Here’s how to make our tried and true bolognese recipe with ground beef, milk, white wine, and tomato. With a bit of patience and our simple tips, you can make a mouth-watering, rich, creamy, and tender sauce. Jump to the Bolognese Recipe
If you have never made a pot of classic bolognese, I am here to tell you to do it! If you are even close to a romantic cook (like me), then you’ll understand that the occasional three to four hour recipe calms the soul. Most of the time, I’m working hard to put together the quickest, easiest meal for myself or my family, but when I have a moment to spend more time in the kitchen and cook for pure pleasure, I look for recipes like this bolognese. I should also note that this bolognese recipe is worth the effort, even if you aren’t a romantic cook. It’s pure comfort and absolutely delicious.
What Is the Difference Between Meat Sauce and Bolognese?
We have shared a few pasta and meat sauces on Inspired Taste before, but bolognese is different. While some of the ingredients of bolognese are similar to American-style spaghetti meat sauce, authentic bolognese is typically thicker, has milk added (so good), and calls for much less tomato.
Classic bolognese comes from the Bologna region of Italy, and while you may have heard it called spaghetti bolognese, serving with spaghetti is not the norm. Instead, in Bologna, you will see bolognese served with tagliatelle, a pasta made into long, flat ribbons. Unfortunately, we have a hard time finding tagliatelle where we live, but we do find pappardelle, which is similar.
So if you can find a more flat, ribbon-like pasta, try it. We love how all the folds hold onto the bolognese sauce. It’s beautiful, too.
Why Do You Add Milk to Bolognese?
Milk is a magical ingredient when it comes to bolognese. First, the lactic acid and calcium in milk help to tenderize the meat. More than that, though, milk balances the wine and tomato, creates a creamier texture and adds richness (similar to how butter or yogurt add more richness and flavor to dishes).
Key Ingredients for Bolognese
The full bolognese recipe is below, but here’s a bit more explanation of a few key ingredients:
Ground beef: We call for one pound of ground beef, but it is not uncommon to use a mix of ground meat for bolognese. Try a blend of beef and pork, or substitute all of the beef with pork.
Milk: We do not recommend substituting plant-based milk in this recipe. I use whole milk, but reduced-fat milk will work.
Dry White wine: Before we began our research, both Adam and I would have assumed red wine was traditional for bolognese, but after reading and testing plenty of recipes, we’ve found that dry white wine is our preference because of it’s acidity and lightness. It’s not just us that think this. Marcella Hazan also uses white wine for her traditional bolognese recipe.
- Note: When we say dry wine, we mean to use wine that does not taste sweet. If you can, find a dry white Italian wine, possibly from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, since this is where we find the city of Bologna. Otherwise, look for pino grigio, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, or other dry white wine.
- Wine Substitute: While we do think bolognese tastes best when made with wine, if you don’t have any available or don’t keep it in your home, you can substitute with a light broth like vegetable broth or chicken broth. Adding a few dashes of vinegar (white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar) would also add a bit of acidity to help mimic the wine.
Canned whole tomatoes: To make our recipe, you will need to buy one large can of tomatoes (a 28-ounce can), but you will not need all of the tomatoes in the can. Whole tomatoes are best for this recipe.
Where’s the Garlic, Oregano, and Basil?
However, you do not need any of them when making bolognese, especially if you are trying to be authentic. So do me a favor, even if you think you disagree with me (totally fine with that, by the way). Please make the sauce without them first, then if you cannot live without them, add them to your taste.
Our Tips for Making the Best Bolognese
Bolognese requires some patience on your end. There isn’t much hands-on time, but you must be “checked in” and know what’s happening inside the pot throughout the cooking time. Here are a few tips to help you out:
Don’t worry about browning the meat. This might seem counterintuitive, but you don’t need to caramelize the meat before adding other ingredients. So, when you add the ground beef, cook it until the red is gone, and then move on. It’s okay if the meat releases some moisture, too.
Cook the sauce at a very low simmer. By very low, I mean that the pot should barely be bubbling. We want the sauce to cook slowly.
