Simple Bolognese Sauce

March 17, 2008 § 2 Comments

Rcent edit (1/15/2010): 1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce has been added; reduced amount of wine by half (to 1/2 cup); increased butter by 2 tbsp and olive oil by 1 tbsp. The additional butter, IMHO, mellows out the acidity of the sauce. I’ve also stopped adding the diced tomatoes as part of these adjustments. However, I kept the item on the ingredients list below since some may like the additional “tomatoey” taste that it adds to the sauce. The Mister’s review is that this newest version is probably the best version yet.

My version of the recipe is based off of Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.” But over the years, I’m changed a few things to it, which is more suited to my taste as well as time. Hazan’s recipe calls for simmering for at least 3 hours and sometimes, that’s just not possible. So I’ve made some adjustments using some techniques from other recipes I’ve tried to help build a full flavor that appealed to me without the extra time. This recipe also makes enough for leftovers, which I like to freeze into serving portions (for 2 usually).


  • 1 lb of ground chuck (can substitute with ground beef around 80% lean, don’t go too lean)
  • 4 oz cremini (brown) mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, diced very fine (white mushrooms are fine too)
  • 1 celery stalk, diced very fine
  • 1 carrot, diced very fine
  • 1 small onion (about 2/3 cup), chopped fine
  • 3-4 medium garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press and like a lot of garlic)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomato
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomato, undrained, optional (see Postscript below and 1/15/10 edit)
  • 1 can tomato sauce (I like Hunts)
  • Salt to taste (I like to use Kosher)
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup good white wine (use something that you would drink)

I use a food processor to finely chop the mushroom, celery and carrots using several pulses. The pieces should be about 1/8″ in size but not pureed.

Heat oil and butter in large sauce pan over medium heat. Cook onion until translucent and then add mushrooms, carrots, and celery. Cook until vegetables are soft, around 6 minutes. Stir frequently. Add tomato paste and cook until paste begins to turn darker, about 2-4 minute. It will begin to smell like sun dried tomatoes. I really like the addition of tomato paste to bring out the flavor. This is a trick I learned from Cook’s Illustrated. Then add garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

Add meat, a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Stir to break apart the meat, and cook until the meat loses raw color (no more pink). DO NOT brown the meat. From what I’ve learned, in traditional Italian bolognese sauce, meat is never browned. If the meat is starting to brown, turn down the heat just a tad and stir more frequently.

Add the milk and let it simmer, stirring frequently, until milk “bubbles away” (as Hazan puts it). Add the wine and let it simmer until it evaporates. Add in the crushed tomatoe, tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine. Bring it to a simmer and turn down the heat to simmer gently uncovered for about 1 hour. Bubbles should break through the surface intermittenly. Stir occasionally.

If you want to simmer longer, stir from time to time and monitor the liquid level. If the sauce begins to dry out and the fat separates, stir in about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of water as necessary. Make sure that the water completely evaporates before cooking stops. Most of the time, I only have time to let it simmer about 90 minutes but have gone as long as 3 hours and usually don’t have to add any water.

If the sauce tastes too acidic, stir in a pat of butter, which will give the sauce a smoother taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.

What to do with this sauce? It can used in any recipe that calls for a meat sauce. I typically like it with linguine and have also used it in baked rigatoni and lasagna. Tonight, I’m making lasagna with it.

Leftover sauce will be frozen in a freezer bag. Great for last minute meals. Leftover can also be stored in the fridge for about 5 days. If for some reason I don’t have enough sauce or need to stretch a batch, I add a can of tomato sauce to what I have and simmer for about 15 minutes. Then taste, adjust with salt and pepper as needed.

I will update this recipe with any future adjustments that I think will enhance the sauce.

Now I’m going to go and eat well. Hope you do, too.

Postscript: I recently started adding 1 can of Hunts Diced tomatoes (something CI includes in one of its many bolognese recipes) and I really like the chunky texture the diced tomatoes adds to the sauce. But because of the extra liquid it adds, I’ve started to cook it for 2 hours to get the same reduction as without the extra liquid. The biggest difference that I found is that it tastes more tomato-ey, fresher kind of taste because of the tomato chunks. I think I like it this way with long pasta, like linguine. I prefer the original recipe (without diced tomatoes) for lasagna and baked rigatoni. Give it a try and see which one you like best.

§ 2 Responses to Simple Bolognese Sauce

  • Mike says:

    I completely agree that bolognese is a great thing to have in your freezer for a quick meal. We do a fairly straight-up version of Mario Batali’s recipe. It takes a while to make, but I think it is worth it – especially if you are making a big batch and getting multiple meals out of it.

    • CAB says:

      Hi Mike! It’s amazing that no matter how big a batch I make, it always seems like we plow through it so quickly. I just made a double batch and half is already gone.

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