Pasta Bolognese

5 from 494 votes

Pasta Bolognese is a classic Italian dish made with ground beef, tomatoes and onions. This is a staple delicious dinner recipe that is such a crowd pleaser

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I grew up eating bolognese sauce, but I had no clue it was actually called bolognese sauce. We just basically called it spaghetti meat sauce in Arabic. As I started to learn to cook and test traditional recipes to learn proper cooking methods and techniques, I made pasta bolognese from an Italian cookbook. Wow! I realized it was pretty much like my mom’s recipe. And I kinda preferred my mom’s actually because it was simpler and healthier.

Close up shot of pasta bolognese on a white plate

So I’m sharing today this pasta bolognese recipe inspired by the traditional recipe with some healthier swaps. First, I don’t use pork, which is often used along with beef to add more flavor because of its fat. I only use lean ground beef. But I don’t drain the beef after cooking, so it keeps some of juice for the sauce. Second, I don’t use red wine. Instead, I substitute it with pasta water. That still adds lots of flavors and helps the sauce cling better to the pasta.

This is a staple recipe in my house that we make all the time. So I make sure to always stock the essentials to make this recipe. Once you try it, I think it’ll be your go-to easy bolognese sauce!

What is bolognese

So what exactly is bolognese sauce? Bolognese sauce is basically a sauce made with ground beef, onions, tomatoes and fresh herbs, and served with pasta. It’s an Italian meat sauce that originated from the city of Bologna. However, it’s more than just beef, onions and a jar of spaghetti sauce. It’s about the depth of flavor you get from cooking all the ingredients in stages and letting the sauce simmer so it becomes thick, rich and hearty.

How do you make Bolognese sauce

To start, cook ground beef with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then add onions and garlic. I used my frozen garlic that I prepped, but if you have time, fresh garlic is always great.

Ground beef, onions and garlic getting cooked to make bolognese

Next, add Italian seasoning, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and some pasta water and mix everything together. You’ll notice the sauce looks done and ready to be served at this point. But it’s very important to let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. That’s how this bolognese sauce gets that deep and rich flavor.

Bolognese sauce in a large saucepan

After you’ve been patient long enough, you’ll notice that the sauce thickens. Now you can throw on some fresh herbs to finish it off. I like using a mix of fresh basil and flat leaf parsley if you have them. And that’s basically the bolognese sauce ready to top your favorite pasta.

Bolognese sauce with fresh basil

I’ve read that in Italy, the sauce is tossed with the pasta, rather than served on top of the pasta. That’s exactly what we grew up doing too. We always combine the sauce with the pasta in the pot. From a practical perspective, this also helps to evenly distribute everything so you don’t have only leftover pasta or only leftover sauce. Am I the only one who hates that problem? Haha!

Pasta Bolognese in a large pan with a wooden spoon

What pasta do you eat with Bolognese sauce

The Italians traditionally eat the bolognese with tagliatelle, a flat strand egg pasta similar to fettuccine. You can use other flat ribbon pasta like parpadalle or tripoline. I personally use this sauce with any and all pastas though. And I love mixing it with tube pastas like rigatoni or penne. The meat sauce gets stuck inside the tubes when tossed, and it just adds so much flavor to every bite of pasta.

Pasta Bolognese in a large pan topped with fresh basil leaves with a wooden spoon

Tips for making best bolognese sauce

  1. Let it simmer for at least 30 minutes, and preferably one hour. Traditional bolognese in Italy is cooked for around 2 hours. That’s because bolognese gets better the longer it’s cooked, allowing more flavor depth.
  2. Finish the bolognese with freshly grated parmesan cheese. It will help thicken the sauce and give it a nice and salty taste.
  3. Toss the pasta with the bolognese sauce, instead of serving it on top. This may seem like just a preference, but there’s actually a scientific reason behind it. When you toss the pasta with the sauce, it allows the sauce to emulsify and thicken, which means it sticks better to the pasta. And that means every bite of pasta is adequately coated in this heavenly sauce.
  4. Use fresh herbs. While you can start with dried herbs, I highly recommend also adding fresh herbs. You can do this before you start the simmering process and/or after you finish cooking the sauce. This will liven the pasta dish and add a fresh and aromatic flavor to it.
White plate with a serving of pasta bolognese

You can see how this recipe is so much more than just a jar of spaghetti sauce mixed with cooked beef and onions. It has a more robust and complicated flavor. Yet it’s also really easy to whip up – easy enough for a weeknight meal with the family, yet impressive enough for a dinner party.

For more pasta recipes, check out:

If you’ve tried this healthy-ish feel good Pasta Bolognese recipe or any other recipe on FeelGoodFoodie, then don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave me a comment below! I would love to hear about your experience making it. And if you snapped some shots of it, share it with me on Instagram so I can repost on my stories!

Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese is a classic Italian dish made with ground beef, tomatoes and onions. This is a staple delicious dinner recipe that is such a crowd pleaser
5 from 494 votes
Servings 8 servings
Course Entree
Calories 317
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 55 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 15-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 16 ounces Spaghetti or penne pasta for serving
  • Fresh basil for serving

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook al dente according to package instructions; drain. Reserve ½ cup pasta water
  • Heat the olive oil in a large deep saute pan. Add the beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown the beef and break it into smaller pieces with the back of a wooden spoon until cooked through.
  • Add onions and garlic; and season with oregano, basil and crushed red pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes until they soften. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and pasta water. Mix to combine, bring mixture to a boil and then simmer on low covered for 30 minutes.
  • Toss the pasta with the bolognese sauce and top with fresh basil, if desired.

Video

Notes

Make Ahead Tips: You can make the bolognese sauce up to 3 days in advance, and then cook the pasta when you’re ready.
Substitutes: For best results, follow the recipe as is. However here are some common substitutes that would work well in this recipe.
  • Instead of ground beef, you can use ground turkey or ground chicken
  • You can change up the seasoning to add other Italian herbs of your choice.
  • Any kind of pasta will work with this recipe
Serving Size: One serving is about 2 oz of dried pasta.

Nutrition

Calories: 317kcal, Carbohydrates: 45g, Protein: 20g, Fat: 5g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 35mg, Sodium: 156mg, Potassium: 414mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 140IU, Vitamin C: 2.8mg, Calcium: 28mg, Iron: 2.4mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.

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Pasta Bolognese in a large pan topped with fresh basil leaves with a wooden spoon

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Comments

  1. These recipes are supposed to have vegetable broth in it, yet I see no vegetable broth at all. Did I miss something? Misleading recipe.

    1. I originally made this with vegetable broth but after re-testing, I removed the broth from the recipe and just used pasta water. The pasta water is one less ingredient you have to worry about and it actually clings to the sauce much better.

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