Bolognese Sauce

5 from 2 votes

This authentic bolognese sauce is an easy homemade option for your next pasta night, whether you’re making a quick spaghetti or family-sized lasagna. It’s a slow cooker recipe that gradually builds flavor with fresh vegetables, pancetta and sausage, and a palette of warm Italian seasonings.

overhead: cooking bolognese sauce in a slow cooker with fresh basil on top

The perfect bolognese sauce recipe is zesty but not overly acidic, thick but not heavy, and clings to each pasta noodle when you scoop up that next bite. This one hits all the right notes!

I’m using several spices and seasonings that I consider to be essential for authentic Mediterranean cooking and give my bolognese sauce a robust, unmistakeably Italian flavor:

  • Dried Bay Leaves
  • Fennel Seeds
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Dried Thyme
overhead: wooden spoon with my bolognese sauce recipe in a slow cooker with fresh basil on top

And it’s not a bolognese without meat, so I’m tripling down with rich and salty pancetta, savory Italian sausage, and lean ground beef. For a meatless option, try my creamy vodka sauce or classic marinara sauces — the latter of which is vegan-friendly as well.

Tip From Kevin

Pancetta or bacon?

Pancetta is an Italian cured pork belly, similar to bacon but not smoked. It’s often seasoned with salt, pepper, and sometimes other spices. It’s perfect in this traditional sauce, but bacon is a good substitute. Pancetta is typically used to add depth and savory flavor to various dishes, especially in Italian cuisine, where it enhances pasta, salads, and other recipes with its rich taste.

closeup: browning carrots, onion, celery, and pancetta in a skillet with a wooden spoon visible

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Spice Mix – In addition to black pepper and Italian spices, including bay leaves, fennel seeds, thyme, and red pepper flakes, I’m also including a pinch of cloves for sweetness and warmth.
  • Pancetta – This is the most authentically Italian choice, but bacon is just as delicious.
  • Ground Beef – Use lean beef. We’re adding the meat raw right to the slow cooker and won’t have the opportunity to drain off any excess grease. 
  • Italian Sausage – Make your bolognese sauce with either hot, sweet, or mild sausage per your own preferences. Remove the casings before using. 
  • Vegetables – Simmering fresh vegetables builds a robust flavor and aroma for the sauce. In this bolognese sauce recipe, I use:
  • Canned Whole Tomatoes The thick, flavorful tomatoes and juice build the base of the sauce. 
  • Tomato Paste – Use double-concentrated paste for an abundance of flavor. 
  • Red Wine – I recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot, or Pinot Noir. If you opt for a white, make sure it’s dry — Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio are both nice choices.
  • Red Wine Vinegar – White wine, apple cider, or balsamic vinegar are your best substitutes.
  • Whole Milk – The defining ingredient in this thick, rich bolognese sauce recipe! Heavy cream or half-and-half can be used for an even thicker, richer sauce.
overhead: stirring bolognese sauce in a slow cooker with fresh basil on top

How to Make Bolognese Sauce

  1. Blend Spices. Blend the spices with a spice mill or coffee grinder.
  2. Brown Pancetta. Cook in a large skillet or Dutch oven until crisp and rendered. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  3. Cook Vegetables. Remove all but a tablespoon of fat from the skillet. Add the vegetables and salt and stir for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute longer.
  4. Add Meat. Prepare the slow cooker with cooking spray and add the vegetables (if using a Dutch oven, just keep everything in it). Add the ground spices, pancetta, raw sausage and beef, wine, tomatoes, and tomato paste and stir to combine. Break up the meat into smaller pieces. 
  5. Begin Cooking. Cover with a lid and slow cook for 4 hours: use the high setting on your slow cooker, or set to a medium-low heat for stovetop cooking. 
  6. Add Milk. After 4 hours, remove the lid and stir in the milk. Cook for another 2 hours on the same setting and heat, stirring often, until thickened and reduced. 
  7. Add Final Touches. Stir in the vinegar and salt to taste. From here, stir in ½ cup of your pasta’s cooking water until thick and glossy.
  • Spice Mill or Coffee Grinder – You will need some sort of tool to finely grind all of the spices.
  • Slow Cooker or Dutch Oven – My bolognese sauce recipe can be made either in a traditional slow cooker or on the stovetop with a Dutch oven — the latter of which makes this a really convenient one-pot recipe!

