Bolognese Sauce (Ragù alla Bolognese) is a meat pasta sauce that usually seasones fresh pasta or polenta. 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.
Widespread throughout Emilia Romagna, not only in Bologna, it is one of the most famous Italian recipes in the world; not to be confused 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.
This below is the authentic Bolognese sauce recipe, made with ground beef, pancetta, vegetables like onion, carrot, celery and finally the tomato passata. In 1982, the Academia Italiana della Cucina, officially registered this recipe with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. The recipe we are going to show you is the authentic and official one in terms of ingredients, doses and cooking times.
There are NO AROMAS in the traditional Bolognese sauce, so NO laurel, parsley, rosemary, garlic, nutmeg or red hot chili pepper.
The perfect match with Bolognese sauce is fresh homemade pasta like tagliatelle or pappardelle.
When serving pasta with Bolognese sauce, bring to the table grated Parmigiano cheese, so that your guests can sprinkle it over to taste.
Bolognese Sauce Recipe
- Prep Time:15 Min
- Cook Time: 2 Hr 20 Min
- 300 g (10 oz) of coarsely ground beef
- 150 g (5 oz) of sliced pancetta
- 300 g (10 oz = 1 1⁄4 cup) of tomato passata or crashed peeled tomato
- 50 g (1,70 oz) of carrot (1 small carrot)
- 50 g (1,70 oz) of onion (1 small onion)
- 100 ml (1⁄2 cup) of dry white wine
- 50 g (1,70 oz) of celery (1 celery stalk)
- 100 ml (1⁄2 cup) of whole milk
- 300 ml (1 1⁄2cup) of meat stock
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 100 ml (1⁄2 cup) of fresh 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. The more the better. Set aside.
Step 2) -Now cut the pancetta into cubes and then as finely as possible with a sharp knife. The pancetta fats may make it difficult to cut with a knife. In this case, chop it with a food processor for 1 minute.
Step 3) – Place the minced pancetta in a saucepan with sides about 20 cm (7/8 inch) high and thick bottom. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon from time to time.
Step 4) – Add the extra virgin olive oil and the finely chopped vegetables.
Step 5) – Stir and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Now 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. Be very careful! In this case, add a little meat stock 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 cream if it is to season dry pasta. For tagliatelle, pappardelle and other fresh pasta its use is to be excluded.
Cook fresh pasta – tagliatelle, tagliolini or pappardelle – in plenty of salted water and drain when al dente. Season with Bolognese sauce and add grated Parmigiano cheese to taste.
How to store Bolognese sauce
You can make bolognese sauce ahead of time and heat it when needed. You can 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 keep it in the freezer for 3 months.
What Meat for Bolognese Sauce?
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 and 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 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 component that allows it to endure long cooking. If you use it to season pasta, it’s better to grind it only once, so that the sauce has a coarser grain. On the contrary, if you want to use Bolognese sauce for lasagna Bolognese, grind it twice.
The authentic bolognese sauce recipe includes pork, in addition to beef, in particular pancetta. Pancetta must be finely chopped, either with a very sharp knife or with a food processor. If you can’t find the pancetta, you can replace it with ground pork. Many in Italy use pork sausage.
Tomato Passata or Peeled Tomato?
Bolognese sauce should not be too “red”, so the amount of tomato must always be less than that of the meat. 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, acidic varieties of tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or too watery ones, such as vine tomatoes, should be avoided. 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 even use San Marzano peeled perini tomatoes, as long as they are chashed with a fork before being added 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.
IMPORTANT: don’t add too much tomato. Add only what is needed, which must be less than the weight of the two minced meats, as suggested in the ingredients. 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 it was added, only what was needed was added to not unbalance the already tested flavors.
Wine … how much and which to choose?
Not much wine is needed: for 500 g (1.1 lb) of minced meat, a small glass (about 100/150 ml) is enough. A good dry white wine is fine, but traditionally we recommend Sangiovese di Romagna. Whatever the wine you choose, it’s essential that it’s of good quality because its aromas enrich the Bolognese sauce with flavor.
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 recipe was taken up by the French Gauls, who used it as a sauce to spread on croutons. Also in France it is 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 who, at the end of the eighteenth century, was in the service of bishops and cardinals. He is said to have been the first to cook a sauce similar to the one we know today (with well-melted lard, butter, onion, veal or pork loin) and to serve it with a plate of “maccheroni” (a name that in the past designated every pasta shape eaten dry).
In any case, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Bolognese sauce made its appearance in some Emilia Romagna cookbooks and has been synonymous with a festive dish ever since.
On October 17, 1982, the Bolognese sauce recipe was deposited by the Bologna Delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine 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).