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The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce [+ Video]

283 Reviews

We should have posted The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe last year after we returned from Italy, but better late than never!

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background

We took a cooking class in Italy and I have to be honest with you, it was not our favorite. The food ended up really yummy, but the instruction was horrible. It was basically the chef flying through things himself, giving basic instruction, never letting the class join in until the very end for some quick pasta making, and at that point I was super over it.

Until he taught us the secret to authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce and we got to try it. I wanted to bathe in it. Cade already was. Ok, he wasn’t but I’m telling you, it was wonderful.

I can already read your mind, you’re wondering why we are so excited about spaghetti sauce, aren’t you? We actually aren’t, and I’m going to start at the very beginning, take you through the process and ingredients and then tell you the secret.

And no, it’s not cheese. Or fresh herbs. Ohhhhhh, thought you guessed it, didn’t you!

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce

What’s the Difference Between Spaghetti Sauce and Bolognese?

Is there a difference between spaghetti sauce and Bolognese sauce? They look and smell the same, but think about it, do they taste the same? In order to really break it down, we need to call spaghetti sauce by what it is more commonly known as, marinara sauce.

What is Marinara Sauce?

Marinara sauce is, at its simplest form, a tomato sauce, often with herbs and veggies like carrots and onion.

What is Bolognese?

Bolognese is primarily a meat based sauce, originating in Bologna, Italy. Bolognese has just a bit of tomato for flavor, while the rest is meat and the other liquids are generally wine and milk.

What Dishes Use Bolognese Sauce?

Bolognese is used on pasta or in lasagna. Ahhh now, you’re thinking about that meaty sauce, aren’t you?

Are Ragu and Bolognese the Same Thing?

The real answer is that they are different, but to be honest, other than the fact that one usually has a little less tomatoes and uses white versus red wine, I really don’t think they are all that different. We don’t drink alcohol, so it usually gets skipped in our recipes or a cooking wine is used, as in alcohol-free cooking wine. Sounds like we’d better go back to Italy and do some more investigating.

What’s in Bolognese Sauce?

For this authentic bolognese sauce recipe, you’ll need butter, olive oil, veggies (including both fresh and canned tomatoes), tomato sauce, ground beef and Italian sausage, heavy cream, milk, cooking white wine, herbs and spices, and our secret ingredient. More on that last ingredient in a bit! 

For the best bolognese recipe, I highly recommend buying the exact ingredients called for in the recipe card below. We’ve tested this recipe over and over again, and these precise ingredients make for the world’s best spaghetti bolognese. 

What Kind of Meat do You Use in Bolognese Sauce?

Traditionally, Italian Bolognese sauce is made with minced beef or pork. We really like the combination of beef and sausage as it’s a little more tricky to find all of the ground meats and make your own mixture like they did in Italy.

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce

How to Make Bolognese Sauce 

You may be surprised to learn that the toughest part about making authentic bolognese sauce is having the patience to let the sauce simmer for a few hours. No really, that’s the hardest part! 

  1. To make this Italian bolognese sauce, you first need to roast the fresh tomatoes. Once they’ve come out of the oven and have had time to cool a bit, blitz them up in a food processor to make tomato sauce. 
  2. Then, sauté diced carrots, onion, and celery in a little butter and olive oil. Add the garlic to the pan and continue cooking until tender. 
  3. Add the ground beef and Italian sausage in with the veggies and cook until browned.
  4. Once the meat has had time to brown, stir in the remaining ingredients and let the homemade bolognese sauce simmer for at least two hours, but up to an entire afternoon. 

If serving over pasta, keep reading to see our suggestions for which noodle shape you should buy. 

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce

The Best Pasta for Bolognese Sauce

This really shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it kind of is. The type of pasta you buy should match the sauce and recipe you’re making. For example, can you imagine eating macaroni and cheese with spaghetti noodles? Or Alfredo with macaroni noodles? It just feels wrong doesn’t it?

When you get into the red sauces, it seems like you can really mix up the pasta shapes, and that’s true, but really pasta recipes are best when you use a certain shape. It helps to catch the sauce in the right way and the flavor and texture should work together and not against each other.

Have you ever had penne with a really delicate sauce and felt like all you could taste was that hardy noodle? Point proven

Our Least Favorite Pasta for Bolognese


Penne is our least favorite pasta to use for bolognese sauce. I find the texture too thick and heavy, and the noodle isn’t wide enough to really capture the sauce. However, I must mention that it’s a typical shape that people enjoy for Ragu sauces so don’t skip it just because of us.

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background

Our Favorite Pasta Shapes for Ragu 

These are our favorite pasta shapes for Ragu sauces (try to read each one without saying it in your best Italian accent, I triple dog dare you). We’ve listed the pasta shapes in order that we like to eat them with a ragu or bolognese sauce.