Storing, Freezing, and Reheating

Wait until the sauce has cooled before storing in an airtight container. Keep refrigerated and use within four days. 

To freeze, store in a Ziploc baggie, squeeze out any excess air, and date. Use within three months and thaw in the fridge before reheating.

Reheat on medium heat on the stovetop, stirring until warmed through.

overhead: my bolognese sauce recipe with large noodles, burrata, and fresh basil on top

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between ragu, spaghetti, and bolognese sauce?


Bolognese is actually a type of ragu! A ragu is simply a pasta sauce that has been slowly cooked with simmering meat. 

And the term “spaghetti sauce” is a bit of a misnomer, as there is no single “correct” version. Spaghetti sauces may or may not contain meat, making it a ragu, cream, or so on — though it is always tomato-based. 

So, technically, bolognese is both a ragu and spaghetti sauce!

Can you make bolognese sauce without alcohol?


Yes. The recommended non-alcoholic substitutes in this sauce are additional tomato juice or beef broth. The other ingredients are acidic enough that you don’t need to compensate with more vinegar.

What’s the best pasta to serve with bolognese sauce?


Perhaps the most popular pasta paired with bolognese is rigatoni. It’s a large, tubed pasta with space to fill with chunks of meat and a ridged exterior that fills with the thick, creamy sauce. Other tubed pastas like penne and ziti are good options as well.

Then there are wide, flat noodles: pappardelle, tagliatelle, and so on. Bolognese is also an amazing sauce for lasagna!

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Bolognese Sauce

5 from 2 votes
Italian bolognese sauce features garlic, tomatoes, sausage, bacon, and wine slowly cooked down into a robust, immensely flavorful sauce!
Servings: 8
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 6 hours
Total: 6 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients 

Spice Mix

Bolognese

Instructions 

  • Blend the cloves, bay leaf, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns in a spice mill or cleaned coffee grinder until finely ground. Set aside.
  • In a large skillet (or large pot like Dutch oven if cooking stovetop) add the cubed pancetta (or bacon) and brown until rendered and crispy. Remove from pan and place on plate lined with paper towel. Set aside.
  • In same skillet (or large pot like Dutch oven if cooking stovetop) remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat and save remaining for other use. Add the onions, carrots, celery and salt, stirring as needed until golden in color, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and stir, cooking another 2 minutes.
  • Add the sautéed vegetables to a slow cooker coated with cooking spray if using (or keep in large pot like Dutch oven if cooking stovetop). Stir in the spice mixture, pancetta, ground beef (uncooked), pork sausage meat (uncooked), red wine, tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir to incorporate, breaking up meat and tomatoes, top with lid. Cook for 4 hours on high setting in slow cooker or 3 hours Medium-Low heat for stovetop.
  • At the 4 hour mark, remove lid. Stir in the the milk and cook on high setting for 2 hours or until thickened and reduced (1 hour over medium heat for large pot or Dutch oven). Stir often.
  • After 2 hours add the vinegar, stirring to incorporate, and adjust seasoning with salt if needed. NOTE: Stir in 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, mixing thoroughly until sauce is thick and glossy. Serve over your favorite pasta or use as a sauce for lasagna.

Video

Notes

  1. For the wine, red or white can be used. For Red I like to use either a Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot and Pinot Noir. For the White, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio or other dry white wine will do nicely.
  2. The ground beef and pork sausage meat go in raw (uncooked). No need to brown prior to adding to slow cooker.

Nutrition

Calories: 504kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 39g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 17g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 103mg | Sodium: 944mg | Potassium: 747mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 3008IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 3mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: main dishes
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): bolognese sauce stovetop/slow cooker

Kevin

I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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Recipe Rating




5 Comments

  1. Hi Kevin, this recipe sounds fabulous! Can I start it on the the stove top and then finish in the oven? if so, what temperature oven and how long in oven pleas

  2. 5 stars
    sounds good. I don’t grind the bay leaf and use cinnamon instead of cloves, my meat varies too… and I use the stove, but the ideas are the same. (cue my spouse laughing because I said that I make something just like someone else “except for….. these many things”). Love that you make the soffritto with equal carrots to celery. I see too many recipes that do not seem to understand that carrots are necessary and use small carrot proportions. I admit to using a tad more than equal due to the sweet flavor. Anyway, I tasted this in my head as I read and can tell this is one of your best recipes! Will consider using the slow cooker next time. Curious about cloves instead of cinnamon – or maybe in concert…