Traditional Bolognese Sauce

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This traditional Bolognese sauce starts with a base of tomatoes, onion, carrot, and celery. Brimming with Italian flavor, it’s delicious combined with a thick and hearty pasta. 

If you’ve never made your own homemade bolognese sauce before, you’ll want to try this simple recipe! It’s not complicated to put together and you’ll never want to go back to jarred pasta sauce again.

two white bowls of pasta with traditional bolognese sauce.

Authentic bolognese sauce

We love this recipe because this meat sauce is packed full of traditional Italian flavors. It simmers slowly to give it the perfect flavor combination with a light sweetness.

It makes a large batch which is great for meal prep or for serving our large family! I like to make this sauce and freeze some for a quick weeknight meal later on.

Tomato-based bolognese sauce also known as ragù alla bolognese is a traditional Italian recipe made from thin veal or beef cuts originating in Bologna, Italy. Sometimes it also contains ground pork or pancetta as well. We use the simplicity and ease of ground beef in this version.

two large bowls of pasta with bolognese sauce.

Ingredients

This sauce is one that comes together with very basic ingredients and one that is a must for the very best flavor!

Here’s what you’ll need for this ragu style sauce:

  • extra-virgin olive oil — use a high quality and authentic olive oil.
  • medium onion
  • garlic cloves
  • celery stalk
  • carrot
  • lean ground beef
  • (28-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P. <— I highly recommend that you use truly authentic San Marzano tomatoes simply because they taste amazing and really elevate the sauce.
  • salt
  • dried oregano
  • flat leaf Italian parsley <— you could substitute for fresh basil if desired.
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly grated Pecorino Romano <— can substitute for Parmigiano Reggiano, not the canned parmesan cheese.

Equipment needed:

  • cutting board & sharp knife — if you have the opportunity to invest in a nice chef’s knife, I would highly recommend doing so. It’ll save you effort in the kitchen and also prevent injuries due to dull blades.
  • dutch oven
  • wooden spoon
ingredients for the bolognese sauce laid out in small bowls

Instructions

This sauce comes together quickly and simmers to develop a tender and flavorful sauce.

Begin by heating up extra virgin olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot.

In a large skillet or large dutch oven, add extra-virgin olive oil, and heat over medium heat.

olive oil in a white dutch oven.
veggies added to the olive oil in the large dutch oven.
ground beef added to the dutch oven with veggies and olive oil.

Add the onions, celery, and carrot and sauté over medium heat until they become soft, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. 

Next, add in the ground beef to the pan with the vegetables. Sauté, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps and cook until meat is no longer pink. Spoon off excess grease. 

ground beef browned in the dutch oven with the veggies and a can of San Marzano tomatoes to the back.
pouring the can of San Marzano tomatoes inside of the dutch oven.
the San Marzano tomatoes in a dutch oven pot and combined with the veggies and browned ground beef.

Add the tomatoes, teaspoon salt, dried oregano and cook over medium low heat until the sauce thickens, about 30-40 minutes until thickened. Be sure to stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. 

If the sauce sticks to the bottom of the pot, it will burn.

The tomatoes should break up during the cooking time, but you can use your wooden spoon to break them up a little while it is simmering, if desired.

simmering the sauce in the dutch oven.
adding the pecorino cheese in to the dutch oven.
finished bolognese sauce in a dutch oven with a bowl of cooked pasta to the back.

Stir in the pecorino cheese.  Combine cooked pasta and top with additional Pecorino Romano and fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, if desired. 

pasta noodles added to the top of the bolognese sauce in a dutch oven.
fresh parsley herbs on top of the pasta and bolognese sauce.
two white bowls of pasta with bolognese sauce with pot of sauce to the side.

Serve combined with a thicker pasta like tagliatelle pasta, fettuccine, pappardelle, or penne. Or add it to the top of polenta for an extra delicious comfort food meal.

You can also use spaghetti noodles if that’s what you have on hand.

Cook the pasta to al dente or desired doneness, drain the water and stir into the bolognese sauce. And don’t forget to salt the pasta water!

white dutch oven with the finished traditional bolognese sauce over pasta noodles and and gray & white tea towel to the side.

How to store and reheat leftovers

If you have leftover bolognese sauce, store it in an airtight container in the fridge for about 4-5 days. To reheat: add the sauce to a skillet or large dutch oven and heat on the stovetop over medium heat until warmed through.

This sauce also freezes well. Store the finished sauce in a freezer bag or other freezer safe container and store for up to 4 months. Defrost, heat, and serve as usual.

More favorite pasta dishes

Here’s a few of our favorite pasta recipes that we think you’ll love too! They are family favorites and easy to make!

FAQ (frequently asked questions)

Is Bolognese authentic Italian?

Tomato-based Bolognese sauce also known as ragù alla bolognese is a traditional Italian recipe made from thin veal or beef cuts originating in Bologna, Italy. Sometimes it also contains ground pork or pancetta as well.

Is milk necessary in Bolognese?

Some home cooks use milk or heavy cream in their bolognese sauce to give it a little richness. In this version, we use a bit of pecorino cheese instead of milk or cream.

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large white bowl of pasta with Bolognese sauce.

Traditional Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese sauce is packed full of meaty & hearty Italian flavors. Pair it with your favorite thick pasta noodle for the ultimate comfort food dish.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Author Mary Woita
Servings 8
Calories: 165kcal

Ingredients

Instructions

  • In a large skillet or dutch oven, add extra-virgin olive oil, heat over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrot and sauté over medium heat until they become soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  • Add the ground beef to the pan with the veggies. Sauté, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps and cook until meat is no longer pink. Spoon off excess grease.
  • Add the tomatoes, teaspoon salt, dried oregano and cook over medium low heat until the sauce thickens, about 40-60 minutes until thickened. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot.  The tomatoes should break up during the cooking time, but you can use your wooden spoon to break them up a little while it is simmering. Stir in the pecorino cheese to the meat sauce. 
  • Cook pasta according to package instructions; don’t forget to salt the pasta water.
  • Combine cooked & drained pasta and top with additional Pecorino Romano and fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, if desired. 

Notes

Serve combined with thicker pasta like tagliatelle pasta, fettuccine, pappardelle, penne.

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