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Best Bolognese Sauce

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Bolognese, also known as ragu alla Bolognese, is so much more than just a standard meat sauce. It’s the ultimate way to transform a package of ground beef into something show-stopping. When the temperature starts to drop, what sounds better than pasta smothered in rich, hearty, umami-bomb Bolognese? NOTHING.

Bolognese is different from the simple red sauce in popular Italian American dishes, like our favorite spaghetti and meatballs recipe. Bolognese is defined by a base of Italian sofrito (cooked down celery, carrot, and onion), a good pour of wine, and the addition of milk, resulting in an extra creamy and velvety sauce. Feel free to amp up the flavor another notch with fresh chopped herbs in the last 10 minutes of simmering. Oregano, marjoram, and basil would all be delicious.

Developing these delicious flavors takes a little bit of time. Two hours or more if you have it. That might sound laborious, but it’s really hands-off. Time plus low heat allows each ingredient to “do its job,” lending its distinct flavor, melding, and transforming your Bolognese into something magical. So yeah, we’d say it’s worth it. Here’s how to nail it.

Build your base. 
Starting out with a soffrito (mirepoix in French, sofrito in Spanish), i.e. onion, carrot, and celery, is the foundation for a great Bolognese. Finely chop your vegetables, “sweat them out” in olive oil (you don't want too much color, sauté them until they're translucent), and they’ll basically disappear into the sauce, leaving their sweet and savory flavors behind. If you want to impart a bit of rich, porky flavor, cook the veggies in leftover bacon fat.

Maximize flavor. 

Fragrant garlic, rich and tangy tomato paste, a splash of dry white wine (you can use red, too!), and aromatic bay leaf are what amp up the sauce even more, taking your Bolognese to the next level. So don't skip any of these building blocks but, don't be afraid to add your own! Try this with your favorite red wine, toss in a few pieces of Parmesan rind, or sprinkle in some dried herbs early in the cooking process. 

Give it time. 

Cooking your sauce for a total of almost two hours might seem tedious, but trust us, it’s worth it. Simmering allows the wine to
cook off and concentrate and for all the flavors to really get to know each other. There's no need to babysit the pot; check on it every so often and give it a gentle stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom.

Finish with milk. 

Adding milk may sound strange here, but it’s actually ESSENTIAL to rounding out a true Bolognese. It tenderizes the meat and improves the overall texture of the sauce. After about 45 minutes, that cup of milk will turn your Bolognese into a silky masterpiece. Go with whole or 2%.

Serve your Bolognese over pasta and be sure to garnish with lots of freshly grated Parm. In fact this is one of our favorite meals to cook and store for later in the week, so why not double the recipe and freeze half? Think of it as a gift to yourself on a night when you’re short on time and scary hangry. A hearty pasta like this deserves a thicker noodle like tagliatelle or pappardelle.  If you need a weekend project, pair it with homemade pasta.

Made this recipe? Comment below and let us know what you think!

Editor's Note: The introduction to this recipe was updated on April 20, 2022 to include more information about the dish.

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Yields: 6 servings
Prep Time: 0 hours 10 mins
Total Time: 2 hours 0 mins
1 tbsp.

extra-virgin olive oil


onion, chopped


carrot, peeled and finely chopped


stalk celery, finely chopped

1 lb.

ground beef


cloves garlic, minced

1/2 c.

dry white wine


(15-oz.) can crushed tomatoes

3 tbsp.

tomato paste

2 c.

low sodium beef (or chicken) broth


bay leaf

1 c.

whole milk

3/4 tsp.

kosher salt 

Freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Stir in beef and garlic, breaking up meat with back of a spoon. Cook until no longer pink and lightly seared, about 8 minutes. 
  2. Add wine, and bring mixture to a simmer. Cook until wine is mostly reduced. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, stock, and bay leaf, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, allowing flavors to meld. 
  3. Discard bay leaf, then gradually stir in milk. Cover with a lid slightly ajar and simmer, stirring occasionally, until milk is fully incorporated, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

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Kat Wirsing
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