Bolognese, known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese, ragù bolognese, or simply ragù is a meat-based sauce in Italian cuisine, commonly associated with the city of Bologna. But contrary to popular belief, Bolognese has no definitive tie to the city of Bologna, in northern Italy. Food historians typically agree that the dish originated in Imola, a city that sits just west of Bologna, and is home to the earliest documented ragù sauce, dating from the end of the 18th century.
For those unfamiliar, Bolognese is a slowly cooked sauce, and its preparation involves several techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. Ingredients include a characteristic onion, celery and carrot, finely chopped beef, often alongside small amounts of pork or sausage. White wine, milk, and a small amount of tomato pasta and or tomatoes are added, and gently simmered to produce a thick flavor sauce.
What’s the Difference Between Spaghetti Sauce and Bolognese?
Is there a difference between spaghetti sauce and Bolognese sauce? To be honest, they look and smell the same, but the taste is remarkably different.
- Marinara or Spaghetti sauce is, in its simplest form, a tomato sauce, often with herbs and veggies like carrots and onion.
- Bolognese sauce is a meat based sauce. Although Bolognese has tomato in it for flavor, the main components that make up the sauce is meat and the other liquids such as stock, wine and milk.
My older son asked me to make Bolognese for him after he fell in love with it while our family was traveling in Italy a few years ago. As a kid, I also loved Bolognese, but had forgotten about it over the years especially since I stopped eating as much pasta. I perfected my Bolognese recipe during the the first few months of the COVID lockdown and it has quickly become a staple in my family meal repertoire.
In my recipe I use a combination of ground beef and ground pork sausage which I feels gives it the most authentic Italian taste that I remember from my trips to Italy. There are several techniques used in making this sauce properly, but nothing that is overly difficult, just slightly more time consuming. The truth is, you can’t rush a great Bolognese sauce, time is needed. Some things like rich flavor, you just can’t rush. I once read “a good bolognese can kindle a feeling of comfort and evoke memories”, I totally believe that now.
My boys like my Bolognese sauce served more untraditionally over a thinner pasta like spaghetti, many people would be appalled. More commonly you see this famous sauce served with a heartier pasta such as tagleatellie. My husband and I eat it over zucchini zoodles to cut down on the carb intake, so honestly, anything goes.
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 small carrot, peeled, chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork sausage
- Kosher salt
- 3/4-1 cup dry white wine
- 1 (4-ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 (28-ounce can) diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leafs
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 2 cups chicken stock, more if needed
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 lb. spaghetti or zucchini zoodles
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan (optional)
- Step 1 In the bowl of a kitchen mixer, such as a Cuisinart fitted with a blade attachment, add the onion, celery, and carrot and pulse on/off until finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl and place near your work station.
- Step 2 Place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, but not smoking, add the ground beef and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is lightly browned, about 6–8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to a medium bowl.
- Step 3 Wipe out the pan and place back over medium heat. Add another tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pork is beginning to turn brown and slightly crisp, about 6–8 minutes. Add onion mixture to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and beginning to stick to surface, about 6–8 minutes.
- Step 4 Return the ground beef to the pan and add the wine. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, smashing down the meat with a wooden spoon, until wine is evaporated, surface of pot is almost dry, and meat is finely ground, 12–15 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, bay leafs, and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally and still pressing down on meat and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Step 5 Add the stock and milk, as well as another generous pinch of salt. Next, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, and cook for 2½ hours. Discard bay leafs. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as needed. An additional 1/2 cup of stock can be added if the sauce is looking too dry. Be careful not to add too much.
- Step 6 Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water per the package instructions.
- Step 7 To serve, spoon sauce over cooked pasta (or zoodles if using) and top with sauce and Parmesan. Serve hot.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin