My all-time favorite Bolognese sauce recipe is slow-simmered with a rich tomato base, a delicious blend of beef and pork, and the coziest blend of garlicky seasonings. This recipe makes enough sauce to be paired with approximately 1 pound of uncooked pasta (see notes below).
- 4 ounces diced pancetta (or diced bacon)
- 1 medium white or yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 1 large rib celery, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 anchovy filets, roughly chopped*
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground mild Italian sausage*
- 1 cup dry red or white wine
- 1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano whole tomatoes, hand-crushed*
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme and/or rosemary
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1 cup whole milk*
- fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Cook the pancetta (or bacon). Add the pancetta to a large stockpot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly crispy. There should be about 1 to 2 tablespoons of grease that has rendered in the stockpot, but if not, add in a drizzle of olive oil to supplement.
- Sauté the veggies. Add the onion, carrot and celery to the stockpot and stir to combine. Sauté for about 7 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are softened. Add the garlic, anchovy filets and crushed red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Sauté for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.
- Brown the meat. Add the ground beef and Italian sausage and toss to combine with the veggies. Cook until the meat is completely browned, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks and flipping it only occasionally so that it can get a bit browned and crispy on the bottom.
- Deglaze the pan. Add the wine and use the wooden spoon to thoroughly scrape up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom or sides of the pan.
- Simmer. Add the San Marzano tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf and stir to thoroughly combine. Continue cooking until the sauce just barely reaches a simmer. Then reduce heat to low, cover the stockpot with a lid, and simmer anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. (I recommend at least a 2-hour simmer for optimum flavor.) Be sure to check on the sauce and give it a stir every 30 minutes or so to be sure that the bottom does not burn.
- Season. Remove and discard the thyme/rosemary sprigs and bay leaf. Add the milk and stir until combined. Give the sauce a taste and season with however much additional salt and pepper you believe it needs. (I typically add in at least a few teaspoons of salt and some generous cracks of black pepper.) If the sauce seems too thick, you can add in a bit of water (starchy pasta* water works best) to thin it out.
- Serve. Serve warm with pasta, gnocchi, roasted eggplant, or whatever sounds good (see notes below) and garnish with lots and lots of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Anchovies: You can either use two anchovy filets (from tins of anchovies packed in oil) or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste. Don’t worry, the filets chunks will dissolve into the sauce as it cooks, and they won’t make the sauce taste “fishy!” Rather, they work wonders to help to bring out the delicious umami flavor of the meat. If you don’t have anchovy filets or paste on hand, you can sub in 2 teaspoons of fish sauce. Or you can just leave this ingredient out altogether, if you prefer.
Sausage: I love the extra flavor that Italian sausage adds to this recipe. (You can use mild, sweet or hot Italian sausage, whichever you prefer.) Or alternately, you can just use plain ground pork instead of sausage. Or skip the pork and just use 2 pounds of ground beef.
Tomatoes: If you can, I recommend paying a bit extra for a can of San Marzano whole tomatoes imported from Italy, which add amazing flavor to the sauce. Or if you can’t find those, just buy a good-quality (large) can of whole tomatoes. Pour them out into a separate bowl before adding them to the sauce and use your hands to crush and break them into smaller pieces, then add them to the sauce.
Milk vs. cream: Bolognese is traditionally made with whole milk, but if you would like a richer sauce, feel free to add in 1/2 cup (or more) heavy cream or half and half instead of milk.
Pasta or gnocchi: You can serve this Bolognese sauce any number of ways. But if you are pairing it with pasta or gnocchi, I recommend boiling approximately 1 pound of (uncooked) pasta in a large stockpot of generously-salted water until it is just 1 minute shy of al dente. Then use tongs to transfer the pasta or gnocchi directly into the bolognese sauce, along with a ladle-full of starchy water (if needed to thin the sauce), and toss continuously until the pasta is al dente.
Storage instructions: Leftovers can be cooled to room temperature, then refrigerated in a sealed food storage container for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 4 months.