Rich and Meaty: The Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe Ever
I love pasta bolognese. I find the rich, meaty sauce over noodles so incredibly comforting.
I think some people believe that because I’m a registered dietitian, I’m going to make recipes like this bolognese with turkey or another really lean meat. Not a chance. I believe in enjoying your food, not ‘healthifying’ everything.
I used to make bolognese a completely different way, using lots of canned tomatoes. It was good, but it was never meaty and rich enough for me. Then, I discovered Anne Burrell’s bolognese recipe, and I finally learned the secret to a great bolognese: skip the canned tomatoes altogether.
Over time, as I do with most recipes, I’ve tweaked Burrell’s recipe so that it’s more mine than hers, although hers remains the inspiration.
Here are the differences between the two bolognese recipes:
Hers contains celery, mine doesn’t. I hate celery, and I don’t want its flavour in my sauce. If you like celery or have some on hand that you want to get rid of, feel free to add it with the carrots.
Mine skips the pureeing of the carrots, onions, and garlic. I don’t think it’s necessary unless you absolutely hate bits of carrot in your sauce. I just dice them small.
Hers has only beef, mine has beef and pork. Beef is great, but I also like a porky flavour in my bolognese, so I use a 1:1 ratio. My bolognese recipe also contains an extra pound of meat over hers.
Mine has more wine and more tomato paste. The wine and tomato paste flavors were exactly what my old bolognese recipe was missing. Red wine gives a complex, tannic flavour like nothing else. The tomato paste – versus whole tomatoes – yields a concentrated tomato flavour without all the water. I bumped the tomato paste amount up because I want richness.
This recipe makes a large pot of sauce, which is great, because it freezes like a dream. I usually pack two portions into each container and freeze them. It’s easy to pop into the microwave while the pasta is boiling, and dinner is ready in 20 minutes.
Actually, we’re living at a rental now, and a lot of my kitchenware is packed. Along with that, the stove in the rental is an induction stove, meaning that a lot of the pots and pans that I DO have with me, don’t work. So frustrating. But, it doesn’t stop me from making this bolognese recipe! I just do it in my largest cast iron pan, which is the only vessel that I have that’s big enough to hold this much sauce. It does a great job.
I know it’s time to make more bolognese sauce when I use up my last container of it from the freezer. It’s a must-have in our house.
A few notes:
Mincing garlic is tedious. If you have a microplane zester or similar, microplane your garlic instead of using a knife. The garlic comes through the microplane finely cut, which compared to my horrible mincing job, helps to distribute the garlic evenly through the dish. It’s also 1000X easier than mincing.
You might want to skim the fat off of this bolognese once it’s done. That’s fine, but do leave some fat in there. Fat gives the sauce richness and flavor.
No matter what you use to tie the thyme together before you throw it into the sauce, invariably a couple sprigs will escape. No worries, just pick them out before serving. Same with the bay leaves – get rid of them before dishing the sauce out.
I recommend eating this bolognese with grated Romano cheese versus Parmesan. That’s my personal preference, although it’s great no matter which cheese you use. Romano is creamier and packs a bigger flavour punch, and I feel that it takes the dish to the next level.
I have to put a little plug in here about good pasta. And by ‘good,’ I mean pasta that has been extruded through a bronze die. It sometimes feels like a waste of money to spend a couple more bucks on this sort of thing, and sometimes I don’t, but for a sauce like this, I think it’s worth it.
When the pasta is made with a bronze die, it has tiny ridges in it, which catch sauce. Artisanal pasta also tends to be thicker, with a satisfying bite. If you’re Canadian, President’s Choice Black Label does a good one, and so does Longo’s store brand in the Greater Toronto Area.
Rummo, La Molisana, and Rusticella D’Abruzzo are two great ones that are available in the US as well.
Also: salt your pasta water liberally, and please don’t overcook your pasta! It should have a little chew.
Note that the amount of tomato paste in the recipe is 24-26oz. That’s because in Canada, tomato paste comes in 13oz cans, and in the US, it comes in 12oz cans. The 2oz difference can either be disregarded or, made up with more paste (buy the tubes of tomato paste, they’re great for this purpose).
This easy bolognese recipe is the best bolognese you'll ever try!
- 2 medium yellow onions peeled and diced
- 3 large carrots diced (no need to peel them)
- 5 garlic cloves minced or microplaned
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 2 pounds lean ground pork
- 24-26 oz of tomato paste
- 1 bottle bold red wine
- Bunch of fresh thyme tied with twine
- 3 bay leaves
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lb pasta I prefer a short pasta with this recipe, but you do you
- Romano or Parmesan cheese
In a large pot on medium heat, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and add the onions, garlic, and carrots. Add a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for around 15 minutes, until slightly browned.
Add the meat to the pot, breaking it up into small chunks with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Cook meat and vegetables together until meat is browned and/or cooked through. If there’s a lot of liquid in the pot, the meat may not brown easily. That’s fine.
Fold tomato paste into the beef mixture and cook for another 5 minutes, continuing to incorporate into the other ingredients.
Add the red wine, thyme, and bay leaves to the pot, plus two cups of water.
Simmer the bolognese until liquid boils down by around 1/3 - around 45 minutes - then add two more cups of water. Taste the sauce frequently, seasoning with salt and pepper as desired.
Simmer until sauce is rich and thick, then remove from heat. Remember that the sauce will thicken more when it cools.
While sauce is simmering around 20 minutes after the second water addition, set the pasta on to boil. Reserve 1/3 cup pasta water at end of cooking.
Drain cooked pasta and return to pot. Ladle desired amount of bolognese over pasta, add pasta water, and cook over medium heat until water is reduced.
Serve with cheese and olive oil, if you want.