I lived a whole 29 years of my life never having had a bolognese sauce.  Let me tell you, that was 29 years too long. 

So what is Bolognese sauce (ragu alla bolognese in Italian, also known by its French name sauce bolognaise)? It is a meat-based sauce used with pasta originating in Bologna, Italy.  Bolognese sauce is sometimes thought to be a tomato sauce, but truly authentic recipes have only a small amount of tomato.

The people of Bologna traditionally serve their famous ragù with freshly made tagliatelle (tagliatelle alla bolognese) and their traditionally green lasagne. Less traditionally, the sauce is served with macaroni or other durum wheat short pasta.

The traditional recipe, registered in 1982 by the Bolognese delegation of Accademia Italiana della Cucina, confines the ingredients to beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, meat broth, red wine, and (optionally) milk or cream.  However, different recipes, even in the Bolognese tradition, make use of chopped pork or pork sausage, while chicken or goose liver may be added along with the beef or even veal for special occasions, and today many use both butter and olive oil for cooking the celery, carrot and onion. Prosciutto, mortadella, or porcini fresh mushrooms when in season may be added to the ragù to further enrich the sauce. Milk is frequently used in the early stages of cooking to render the meat flavors more “delicate” but cream is very rare in the everyday recipe and only a very little would be used. According to Marcella Hazan in “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, the longer Ragù alla Bolognese cooks the better; a 5- or 6-hour simmer is not unusual. 

In fact, I don’t even think I had ever heard of it or knew it existed even having worked in the food industry and presumably knowing a great deal about food.  I first tasted it at a gourmet supper club that I was invited to join back when we lived in Colorado.  It certainly doesn’t look gourmet at first appearance, but more like a humble, everyday meat sauce over pasta.  The fragrance was the first clue that this might be a very special and different sauce.  Rich, meaty and a little sweet.  The recipe I had that night wasfrom the hostesses’ Italian grandmother.  It was divine and I was hooked.  It instantly became my favorite pasta sauce bumping a really great vodka sauce down to second and pesto to third.  Alas, she wouldn’t divulge the recipe so I toiled and tinkered until I perfected it myself. 

I didn’t think I would ever need or want to try another Bolognese sauce until I saw the recipe in last month’s Everyday Food (September 2009) for Pork Bolognese.  I decided to give it try since (as you know if you’ve read previous posts) I love this magazine and its recipes.  I really was not expecting much.  I am a self-admitted Bolognese snob.  I will try it at restaurants that claim their version is good/authentic and unfortunately, it almost always disappoints. 

But guess what?  Their version was a knock-out.  Kids loved it.  Hubby loved it.  And I LOVED it.  So now I’m in a quandary.  I can’t decide which one I like better.  Hubby says mine and not just because it’s mine but I don’t know.  I’m truly torn.  Mine is a little more healthful because it doesn’t have milk in it and probably because of that also more true to the traditional definition of a Bolognese.  But the Everyday Food version is delicious as well.  If you’re so inclined, try them both out sometime and come back and let me know which you like or if you have a better one, please share it with me.

We’re having the Traditional Bolognese recipe over penne this week.  Mangia Mangia!


Traditional Bolognese Sauce

1 ½ lbs lean ground beef

½ cup sweet white wine

1 medium onion, chopped

3 slices bacon, chopped

1 cup beef stock/broth

16 oz. can stewed tomatoes

16 oz. can tomato sauce

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Your choice of pasta:  egg noodles, penne, spaghetti – all work well

 Saute bacon over low flame in a large skillet and drain, leaving 2 Tbsp. of fat in pan.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside.  Add carrots, onions and garlic to pan and let cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add ground beef and break up with a fork.  Cook until the meat is completely browned.  Return bacon to pan. Add wine and let simmer until it has evaporated, stirring often. Add broth and let simmer on low heat until evaporated.  Add tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Salt and pepper, to taste.  Continue to simmer, covered over low heat for 1 to 1 ½ hours.  You really can’t cook this too long but at least allow a minimum of 1 hour.   Serve over drained, cooked pasta and top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.


Pork Bolognese (from Everyday Food, September 2009) Serves 8

3 slices bacon, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

2 lbs. ground pork

¼ cup tomato paste

1 cup dry white wine

1 ¼ cups whole milk

1 can (28 ounces) tomato sauce

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs fresh thyme

coarse salt and ground pepper

cooked penne rigate, for serving

grated Parmesan, for serving

 In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, cook bacon over medium until fat is released, 5 minutes.  Add onion, carrot and celery; cook until soft, 6 minutes.  Raise heat to medium-high; add pork and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon until browned, 7 minutes.  Add tomato paste; cook until pork is coated, 4 minutes.

Add wine; cook until reduced by three-fourths.  Add 1 cup milk; cook until reduced by half.  Add tomato sauce, broth, bay leaf, thyme, 2 ½ tsps. Salt and ½ tsp pepper.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, 1 hour.  Stir in remaining ¼ cup milk.  Serve sauce over pasta, topped with cheese.