Ragù alla Bolognese is a traditional Italian meat-based sauce. As the name suggests, it originates in one of the capitals of Italian cuisine, Bologna, where they simply call it “ragù.” This hearty and flavorful sauce is often served with fresh egg pasta, and is the foundation of a classic Lasagna alla Bolognese.
Making the perfect ragù requires patience, but the end result is worth the wait! This recipe will guide you through the steps to create a delicious and authentic Ragù alla Bolognese that your friends and family are sure to love.
Is There Tomato in Ragù alla Bolognese?
What many people outside of Italy don’t realize is that early recipes for ragù alla Bolognese feature very little, if any, tomatoes! The first written recipe was published by Pellegrino Artusi in 1891. His version uses veal, pancetta, butter, onion, carrot, celery, flour, broth, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese—hardly a tomato-based sauce!
Even today, it’s common for ragù in Bologna to be cooked without any tomato passata, adding only a small amount of tomato paste. In these cases, the ragù resembles a seasoned meat mince and less of a “sauce,” as most of us would recognize.
All that being said, it’s becoming more and more common (even in Bologna) for tomato passata to be added into ragù alla Bolognese, especially when using the sauce to make lasagna (where some extra moisture is very useful). In light of this evolution, our recipe reflects the more modern, versatile approach. This ragù will cook the perfect lasagna, but is still amazing simply served with fresh pasta!
UPDATE! In April 2023, l'Accademia Italiana della Cucina officially updated the accepted Ragù alla Bolognese. It is now perfectly in line with our preferences and this recipe. We're thrilled to have been on the cutting edge.
How to Serve Ragù alla Bolognese
Certainly not with spaghetti! We know that “spaghetti Bolognese” is considered a classic in America and elsewhere, but no one in Bologna would ever consider serving their beloved ragù with spaghetti, and for good reason. Thin, delicate spaghetti is simply not a good pasta shape for a heavy ragù alla Bolognese. Interestingly, though, there is a dish in Bologna called “Spaghetti alla Bolognese” but it’s quite a different sauce altogether!
By far, the best choice of pasta for ragù alla Bolognese is fresh egg pasta—specifically tagliatelle. The wide ribbons are more accommodating for the meat mince than spaghetti. Furthermore, the unique taste and texture of egg pasta pairs much better (in general) with hearty meat sauces than dry, semolina pasta. Egg fresh pasta is simpler to make than you might think! Try making some fresh tagliatelle for this ragù and, trust us, you’ll never go back to spaghetti.
Bolognese ragù is also a primary building block of the most classic Italian lasagna!
Which Kind of Meat to Use for Ragù?
Pancetta (or bacon) is a must for getting authentic flavor! For the ground meat, we recommend a mix of beef and pork as a good starting place, but feel free to branch out and give veal a try it you’re interested.
You will definitely need fattier meats, though. Forget about chicken or turkey, they simply won’t work.
Should I Add Cream or Milk to Bolognese Ragù?
In the early days of ragù alla Bolognese, dairy was almost always added to the sauce. The reason, however, wasn’t just about taste and flavor. At the time, the meat which was available tended to be much tougher than what we’re used to today. To help tenderize the meat, milk was added into the sauce.
With the excellent selection of meat available to most of us in the 21st century, dairy has become a completely unnecessary ingredient in ragù. In fact, the only thing it will do is dull the extraordinary flavors you’ve worked so hard on! We highly recommend skipping it entirely.
White or Red Wine?
Contrary to popular belief, red wine isn’t a must! In fact, a lot of traditional ragù recipes call for white instead of red. You can really use either. Just be aware that red wine will darken the meat, a purely aesthetic effect which you may (or may not) care about.
How to Save and Store Ragù alla Bolognese
You can make it in advance and keep it in the fridge for a few days, but it’s also a great sauce to make a big batch of and freeze in convenient portions. We recommend freezing ragù alla Bolognese sauce in plastic ziplock freezer bags which you can flatten first. This increases the surface area and greatly reduces thawing time.
Simply reheat it on the stove and you’re halfway to an amazing dinner!
RAGÙ ALLA BOLOGNESE RECIPE
Makes: About 5 cups (a little over a liter)
Cook Time: 3-4 hours
For this recipe, you will need:
5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 large carrot, diced
1/4 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 slices (20g) of bacon (or pancetta, if you can find it), diced
1 lb. (450g) ground beef
1 lb. (450g) ground pork
Fresh black pepper
1 cup (235ml) white or red wine
2 tbsp. tomato paste
28 oz. (800g) canned whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
Large pot (Dutch Oven or terracotta preferred)
In a large pot (preferably a heavy Dutch Oven or terracotta pot) over medium heat, add the carrot, celery, onion, and olive oil. Sauté for 5-7 minutes until the onion becomes tender and slightly transparent. Then, stir in the diced bacon and continue cooking for another 3 minutes.
Next, add the ground beef and pork to the pot. Break it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon while cooking until it is no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Add a pinch of nutmeg and a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.
You may notice that a lot of water is released depending on the type of meat you use. Let the excess liquid burn off by bringing the mixture to a brisk simmer and stirring frequently (about 5-10 minutes).
Add the wine to the pot and bring the ragù to a simmer. Let it cook until the smell of alcohol dissipates (about 5-10 minutes), then stir in the tomato paste. Continue simmering for 3 minutes before adding crushed tomatoes and 1/2 cup water. Season with salt.
Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and partially cover the pot. Stir and check the ragù occasionally, every 10 minutes or so. Cook for at least 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or longer for extra flavor-building. The finished ragù should resemble a thick chili. If it becomes too thick at any point, simply add warm water to thin it.
Taste the ragù as it nears completion and add salt as needed.