Papperdelle pasta is a wider, flat egg noodle that is perfect for bolognese. This is actually what we ate it with, but in picture I had to switch to fettuccini as we were all out. It’s a light noodle, but has plenty of surface area for the heart meat sauce to sit on.


Fettuccini is a more common pasta shape than pappardelle, but they are practically the same thing. The fettuccini noodle is just slightly smaller, but still has better surface area for the sauce than a spaghetti noodle. Fettuccini is a Roman or Tuscan style of pasta that is also easy to make on your own pasta machine as that’s usually the size of pasta maker you receive.


Rigatoni is often mistaken as Penne, but they are not created equal. Rigatoni are a tube-shaped pasta. They are larger than penne and ziti, and sometimes are a little curved. Rigatoni usually have ridges down their length, sometimes spiraling around the tube.


Spaghetti isn’t usually a go-to for Bolognese as the meat just falls off of the noodles, but in a pinch, that’s the one we would choose. It’s a thin, long noodle, though not as thin as angel hair pasta.

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce

Can Bolognese Sauce be Made in Advance?

Oh heck yes!! Not only can Bolognese be made in advance, it should be!

Why? Because bolognese gets even better with time, so start that baby in the morning and simmer it all day long. Or make it the night before and store in the fridge, then reheat the next night for maximum flavor!

Bolognese sauce can be made ahead and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.

Can You Freeze Spaghetti Sauce?

Alright, we try to always answer the “can you freeze it” questions in these posts as we know a lot of you work hard on freezer meals. So what’s the answer? Of course!!!

I adore freezing red sauces, while I never freeze a cream sauce. Red sauces only get better with time while a white sauce will separate and gain too much water. The trick is always the same, please, please invest in a Food Saver. You will thank me all the days of your life. It’s worth it. The end.

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background

Tips for the Best Bolognese Sauce

You’ve made it. This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for, what’s the secret to authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce?


We use the zest and just a squeeze of the juice in this traditional bolognese recipe. I know, you’re shocked, but it’s true. Try it and never look back. And no, you’re not going to taste the lemon at all.

Actually, there’s one more tip, use a red, not a white onion. It makes a difference, I promise.

You’ll also notice that other than the chopped parsley as garnish, and the bay leaves there aren’t herbs at all. Trust us, this is a meat sauce, not a marinara and you don’t need them.

Helpful Products for This Bolognese Recipe

  • A simple meat chopper — Only a few dollars and soooo worth it!
  • Le Creuset Dutch Oven — More than a few dollars, but worth the investment for durability and how your food cooks and tastes. Trust us. Put it on your Christmas list. 

Other Italian Sauce Recipes

Looking for more Italian Sauce recipes? Who doesn’t love Italian sauces!?  Make sure you try these out the next time you are making that Italian dish: 


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A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background

The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe

4.2 from 283 votes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 15
We should have posted The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe last year after we returned from Italy, but better late than never!



  • 1 tablespoons Butter
  • 1 tablespoon Olive oil
  • 2 Carrots minced
  • 2 Celery minced
  • 1 Onion red, minced
  • 6 cloves Garlic minced
  • 1 lb Ground Beef higher fat
  • 1 lb Italian Sausage
  • 2 cups Tomatoes halved
  • 2 cans Tomato Sauce 15 oz cans
  • 15 oz Tomatoes fire roasted
  • 1/4 cup Cream heavy *SEE NOTE
  • 1/4 cup Milk
  • 1 dash Cooking Wine white *SEE NOTE
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 squeeze Lemon Juice
  • 1 dash Nutmeg
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • Salt and Sepper to taste
  • Parmesan Cheese for serving


  • Heat an oven to 425 degrees.
  • Place 2 Cups of fresh tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil and salt.
  • Roast for 20 minutes or until soft and charred bits are appearing.
  • Remove the tomatoes and set aside.
  • Once cooled a little, blend the tomatoes in a blender to make a tomato sauce.
  • In a Dutch Oven , over medium high heat, add the butter and oil. Once melted, add the carrots, celery, and onion.
  • Saute, stirring occasionally until tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Add the ground beef and sausage and use a meat chopper (it's only $6 and worth every penny) to ground up the meat as it's cooking.
  • Once the meat is cooked, drain any excess grease, then start adding all other ingredients (i.e. tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, and cream).
  • Stir to combine and simmer for 2-3 hours or up to an entire afternoon.
  • Remove the bay leaves and serve with fresh pasta and fresh parmesan cheese.


