The Best Bolognese Sauce
For some reason, we’ve been doing more pasta recently. Maybe it’s the cooler fall weather. Or perhaps it’s just the call of carbs. Knowing my hubby and boys have an affinity for Pasta Bolognese, I opted to make a delish chunky version. The chunks of meat and tomatoes in the sauce feel substantial. The noodles definitely curb any carb crave.
If you’ve read a few of my previous posts, you already know I adore my Cooks Illustrated. The Test Kitchen does not skimp or mess around. Sure, I will pad around the kitchen attempting anything ranging from my dad’s home style grub to Thomas Keller’s creations. Yet Cooks Illustrated has a special space in my collection of recipes, because I know it’s gonna be good.
By the way, shall we pronounce the word bolognese just for fun? Try saying it with a robust Italian accent: bol-uh-NIEZ-ay. Like I said, super fun. Now, let’s cook.
Simmering Produces Deep, Complex Flavors
Take this classic Pasta Bolognese. Such amazingly deep, complex flavors! This is not to be mistaken for “red sauce with meat.” Oh, no. This is a delightful savory experience that comes only with the right ingredients and a patient simmering. Three hours of low simmering, to be precise. I think I even went a bit longer.
Plan to give this delectable sauce plenty of simmer time. No need to stand over the pot and babysit; just let it simmer while you go about your day. The weekend is a perfect time to make this dish. Let the sauce do its low-simmer thing. Dress it up or down, and it can go from casual family meal to dinner-guest material.
What kind of meat is best for Bolognese?
Our favorite choice of meat for the best bolognese sauce is fresh Italian pork sausage, no casings. If preferred, you can use 85% lean ground beef or a mixture of ground meats, such as a mixture of beef/pork/veal. We really prefer the ground sausage because it imparts a robust flavor into the sauce.
Make Bolognese Sauce Ahead of time
You’ll appreciate that bolognese sauce can be completely made ahead of time; in fact, if you make it the day before and let it sit overnight, the flavors marry together even better. This is one of those recipes that reheats superbly, making it a favorite choice for entertaining.
Bonus: this bolognese sauce freezes exceptionally well, just like our Homemade Spaghetti Sauce. Feel free to double the sauce and freeze half of it in an airtight container. Then, on a busy weeknight, all you have to do is boil some pasta and defrost your Bolognese sauce. There’s your meal prep for part of the week. You and your eaters will thank you.
Try this One-Pot Gnocchi with Chicken, Too:
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The Best Bolognese Sauce
- 5 TB salted butter
- 3 TB finely chopped onion
- 3 TB minced carrots
- 3 TB minced celery
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 12 ounces ground meat, Italian sausage recommended, casings removed
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup Italian red wine, such as Sangiovese
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, with juices reserved and tomatoes chopped fine
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 lb uncooked pasta of your choice
- freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
- Melt 3 Tb butter in Dutch oven or a heavy large pot, over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook 5-7 minutes until softened.
- If using unseasoned ground meat, mix about 1/2 tsp salt into meat before adding it to the pot. Add meat to pot and cook, breaking up large pieces of ground meat with wooden spoon, until cooked through.
- Stir in whole milk. Bring to simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Stir in wine, bring back to simmer, and cook another 10-15 minutes.
- Stir in chopped tomatoes, tomato juices, and bay leaves. Bring to simmer again. Once it is back to a good simmer, reduce heat even lower so that sauce is just barely simmering, with occasional bubble or two at surface. Let sauce barely simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours. Stir only occasionally.
- Once sauce finishes simmering, it should appear visibly reduced. At this point, skim excess oil off the top of sauce. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Bring generously-salted water to boil in a large pot. Cook pasta until al dente, and reserve 1/2 cup or more of the pasta water. Drain rest of the water and return pasta to the pot. Add Bolognese sauce and the remaining 2 TB of butter to the pasta, tossing to combine. Add some pasta water as needed for saucier consistency. Serve warm, with freshly shredded Parmesan.