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Pasta Bolognese is a classic Italian dish where al dente pasta meets a hearty ground beef sauce slow-cooked with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. The addition of milk helps tenderize the beef and also adds a note of richness to the flavorful bolognese sauce. It’s a family-friendly dinner everyone will love!
Table of Contents
- Recipe At a Glance
- What Is Bolognese?
- Ingredients You’ll Need to Make Pasta Bolognese
- Popular substitutions & additions
- How to Make Pasta Bolognese
- Tips for Making the Best Bolognese Sauce
- What to Serve With Pasta Bolognese
- How to Store & Reheat Pasta Bolognese
- Frequently asked questions
- For more pasta recipes, check out:
- Pasta Bolognese Recipe
My pasta Bolognese recipe is inspired by the traditional version, with a few key swaps based on the Bolognese I grew up eating. This is a beef Bolognese, and it’s made without red wine, which makes it a more kid-friendly version. There’s still plenty of rich flavor, though, and a little bit of nutmeg, which really takes it up a notch!
The key to a great Bolognese sauce is a long simmer, so this isn’t the kind of dinner you can get on the table in 20 minutes. But that’s okay! There are also those nights when you have the extra time to make something truly special, and this pasta Bolognese fits the bill!
Recipe At a Glance
Cuisine Inspiration: Italian
Primary Cooking Method: Stovetop
Dietary Info: Gluten-Free
Key Flavor: Savory and meaty
Skill Level: Easy
- Simple to Make: As noted above, Bolognese sauce does take some time, but it’s still an easy dinner recipe that comes together in under an hour. No complicated steps or special equipment needed here!
- Hearty and Satisfying: Some pasta recipes leave you feeling hungry again shortly after eating, but this pasta Bolognese has staying power.
- Classic Italian Flavors: While the recipe does stray a bit from the traditional version, the flavors are pure Italian, with a robust, rich tomato sauce and al dente pasta.
- Kid-Friendly: Your kids will love this recipe! And you’ll love that it sneaks some extra veggies into their pasta sauce.
What Is Bolognese?
So what exactly is a Bolognese sauce? Bolognese sauce is basically a pasta 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. A key component of bolognese is milk, which may seem odd but I promise it is so good!
This is the new version of the recipe. I used to do the older one and at first I was a bit disappointed when I couldn’t find it. It was one of my favorites. But then I decided to give this new recipe a try. I was hesitant to be honest. Celery, milk… But OMG! So good! I couldn’t believe how delicious it turned out. Honestly, it’s amazing! Thank you! – Aksana
Ingredients You’ll Need to Make Pasta Bolognese
- Olive Oil: You have to use olive oil when making Italian food! Any other oil just won’t cut it.
- Onion, celery, and carrots: These ingredients form the base of flavor for a lot of your favorite soup recipes, and they do the same in Bolognese sauce.
- Garlic: You can add more if you’d like, but never add less!
- Lean ground beef: Because I don’t drain off the grease in this recipe, I recommend a lean ground beef to keep the sauce from being too greasy.
- Whole milk: I recommend sticking with whole milk, rather than swapping in a lighter version. It adds a lot of richness to the sauce.
- Crushed tomatoes: Crushed tomatoes give us more texture than canned tomato sauce, but they’re more broken down than diced tomatoes. This makes them perfect for pasta sauce.
- Tomato paste: Tomato paste isn’t just to intensify the tomato flavor; it also adds umami.
- Seasonings: You’ll need the standard salt and pepper, along with a bay leaf, oregano, and nutmeg.
- Tagliatelle pasta: Or your pasta of choice.
- Chopped parsley: For garnish.
Popular substitutions & additions
- Try another meat. You can use ground turkey instead of ground beef for a lighter Bolognese sauce, or try crumbled Italian turkey sausage instead. With sausage, it’s not really a traditional Bolognese anymore, but it’s still delicious!