You can use whole milk instead of the milk and cream You can use real white wine, we just don't drink so we don't have that. 😉
Can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Nutrition Facts
The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe
Amount Per Serving (1 g)
Calories 252 Calories from Fat 171
% Daily Value*
Fat 19g29%
Saturated Fat 7g44%
Cholesterol 52mg17%
Sodium 739mg32%
Potassium 636mg18%
Carbohydrates 9g3%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 12g24%
Vitamin A 2265IU45%
Vitamin C 15mg18%
Calcium 43mg4%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background

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About the authors

carrian feik cheney oh sweet basil

Cade and Carrian have three children and love to spend time together whether it’s vacationing or snuggled up on the couch for a good movie.

And this family especially loves to eat.

They love everything from the keep you fit and healthy to the get out your sweat pants indulgent and everything in between.

But most of all, they love the memories made, shared and treasured and it’s all thanks to a meal shared together with loved ones.

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Recipe Rating


  • Love this recipe. Had a dinner party and everyone absolutely loved it. Thank you for sharing your recipe.

    • Reply
    • Yay! Thank you so much Lisa! Love to hear this!

      • Reply
  • Hello, I’ve made this recipe a few times already and was about to make again. I can’t see anywhere about what kind of fresh tomatoes you recommend. I used to see it, but now I don’t. It was either Plum or Roma tomatoes. Can you give more info? I love this recipe. It’s the best.

    • Reply
    • Hi Joanne! I prefer garden tomatoes if I can get my hands on them. If not then, vine ripe tomatoes or romas work great. Thank you so much for the support!

      • Reply
  • Questa non è la ricetta del vero ragù alla bolognese
    Sono bolognese e non lo facciamo così, l’aglio non c’entra per niente
    Chi è lo ha insegnato non capisce un tubo

    • Reply
    • Ciao Ileana! Grazie mille per la tua opinione! Questa salsa è deliziosa! Abbiamo adorato il suggerimento che lo chef ci ha insegnato sull’aggiunta del limone! Ci piacerebbe conoscere la tua ricetta bolognese preferita!

      • Reply
  • Love this recipe! Homemade is so much better! 🥰🥰😋😋 oh and I love my meat chopper! ♥️♥️♥️

    • Reply
    • The meat chopper is a gift from heaven, right?! I’m so glad you enjoy this recipe and thank you so much for taking time to leave a comment!

      • Reply
  • Favorite dinner I have ever made, I can not recommend this recipe enough!

    • Reply
    • Yay! Thank you Audrey!

      • Reply
  • Hi I have a question I really love this recipe I was just curious I have some shredded beef instead of ground beef do you think I could use this exact recipe but use shredded beef instead of ground beef and slow cook it on simmer all day…? Or would it be a total different recipe…..

    • Reply
    • Yes, I think that would work great! The flavor will be a little different, but it will be great!

      • Reply
  • Cooking wine is the WORST thing you can put in a recipe. Sorry but you lost credibility right there.

    • Reply
  • This is not even close to a true Bolognese sauce. Why you use lemon, nutmeg and garlic? These are never used in Bolognese sauce. It might taste good but you have no right to insult my heritage by calling it a Bolognese sauce.

    • Reply
    • What part of Italy are you from? I’m sure there are differences. This is the recipe we learned from a chef in Florence. He says the lemon is the secret of florence bolognese sauces. 🙂 Maybe give it a try and see how you like it.

      • Reply
    • I made this and it was delicious!!!!

      • Reply
      • Thank you Chris!

  • What kind of tomatoes did you use?

    • Reply
    • Garden tomatoes if I can get my hands on them. If not then, vine ripe tomatoes or romas work great.

      • Reply
  • Ragù alla Bolognese
    As the official Bolognese recipe below specifies, authentic Bolognese is primarily a meat sauce that contains very little tomato, and there isn’t any garlic, no basil, no oregano, no parsley, no bay leaves, no rosemary, no thyme or sage, no anchovies, no fennel or star anise, no lemon zest, no cinnamon or nutmeg, no sugar, no peppers, no chili sauce or hot pepper flakes – none of the myriad ingredients that many people might use in their nouveau bolognese recipes today. A good Bolognese sauce also only takes a few hours to make
    10 ounces pancetta or unsmoked bacon (finely chopped)
    • 1 medium onion (4-oz), finely chopped
    • 1 large carrot (4-oz), finely chopped
    • 2 celery stalks (4-oz), finely chopped
    • 20 ounces ground beef (finely ground thin skirt, veal, or beef chuck)
    • 2 cups whole milk
    • 1 cup dry white or red wine2
    • 1 cup of beef broth
    • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of tomato paste
    • 2 tablespoons of cream
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

    • Reply
    • Thanks for sharing! Sounds delicious!

      • Reply

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