Pasta Bolognese

5 from 1282 votes

Pasta Bolognese is a classic Italian dish where al dente pasta meets a hearty ground beef sauce, slow-cooked with onions, garlic, and tomatoes for a flavorful experience.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

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!

Close up shot of pasta bolognese on a white plate

Table of Contents

  1. Recipe At a Glance
  2. What Is Bolognese?
  3. Ingredients You’ll Need to Make Pasta Bolognese
  4. Popular substitutions & additions
  5. How to Make Pasta Bolognese
  6. Tips for Making the Best Bolognese Sauce
  7. What to Serve With Pasta Bolognese
  8. How to Store & Reheat Pasta Bolognese
  9. Frequently asked questions
  10. For more pasta recipes, check out:
  11. 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

Summary

  • 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

Ground beef, onions and garlic getting cooked to make 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.
  • 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

  1. Sweat the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in a large pot on the stovetop.
  2. Add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Break up the beef and cook until it’s browned, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in the milk and simmer until it mostly evaporates.
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and remaining seasonings.
  6. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer on low, uncovered, until the sauce is thick and flavorful.
Bolognese sauce in a large saucepan

Tips for Making the 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. Stir occasionally. To make sure the sauce cooks evenly, be sure to stir it every 10 minutes or so during the simmering time.
  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.
Bolognese sauce with fresh basil

What to Serve With Pasta Bolognese

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

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 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.

Should I reserve the cooking liquid from the 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.

What happens if the Bolognese becomes too thick?

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.

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

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:

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.

Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese is a classic Italian dish where al dente pasta meets a hearty ground beef sauce, slow-cooked with onions, garlic, and tomatoes for a flavorful experience.
5 from 1282 votes
Servings 8 servings
Course Entree
Calories 369
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Video

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

This recipe was updated to lean towards a more traditional bolognese sauce with milk. 
Old variation –
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.
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: 369kcal, Carbohydrates: 46g, Protein: 21g, Fat: 11g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 0.4g, Cholesterol: 88mg, Sodium: 251mg, Potassium: 488mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 2706IU, Vitamin C: 3mg, Calcium: 81mg, Iron: 3mg

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

Cuisine Italian
Course: Entree

Rate and comment

Recipe Rating




Comments

  1. YUM! Such a great comforting tasty dish. I subbed coconut milk since I have a dairy allergy and some pasta sauce because I didn’t have crushed tomatoes and it came out amazing! Will definitely be making this again.

  2. Really good, everyone in my family liked it and so I’ll make it again. Just as a side note, I’ve added a bit of thyme and more pepper. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  3. Yuma. As you stated, this can not be a gluten free dish if you don’t use gluten free pasta. And if I have to use gluten free pasta that doesn’t come apart while boiling it, then what would you recommend ?

  4. I’m not at home until late January but I am really looking forward to a steaming hot plate of this it looks heavenly .my home is incredibly cold I’m going to make double the amount and add kidney beans, cumin and harissa to the other half .

  5. 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

    1. Thank you so much! So yes this is a new variation (true Bolognese has milk in it) so I updated it. I will add the old version to the notes section though just in case anyone else wants it. But I am happy to hear that the new version is great too!

    1. Hi Katelynn! After some digging I found it and added it to the notes under the recipe card! The original recipe wasn’t a traditional Bolognese as it was missing milk – someone did just comment as well saying they were hesitant, because they loved the old recipe, but they tried the new one and it was even better. So I’d love for you to try it and let me know what you think given that you made the old version.

    1. Hi Norman, the serving size is based on the sauce as whole. So the finished sauce will provide around 8 servings. Hope that helps!

  6. This came out absolutely perfect. The taste is off the charts. I followed the recipe to the T and glad I did! This will be my go-to Bolognaise. I passed this on to friends and family so they can enjoy it as well! Thanks!

  7. 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.

  8. Easier: Brown 1 lb lean ground meat in 4 tbsp olive oil with Chilli flakes and 1 chopped clove if garlic. When completely cooked, add you fav non-cheese tomato pasta sauce. 15 min.

  9. A little confused as you mention broth but it’s not in the actual recipe or the ingredients list. How much broth and at what point are we supposed to add it? Thanks!

    1. Hi, Rian! The vegetable broth can be used with the diced tomatoes to create the sauce. I have used broth and pasta water and actually prefer it with the pasta water, so I’ve reflected that in the recipe now.

  10. Cooked this but used a cup of soy Textured Vegetable Protein to replace the mince for a vegan version. My boyfriend was literally so confused because he thought I was serving him mince and he knows I’m a strict vegan, haha.
    Thanks for the great recipe.

  11. Love this recipe! As is it’s great however, depending on who I’m cooking for I usually substitute the beef for ground turkey and the veggie broth for a dry white wine and my husband ❤️‘s it!! Yum! Thanks for the recipe.

  12. One word, DELICIOUS!!! I too, grew up eating Pasta Bolognese. I came across your recipe and wanted to try it since my Mother died young and took her recipes with her. This recipe tastes just how I remember my mother’s recipe. Thank you so much for for sharing this.

    1. Aww that’s amazing! Makes me so happy to hear that it tastes like your mother’s recipe. Thank you so much for the feedback!

  13. Spaghetti Bolognese does not exist in Italy , so it can’t be a classic Italian dish. It’s an invention by non Italians outside Italy. And equally, there is no Bolognese sauce in Italy. Another American etc invention. There is tagliatelle al ragu which is a classic Italian dish. Big difference.

    1. I’m actually not Italian, so my perspective on what is Italian comes from watching Giada De Laurentiis. She is Italian and says this is a classic Italian dish. It might be true what you’re saying and my authentic sources are limited as I mentioned.

      One thing to note is that Wikipedia says “Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce in Italian cuisine, typical of the city of Bologna. It is customarily used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne alla bolognese.”

    2. Um, yes Spaghetti Bolognese
      does exist in Italy. We lived 5 years in Palau, Sardinia, Italy and 5 years in Mascalucia, Sicily, Italy. Both had Spaghetti Bolognese in different ristorante’s. Making this recipe for supper. Will let you know how it comes out. Ciao!

      1. Followed this recipe and it is better than restaurant pasta! So delicious, I’m not trying other Bolognese recipes!
        I used minced pork instead and it is just as good.