This easy Spaghetti Bolognese Sauce is a simple, shortcut version of the classic comfort food! It's a freezer-friendly, family-friendly, quick dinner that the whole family can agree on. Toss together a Caesar salad and homemade garlic bread for a delicious Italian feast!
Traditional Bolognese Sauce
Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy (hence the name). Authentic Bolognese sauce is a slow cooking sauce that typically includes ingredients such as onion, celery and carrot, different types of beef (sometimes with pork, such as bacon), wine, milk or cream, and a small amount of tomato paste or tomatoes. The dish is then simmered over low heat for a long time, which ultimately results in a thick, rich sauce.
Consider this your "Weeknight Bolognese," because it maintains all of the rich flavors and ingredients of the traditional sauce (such as carrots, onion, celery, red wine, beef and cream), but it comes together in about 40 minutes from start to finish! Pair the sauce with spaghetti or another favorite pasta shape and you've got a simple, delicious dinner that everyone at the table can agree on.
What is the difference between meat sauce and Bolognese?
Bolognese is a kind of ragù (the Italian word for meat sauce). Bolognese meat sauce differs from a traditional American meat sauce because Bolognese tends to be thicker and creamier. Some traditionalists argue that a true ragù, or Italian meat sauce, shouldn't include any tomato or garlic at all. We're breaking that "rule" with two big cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. It might upset those looking for the most authentic version of this dish, but I can assure you -- the end result is an absolutely delicious sauce that no one will complain about!
Homemade Bolognese Ingredients
- Onion, carrots and celery
- Ground beef
- Garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes
- Red wine
- Crushed tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Heavy cream
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
Why do you add milk or cream to Bolognese sauce?
The cream in this recipe is one of the hallmarks of an authentic Bolognese sauce. It gives the sauce a slightly creamy texture and a richer depth of flavor. You can substitute with half-and-half or even whole milk, if you prefer.
How to Make Bolognese
- Sauté the vegetables.
- Brown the meat.
- Add seasoning and red wine.
- Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste.
- Boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer (uncovered) for about 10 minutes.
- Add basil and cream; simmer for 5-10 more minutes.
- Stir in grated Parmesan.
How to Thicken Bolognese Sauce
If you find that your Bolognese sauce is thinner than you like, simply allow the pot to simmer over low heat (uncovered) until it reaches the desired consistency.
What to Serve with Spaghetti Bolognese
Cooked spaghetti is a classic companion for a pot a Bolognese. You can also substitute with other pasta shapes, such as rigatoni, pappardelle, or penne. If you prefer something other than pasta, try pairing the Bolognese with sautéed zucchini noodles, cooked potato gnocchi or cauliflower gnocchi.
Here are a few easy sides that go well with the Spaghetti Bolognese Sauce:
- Salad dressed in Italian Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Homemade Focaccia Bread
- Garlic Bread
- Sauteed Zucchini
- Roasted Broccoli
- Sauteed Spinach
Store leftover Bolognese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
How to Reheat
Thaw frozen sauce in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat the sauce in a saucepan on the stovetop over low heat, just until warmed through. If it's too thick, you can thin the sauce with a splash of warm water, beef broth, or tomato sauce. Do not let it boil.
- Use ground pork in lieu of the ground beef, or try a combination of both beef and pork.
- Add sliced mushrooms to the sauce for even more veggies.
- I like the rich flavor of the traditional Bolognese sauce with red wine. Don’t worry — the alcohol cooks off! That said, if you would rather not use wine in this recipe, you can substitute with an equal amount of beef broth. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, too!
- Sweeten the Bolognese with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar. A little bit of sugar balances the acidity of the tomatoes, creating a sauce with even more depth of flavor.
Tips for the Absolute Best Bolognese Sauce Recipe
- I prefer a lean or extra-lean ground beef in this recipe, since we're not straining off the fat. The leaner meat prevents the sauce from becoming too greasy.
- Use fresh herbs when possible for the best flavor, but you can substitute with a smaller quantity of dried herbs if necessary.
- Garnish with additional fresh herbs for a bright touch that balances the rich, hearty sauce. A sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese is also delicious!
- Since you're simmering for a shorter amount of time, leave the lid off of the pot to allow the sauce to thicken and the flavors to condense.
- Do not let the sauce come to a boil once you add the cream. The cream is more likely to curdle when boiled.
More Italian Pasta Sauce Recipes to Try
- Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce
- Beef Ragu (stovetop or slow cooker)
- Easy Marinara Sauce (a vegetarian option made with fresh or canned tomatoes)
- 5-Ingredient Pasta Pomodoro Sauce (with fresh tomatoes)
- Spaghetti Meat Sauce
Quick and Easy Spaghetti Bolognese Sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup finely diced onion
- ⅓ cup finely diced carrots
- ⅓ cup finely diced celery
- 1 lb. lean or extra-lean ground beef
- 4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional for a bit of spicy kick)
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes (I like San Marzano tomatoes)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- Optional, for serving: cooked spaghetti (or other pasta of choice)
- Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and beef. Crumble the beef with a wooden spoon and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender. Stir in the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Add red wine to the pot and stir, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Add tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 teaspoons of salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Stir to combine.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and allow the sauce to simmer (uncovered) for about 10 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to package instructions.
- As the pasta is cooking, stir the basil leaves and cream into the sauce. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes, stirring regularly. Keep it on very low heat and do not boil. Add Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
- Serve sauce with pasta, and garnish with additional Parmesan and basil, as desired.
This post was originally published in December, 2017. It was updated in December, 2020.