Meaty Bolognese sauce moves Italian meat sauce into the next stratosphere. More about the meat than the tomatoes, the main difference between Bolognese sauce and your everyday meaty red sauce served with spaghetti is that it’s cooked very slowly in milk until the meat becomes almost silky. We make a big batch and use it with pasta, lasagna, and pizza. It’s pretty much magic. When I was a child in Naples Italy, this was the sauce of the Gods to us. For many of us, it was cookbook author Marcella Hazan that really put bolognese on the map in the U.S. This recipe is a mish-mash of many along with years of in the kitchen certainly influenced by her. Her book The Classic Italian Cookbook published in 1980 certainly kickstarted the “new” Italian cooking revolution that we all take for granted now.
Just google her. Variations of her bolognese are EVERYWHERE. Nice legacy.
Think about bolognese as a four-step process. Step 1 is to cook down the chopped onion, carrot, and celery over medium heat in the butter and oil for about 20 minutes. A food processor makes quick, even work of the chopping business which encourages more Bolognese.
Step 2 is to add the ground beef and cook over medium heat until the beef just loses its red color, but doesn’t turn brown. Depending on the size of your pan, about 8 – 10 minutes.
Step 3 is to add the milk and keep cooking over medium low heat. Here’s the meat simmering slowly in milk. In about 20 minutes the milk will no longer be visible.
Step 4 is to add the tomato, wine, and salt and pepper and slow cook the sauce for a couple hours to create the silky smoothness that is Bolognese.
A couple other thoughts on this great sauce:
This recipe is built around one pound of beef, but I strongly recommend that you use up to 3 pounds (just multiply the other ingredients) since you’re devoting some time to making this delicious sauce and, once finished, you will be glad to have more rather than less.
Bolognese keeps nicely in the freezer for a couple months. Remember to mark the food containers with freezer tape and a Sharpie. Once Bolognese freezes, unless you have better memories than we do, it’s difficult to tell it from the tomato sauce, the chili, the pintos, or some strange “burgoo” R.B. made from his leftover smoked meats.
Simmering the meat in a slow cooker is also great idea. Bring it up to temperature on high, then simmer on low.
Since the sauce is so meaty, sort of a meat sauce concentrate, I sometimes thaw a tub and add additional crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce and serve this thinner version over pasta or on pizza. But, I have to say, it makes a lasagna that can literally change your life.
One more note of interest! We’ve been putting the whole shebang in the instant pot and cooking it without simmering or even checking it for 1 hour. Sounds sacrilegious, but it works! We usually leave out the butter and olive oil in this case. Add some butter to the sauce before serving instead if you like.
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- 1 cup whole milk (or at least two percent low-fat milk in a pinch)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
Cook the onion, carrot, and celery in a large heavy pot in the butter and oil over medium to medium-low heat until all the vegetables are very soft, about 20 minutes.
Add the ground beef and cook until the beef loses its color but is not brown.
Add the milk and cook the beef slowly over medium-low heat until the milk has disappeared about 20 minutes.
You're not browning the meat; it should stay nice and soft.
Add the wine, tomatoes, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
Cook over medium-low heat until it looks like a nice meaty sauce, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 hours.
Serve over hot pasta such as papardelle, spaghetti, or ziti.
Double the recipe, but you don't need twice as much butter and olive oil. Make it in the instant pot. I've thrown it all the ingredients in raw and cooked it for an hour and made it by sauteing the vegetables first. Cooked for an hour as well. Both work. I also like to use tomato paste instead (or along with) diced tomatoes. So, for a 2-pound meat recipe, try one can (14.5 oz) tomatoes and one can (6 ounces) tomato paste. Or one large can of San Marzanos with the juice.