As you simmer, you might notice the sauce looks dry. Don’t worry. Just add a splash of water and turn down the heat — you might have it a bit high. Don’t worry about the water watering down any flavor; there’s plenty in the pot.
More Recipes Like This
- Our Favorite Spaghetti Meat Sauce
- Weeknight Spaghetti
- Veggie Spaghetti
- Easy Chicken Ragu
- Garlic Mushroom Pasta
Our Favorite Bolognese
Our tried and true bolognese recipe with ground beef, milk, white wine, and tomato. With a bit of patience and our simple tips, you can make a mouth-watering, rich, creamy, and tender sauce.
For more detailed explanations of key recipe ingredients and more tips, see our article above.
Use a flat, ribbon-like pasta like tagliatelle or pappardelle. We love how all the folds hold onto the bolognese sauce. It’s beautiful, too. We also love rigatoni. You can also make spaghetti bolognese and use spaghetti noodles.
You Will Need
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup finely minced onion (4 ounces or 1/2 medium onion)
3/4 cup finely grated carrot (3 ounces or 2 small carrots)
3/4 cup finely minced celery (4 ounces or two stalks)
1 pound ground beef, 85% to 90% lean
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
3/4 cup (6 ounces) dry white wine, notes below
2 cups canned whole tomatoes
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 pound tagliatelle or pappardelle, or try rigatoni
- Make Bolognese
1Heat olive oil and butter in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, celery, and carrots, then cook, occasionally stirring them around the pan, until they begin to soften and the onions look translucent, about 3 minutes.
2Add the ground beef, one teaspoon of fine salt, and ¼ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper to the pot. Use a wooden spoon to break the meat into small chunks, and cook until the meat is no longer red, but before it begins to caramelize. The salt encourages the beef to release moisture, don’t be surprised if there is liquid in the bottom of the pot.
3Stir in the milk and the nutmeg. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring every so often, until the liquid evaporates, leaving a mostly dry pot, about 30 minutes.
4Stir the meat around the pot, and then pour in the wine. Simmer, stirring every so often, until the wine mostly bubbles away, 10 minutes.
5Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes. We prefer canned whole tomatoes. Open the can, measure 2 cups of the whole tomatoes with juices, and then use a fork or your fingers to break the whole tomatoes into smaller pieces. Of course, they will cook down and break apart even more in the pot, but giving them a head start is a good idea. A 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes has about 3 cups, so you will have some tomato leftover.
6When the wine has simmered away, stir in the tomatoes. When the tomatoes begin to simmer, reduce the heat so it is barely simmering. We are looking for the occasional bubble popping at the surface. Cook uncovered at a very low simmer, stirring the sauce every 20 to 30 minutes for 3 hours.
7If the sauce looks dry, stir in ¼ to ½ cup water. I have done this 2 or 3 times during the cooking time before and it does not water down any flavor. As the sauce cooks, taste it every so often to see how it is progressing. I usually throw in a couple of extra pinches of salt.
8Toward the end of the cooking time, it is typical for the sauce to look separated (with fat on top). This is excellent and just what we are looking for.
9To serve the bolognese, toss it with cooked pasta, and then dust the top with fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Tossing with Pasta
1To serve with pasta, before draining the pasta, save a cup of the pasta water. Then toss the pasta with the sauce over low heat. Next, add some of the pasta water and toss for about a minute. This helps the bolognese stick to the pasta and make everything more “saucy.”
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Bolognese can be made 4 days ahead. Cover and store in the refrigerator. Freeze for up to three months.
- Wine: Use wine that does not taste sweet. If you can, find a dry white Italian wine, possibly from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, since this is where we find the city of Bologna. Otherwise, look for pino grigio, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, or other dry white wine.
- Wine substitute: Use a light broth like vegetable broth or chicken broth. Adding a few dashes of vinegar (white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar) would also add a bit of acidity to help mimic the wine.
- Instant Pot / Slow Cooker: For the best results, makes this recipe on the stove. It is not as suitable for pressure cookers and slow cookers. Your patience will be rewarded.
- Recipe inspired by Marcella Hazan and Bon Appetit
- Nutrition facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA database to calculate approximate values. We included 1 teaspoon of salt.