We should have posted The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe last year after we returned from Italy, but better late than never!
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!
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.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the ground beef and Italian sausage in with the veggies and cook until browned.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
- Classic Pizza Sauce
- Classic Basil Pesto
- Veggie-Packed Marinara Sauce
- Easiest Beef Ragu
- Simple Cilantro Pesto
- Quick Spaghetti Sauce
- Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
- Creamy Avocado Pesto
- ALL OF OUR EASY PASTA RECIPES!
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The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe
- Le Creuset - 7.25 Quart
- 1 Tablespoons Butter
- 1 Tablespoon Olive oil
- 2 Carrots minced
- 2 Celery minced
- 1 red onion minced
- 6 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 lb ground beef higher fat
- 1 lb Italian sausage
- 2 cups of halved tomatoes
- 2 15 oz tomato sauce
- 1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
- 1/4 cup heavy cream *SEE NOTE
- 1/4 cup milk
- dash of cooking white wine *SEE NOTE
- Zest of 1 lemon
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- dash of nutmeg
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper 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.
- 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.