- Skip the pasta. You can top polenta with Bolognese sauce, or try it over Zucchini Noodles for a lower carb dinner. Bolognese is also excellent layered into a Sheet Pan Lasagna.
- Make it cheesy. Stir freshly grated Parmesan cheese into the sauce just before serving. Freshly grated cheese (as opposed to the kind that comes in a green plastic container!) will melt smoothly into the sauce, making it even richer.
- Swap the onions for shallots. It’s a small swap, but if you happen to have shallots on hand, you can use those instead of onion.
How to Make Pasta Bolognese
- Sweat the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in a large pot on the stovetop.
- Add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper.
- Break up the beef and cook until it’s browned, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the milk and simmer until it mostly evaporates.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and remaining seasonings.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer on low, uncovered, until the sauce is thick and flavorful.
Tips for Making the Best Bolognese Sauce
- 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.
- Stir occasionally. To make sure the sauce cooks evenly, be sure to stir it every 10 minutes or so during the simmering time.
- 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.
- 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.
What to Serve With Pasta Bolognese
- Fresh Garden Salad
- Caesar Kale Salad
- Strawberry Caprese Salad
- Cheesy Garlic Bread
- Garlic Knots
- Air Fryer Vegetables
How to Store & Reheat Pasta Bolognese
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container. You can reheat on the stovetop over medium-low heat with a splash of water or milk, or warm up the pasta in the microwave.
How long will Bolognese last in the fridge?
Pasta Bolognese will last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Can i freeze Bolognese?
It’s best to freeze the sauce without the pasta; the Bolognese sauce will last up to 3 months in the freezer. Thaw it in the refrigerator before reheating and adding pasta.
Frequently asked questions
The Italians traditionally eat the Bolognese with tagliatelle, a flat strand egg pasta similar to fettuccine. You can use other flat ribbon pasta like papardelle 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.
If you want to stir the pasta into the Bolognese sauce before serving it, instead of putting the pasta into bowls and then adding the sauce, you can reserve some of the cooking liquid and add a splash or two to the pasta and sauce. The starch in the liquid will help the sauce coat the pasta.
If you simmer the sauce for the full two hours and find it’s thicker than you’d like, you can thin it out with cooking liquid from the pasta, beef stock (not broth, which is salted!), or water.
This hearty Bolognese sauce will become one of those staple recipes you return to again and again! Pair it with a simple salad or some crusty garlic bread, and you’ve got a satisfying dinner everyone will love.
For more pasta recipes, check out:
- Easy Baked Spaghetti
- Cottage Cheese Alfredo Pasta
- Spaghetti with Meatballs
- Creamy Tomato Cottage Cheese Pasta
- Roasted Red Pepper Pasta
- Ground Beef Casserole
- Vegan Creamy Tomato Pasta
- Garlic Butter Shrimp Spaghetti
- Garlic Lemon Tuna Pasta
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!
This Pasta Bolognese recipe was originally published on February 5, 2019. The recipe has been slightly modified to make it more authentic and the post now includes updated step-by-step photos.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion diced
- 3 celery sticks small diced
- 2 carrot sticks peeled and small diced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 16 ounces Tagliatelle pasta or any pasta or choice
- Chopped parsley for serving
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic, and sauté for a few minutes until the vegetables soften.
- Add the beef and season with salt and pepper. Break up the ground beef and cook until it’s browned and crumbled. stirring occasionally.
- Add the milk and allow it to simmer until it has mostly evaporated, stirring occasionally, in order to help tenderize the beef, about 10 minutes.
- Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaf, oregano and nutmeg. Mix to combine, bring mixture to a boil and then simmer on low uncovered for at least 30 minutes, but preferably 1-2 hours. Simmering for longer will enhance the flavor. Remove from heat and remove the bay leaf.
- When ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Serve the cooked pasta in individual bowls and spoon the Bolognese sauce over it. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Old variation –
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
- 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.
- 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
Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.