Bolognese is one of the best classic Italian recipes and it’s easy to tell why. Its flavor is comforting, hearty and delicious – especially when there’s an Autumn chill in the air. But truth be told, we love it all year round! Pappardelle pasta is used in the pics, but any broad, substantial noodle would make a fine match for this sauce. This recipe provides full process shots and step by step instructions on the authentic Bolognese recipe adapted from the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.
I believe that most recipes can be improved, but in this case, going with the classic is probably the best course. Much like Authentic Spaghetti Carbonara, the classic version of this recipe is perfection. We will give some suggestions, substitutions, and additions to this recipe, but don’t recommend straying too far from the traditional Bolognese recipe.
What Is Bolognese (Ragù Alla Bolognese)
Bolognese is a hearty ragu with minced beef or pork, pancetta and a bit of tomato, onions, carrot, and celery. White or red wine can be used. Milk is used for fresh pasta, and cream can be added to the sauce if using dried pasta. Fun fact: Bolognese was officially registered in Bologna, Italy in 1982 to preserve the recipe and culinary heritage of the classic, so everyone has the info to make it perfectly!
Of course, many cooks make slight variations to Bolognese. I myself have tweaked it by adding beef broth to the sauce. I find it only makes it better and accentuates the beefy, meat flavored ragu. The original recipe does not add beef broth, so keep that in mind if you want to keep it 100% legit.
So make it your own but don’t go nuts with variations. Hold the herbs, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup or lemon peel😅
White bolognese can be made without the tomato. It’s equally delicious and a nice change of pace. In fact, this sauce is light on tomato with meat being the predominant flavor. You can tell by the orange color of the sauce, so departing from tomato entirely would not be a problem at all. In fact, you might like it better that way! For now, let’s make the original.
Getting The Right Pasta Shape
The shape and size of the pasta is really important when considering the heft of this sauce. Strong flat noodles are always a good match.
Fresh tagliatelle Bolognese is heavenly! If you are in the fresh pasta making-mood or can find some at your local market, pick it up. Other broad pasta noodles such as pappardelle or fettuccine are excellent with this sauce. A big rigatoni or even better, paccheri, are equally great choices. If you like paccheri check out this delicious Paccheri Recipe With Italian Sausage And Beans.
If you’re feeling adventurous make lasagna Bolognese. We just had an amazing one at Orto, which is one of our favorite Italian restaurants here in New York.
In a pinch, spaghetti can be used but the ragu is so heavy that it tends to weigh it down. In general thin pasta types are not the best choice for heartier ragus.
Importance Of Pancetta
Pancetta is cured, unsmoked pork belly and is an important ingredient in authentic Bolognese. The one in the above pic is called pancetta tesa (flat instead of rolled) and was purchased in the large Italian supermarket, Uncle Giuseppe’s. If you have access to Italian specialty stores, buy whole pancetta at the deli counter and ask for it cut a ¼″ thick. Dice that up into nice sized chunks for added texture and flavor.
Depending on where you live in the country, pancetta might be hard to find. An option if you can’t find pancetta would be thick bacon, preferably not smoked or of a mild flavor.
How To Make Authentic Bolognese
Each numbered pic corresponds to the numbered written instructions below.
- Begin by cubing a ½ pound of pancetta into smallish pieces like shown. Also, finely chop 1 celery rib, 1 medium onion, and 1 medium carrot.
- In a large dutch oven or heavy stockpot saute the pancetta over medium-low heat in 2 Tbsp of olive oil to start the fat rendering process.
- Let the pancetta cook for 5 minutes or so to release its fat, then add in the chopped carrot, celery, and onion. Let the veggies cook for about 10 minutes in the pancetta fat until translucent and soft.
- Add in 1.5 pounds of ground 80/20 chuck beef. Turn heat to medium and break the ground beef into small pieces with a wooden spoon. This should take about 10-15 minutes.
- Next, add in ¾ cup of dry white wine (Pinto Grigio) and let the wine cook out completely for about 10 minutes.
- Add in one 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes that have been pulsed in a blender for 2-3 seconds. Also, add in 1 cup of low sodium beef stock.
- Stir it all together. The sauce will be loose at this point.
- Cover the pot, turn heat to low and let it cook. Check every so often for sticking or too much evaporation. If needed, add a bit of water (½-1 cup) to ensure no burning. Let the sauce simmer slowly for at least 2 hours.
- After 2 hours check it out. You will see a lot of the delicious beef and pancetta fat on top – you want that. Don’t remove it. Trust me. Give it a stir and add the ½ cup of milk. If using dried pasta also add in a ¼ cup of heavy cream.
- Let the milk and cream cook for about 15-30 minutes more. If the ragu is too thin just simmer for a little bit longer to thicken. Taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- To finish add a couple of ladles of the sauce to a pan and turn the heat to medium-low.
- Add in the drained ‘al dente’ pasta and cook for 1-2 minutes thoroughly coating the pasta with the sauce. Add more sauce as required. Bring to the table and serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the extra sauce. Any extra sauce can be saved or used for bread dipping.
