter, onion, veal or pork loin. They serveed this sauce with a plate of maccheroni.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Bolognese sauce made its appearance in some Emilia Romagna cookbooks. It has been synonymous with a festive dish ever since.
On Oct. 17, 1982, the Bologna Delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine deposited the recipe for ragù alla bolognese at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. The codification came when Bolognese sauce had already been cooked for centuries, probably to protect it from the rise of many other simalar sauces (Neapolitan meat sauce or Piedmontese white meat sauce, just to name a few).
The Italian word “ragù” comes from the French “ragôuter” which can be translated as “awaken the appetite”. The word “Bolognese” comes from Bologna, a city in Emilia Romagna region.
7 thoughts on “Authentic Bolognese Sauce | Ragù alla Bolognese”
I actually have a copy of the traditional recipe (in Italian) that is deposited at the Accademia in Bologna. The original recipe does not call for “passata” but rather Triple Concentrate tomato paste. It is difficult for me to find triple concentrate when in the US, so I use Double Concentrate (they generally come in squeeze tubes rather than a can). I do add some passata for texture, but with the paste, you need much less passata. I also keep the room temp, whole milk in a pan next to the pot of sauce and add some gradually throughout the cooking time. If using fresh pasta, that is all the milk needed. If using dried pasta, then adding a little heavy cream at the end will keep the pasta from being too dry.
Tried with milk once. Hated it. You say it’s to knock back the acidity – the sweetness of carrot will do that – I use a couple and also more celery. Helps extend the meat in these times.
I’ve been all over the Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy regions of Italy for over 20 years for 2-5 week trips, multiple times per year (probably over 2 years of my life total in those regions of Italy). Almost felt like I lived there (until COVID, then my trips stopped). I did actually catch COVID in Emilia-Romagna in Oct of 2019, before it was a known virus. The lack of travel since then left me searching for authentic recipes. I very seldom went to “tourist area restaurants” and went with my clients to where they liked to go amongst the local crowd. This is a very good recipe for Bolognese, although on my 1st try I added in the meat broth due to some confusion in the recipe and it ended up like a soup. I rescued it by boiling it down and also adding some tomato paste and it ended up up fine. Another mistake on my 1st try was that I had a 21oz pack of ground beef and I used it all (some say, you can’t have enough meat, but yes, you can and it made it a very heavy sauce to eat). Quickly learning from my mistakes, all of my next tries were all spot on using this recipe once I fully understood exactly what to do and the end result is what you get when going out to local restaurants in and around Bologna. My favorite dish when I visit Bologna (I won’t say the restaurant) is the Lasagna Verde alla Bolognese which is a Spinach lasagna with the Bolognese and Bèchamel sauce. That recipe is my next to try.
What about the addition of cooked rare chicken livers???
I’ve seen that in Italy & added them at home
Your recipe is spot on
where do you use the beef broth? after the wine or instead of wine?
During 2 hours cooking bolognese sauce could dry out too much and become thick, risking burning. In this case, add a little meat stock. See step 7.
Yummy. My next cooking adventure