Happy National Italian Food Day! I’m celebrating with this Authentic Bolognese Sauce recipe because one of my favorite memories of Italian food was Mom’s spaghetti dinners. She would brown some ground beef and diced onion, add a few spices with some jarred spaghetti sauce, and serve it over spaghetti noodles.
I don’t think I learned this type of sauce was called bolognese until I was an adult. It also took many more years for me to learn that this was an Americanized version of an Italian classic. Real Bolognese is very simple, and I discovered the real deal has no spices other than a bay leaf or two and should be served over wide noodles like pappardelle or tagliatelle. I was intrigued, and today is the perfect reason to give this recipe a try.
This delicious Authentic Bolognese Sauce or Ragu alla Bolognese is made with fresh ingredients and cooked low and slow.
My first step was to check my pantry for ingredients. I had a few like olive oil (I used light, not extra virgin), tomato paste, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Not too bad, but I still had a decent-sized list of items to shop for. Most of the items were easy to find at my usual grocery store though the smallest packs of ground beef and pork were about double what is called for (I froze the leftovers).
The only item that was new to me was the passata. It’s similar to tomato puree but they are not the same thing. Passata is a thick tomato sauce made of crushed, strained, uncooked tomatoes and may have a dash of salt. Tomato puree is crushed and strained, but the tomatoes are often cooked before canning to remove excess water and create a sweeter flavor.
There seemed to be quite a debate on whether tomato puree was an acceptable substitute for passata. I was determined to keep this recipe as authentic so I went with passata. My regular grocery store doesn’t carry it, so I ordered Tuscanini passata since it was highly rated and the best value.
The key to this Authentic Bolognese Sauce recipe is a long time slowly cooking. That helped me decide to use my 5.5-quart cast iron Dutch oven. The inside is coated with enamel so it’s safe to cook acidic foods like tomatoes and the iron holds heat well for slow cooking. It was more than large enough to make this sauce.
Active Cooking Portion
Making bolognese sauce began with prepping all the ingredients except the meat. The recipe says to cut the vegetables very fine but not too fine so they break down and become pulpy. This sauce is chunky, after all.
I chose a 1/4-inch dice, and it was just right. It was large enough to see chunks in the final sauce but small enough that I didn’t notice them while I ate. Prepping the rest of the ingredients was straightforward measuring and weighing.
I began cooking by preheating the pan with the oil when the prep work was almost done. It took about 5 minutes until it was hot enough for the mixture of onion, celery, and carrots. Onion was expected, but celery and carrots surprised me and reminded me of many soup recipes. They are definitely not things I associate with Bolognese!
Tip: It should take 5-8 minutes for the onion to become translucent and the carrots and celery to soften on low heat.
Next, the heat was turned up to medium and the meat went into the pot in the large pieces shown. I used a wooden spoon to break it up as I cooked, and it was in small bits by the time it was browned just as the recipe said.
Things continued per the recipe, and I added the remaining ingredients (except the milk) in just a few more minutes. It was time to simmer before I knew it, and all the steps were very easy to do.
Tip: Add the tomato paste and give it a good stir before adding the passata. It is easier to mix in and distribute the thick paste that way.
I put my Authentic Bolognese Sauce on low and set a timer for 3 hours. I also set a second timer for 30 minutes to remind me to stir the sauce from time to time. It’s easy for me to forget, so I just kept re-starting that time each time I gave the sauce a stir.
When the 3 hours was over my house smelled so good! All I had to do to finish it up was pluck out the bay leaves and stir in a little milk.
Oh, and I needed noodles! I put another 5-quart pot of water on to boil around 15 minutes before the sauce was done. I used an entire 16-ounce bag of pappardelle, and it took 11 minutes to boil until it was al dente. The noodles were finished 5-10 minutes after the sauce.
This recipe lists 20 minutes to prep, 3 hours to cook, and a total time of 3 hours 20 minutes. Here’s how my time was spent:
- 22 minutes to prep
- 8 minutes to chop and measure the ingredients
- 5 minutes to soften the vegetable
- 6 minutes to brown the meat
- 3 minutes to stir in the remaining ingredients from Step 4
- 3 hours to cook
- 3 minutes to remove bay leaves, add milk, and stir (Step 5)
- 3 hours 25 minutes total
I was barely over the total time, and I think the slow-down was while I prepped the ingredients since I had to weigh the meat. The packages of both were just over 1 pound, and it took a few minutes of removing bits of meat to get to 10 1/2 ounces.