Important Tip – If you make this recipe the day before and just reheat the next day it will be even better! The flavors meld together so much better with a day or 2 in the fridge. Guess what restaurants do? They sure as heck aren’t making this to order! By placing it in the fridge after the initial long cooking time you now have a quick weeknight Bolognese at a moment’s notice. Just reheat the ragu, boil your pasta, sauce it and you’re done!
What Type Of Sides Go With Pappardelle Bolognese
To cut the heaviness of this classic, a green salad is probably more than enough. No ‘primi’ needed for this dish. By the way, if you peruse all of our Pasta Recipes, you will notice no ‘primi’ course or categories based on how it’s done in Italy. I think it’s best for the majority of the readers of this blog if we keep the American terms of main course, appetizer, etc, but feel free to have a small portion of this hearty pasta. I lack that type of willpower😅
If you must have sides, both of these sauteed veggies would be a good choice:
Substitutions And Additions
- Wine – White wine (Pinot Grigio) was used but red can absolutely be used as well. A dry white or red is perfect. Definitely skip the cooking wines in the supermarket, and cook with wine you would like to drink.
- Nutmeg and cinnamon – Gives a wonderful flavor that I’m particularly fond of, especially in the Fall. Go easy with these spices as they can overpower quickly. My best advice, take a ladle of the ragu with a touch of nutmeg and/or cinnamon to see if you like it.
- Dark Chocolate – Shaved dark chocolate, as a finish, is a nice touch and adds some luxury to the dish. Again, go slow and taste as you go.
- Porcini mushrooms – A worthy addition that in my opinion only makes it better.
In this pic I used spaghetti – not the best choice, I prefer papardelle or tagliatelle, but still delicious!
- Serving – Makes 4 large portions or 6 smaller sized ones.
- Sauce – Saucing the pasta in the pan is optional, but preferred, as the sauce tends to slide off otherwise.
- Salt – The pancetta and beef stock add a lot of sodium already, but adjust to taste prior to saucing.
- Overnight Tip – Cooking the sauce the day before adds a tremendous amount of flavor upon reheating the next day.
- Pasta shape – Flat wide noodles such as pappardelle, fettuccine, and tagliatelle work best with the heavy ragu.
- Milk/Cream – When using fresh pasta only milk is needed. For dry use the extra ¼ cup of cream.
- Freezing – The sauce can be frozen for up to 6 months and just needs to be thawed and reheated on the stove-top.
Want More Ultra Comforting Pastas
- Creamy Italian Sausage Pasta
- Authentic Italian Meatballs And Sunday Sauce Recipe
- Bucatini Cacio E Pepe
- Rigatoni Alla Norma
- Creamy Garlic Mushroom Pasta
- Rigatoni Alla Vodka
Don’t forget to check out our Pappardelle Bolognese web story!
If you’ve enjoyed this Authentic Pappardelle Bolognese Recipe or any recipe on this site please let us know in the comments. We would love to hear how you did and it’s nice to show others as well. Thanks!
- 1 pound pappardelle or tagliatelle
- ½ pound pancetta
- 1 large celery rib
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 medium onion
- 1 ½ pounds ground 80/20 chuck
- 1 28 ounce can plum tomatoes
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup low sodium beef stock
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- Cube the pancetta and dice celery, carrots and onion into small pieces. Pulse the whole tomatoes in a blender for a couple of seconds.
- Saute the pancetta on medium-low heat for 5 minutes, then add in the veggies and continue to cook for 10 more minutes until they are translucent and soft.
- Turn heat to medium and add the ground beef to the pot. Use a wooden spoon to break the meat into small pieces. After the meat has browned and cooked through add ¾ cup of white wine and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge all the flavor bits.
- Cook the wine out for 10 minutes, then add the 1 cup of low sodium beef stock and all the crushed plum tomatoes. Stir it all together, turn heat to low, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and let cook for a minimum of 2 hours.
- Every 20 minutes or so check that the sauce is not drying out and sticking to the bottom of the pot. If so, add in a half to 1 cup of water and stir to combine.
- After 2 hours the fat from the meat and the pancetta will float to the top and the ragu will have thickened somewhat. Stir to combine then add the milk and optional cream. Stir and cook at a simmer for 15-30 minutes more.
- If the sauce is not thick enough continue to cook for another 20-30 minutes before saucing the pasta. Prior to saucing, taste test and adjust salt and pepper if required.
- To sauce the pasta add a few ladles of the bolognese sauce to a pan over medium-low heat, then add in the 'al dente' pasta and cook for 1-2 minutes so that the pasta can absorb the sauce. Add extra sauce as required and serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Enjoy!
- Serving - Makes 4 large portions or 6 smaller sized ones.
- Sauce - Saucing the pasta in the pan is optional, but preferred, as the sauce tends to slide off otherwise.
- Salt - The pancetta and beef stock add a lot of sodium already, but adjust to taste prior to saucing.
- Overnight Tip - Cooking the sauce the day before adds a tremendous amount of flavor upon reheating the next day.
- Pasta shape - Flat wide noodles such as pappardelle, fettuccine and tagliatelle work best with the heavy ragu.
- Milk/Cream - When using fresh pasta only milk is needed. For dry use the extra ¼ cup of cream.
- Freezing - Bolognese sauce can be frozen for up to 6 months and just needs to thawed and reheated on the stove-top.