When you’re looking for true comfort food, a great spaghetti bolognese recipe is up there on many peoples lists. Cosy, rich and satisfying, mine has an incredible flavour and once you try it, you’ll be ruined for any other.
Landing somewhere between an authentic ragu bolognese recipe and the type you know and love from the local Italian restaurant it’s the best of both. Robust flavour and lashings of sauce coating every strand of spaghetti.
Will the real Bolognese please stand up
The spag bol you know and love is actually not a traditional Italian dish but it is a derivative of it. Like many much-loved recipes, it has evolved over many years to suit location and available ingredients.
Spaghetti Bolognese is a form of Ragu alla Bolognese – ragu meaning meat sauce and Bolognese being the region of Italy it originates from, Bologna. The authentic version would never be found with spaghetti but rather a large flat pasta like tagliatelle (much harder to imagine that in Lady and the Tramp though).
Like many my recipe has evolved over the years and after landing on this one, it will change no more. This is seriously the best spaghetti Bolognese recipe you’ll taste – pinky promise. I love that it has elements of a traditional Bolognese recipe but has that comforting look and flavour you love.
What is in spaghetti bolognese
At it’s heart, Bolognese is a meat sauce, with vegetables, tomato and red wine. Mine has all these working in perfect harmony.
- Onion (14), celery (7), carrot (4): These 3 ingredients are the base of many an Italian dish. Known as soffrito, they are sautéed together before adding anything else.
- Meat (5): A combination of ground pork and beef (or veal) give a rich flavour.
- Tomato (13): Thick tomato puree is the go here. It gives the best concentrated tomato flavour while also adding enough sauce to coat the pasta. See below for more info.
- Oregano (9) and garlic (12): these are not necessarily part of a traditional bolognese but just a little adds so much flavour.
- Sugar (10), Salt and pepper (15): the normal seasonings used to flavour bolognese. The sugar is not enough to make it sweet, it’s just a touch to balance the salty flavours.
- Red wine (1): An important part of a good Bolognese but if you don’t like wine, don’t worry, it doesn’t have a noticeable wine flavour. Please use a good quality red wine you’d be happy drinking and if you aren’t sure which, ask your liquor store assistant for a good mid-range full bodied wine. You don’t need the most expensive but definitely don’t buy the cheapest – cheap wine = cheap flavour.
- Stock (2) and milk (3): Beef stock may seem obvious for flavour but why milk, you ask. It does double duty here both tenderising the meat and giving the sauce more body.
- Parmesan (11): Ideal for topping your Bolognese, please use the real thing, in block form and grate it yourself. The flavour and texture difference between this and that dried shelf-stable version are worlds apart. It may be a little pricey but you’ll only need a little bit and it lasts nearly indefinitely in the fridge.
- Pasta (8): Spaghetti is so well loved but you’d find a traditional version using something thick and flat like tagliatelle.
Which tomatoes to use
I find tinned tomatoes water down the flavour too much and the sauce turns out less rich. I used to use 1/3 cup of tomato paste and this gives an amazing flavour but the end result won’t give a sauce that coats the pasta.
Tomato puree or passata (as it’s known here in Australia) is a thick tomato sauce of strained and pureed tomatoes. Nothing but tomato flavour. In some parts of the US it is also known as tomato sauce)
It gives the perfect robust flavour while also giving you a thick, lip-smacking sauce.
How to make the best spaghetti bolognese
Making spaghetti bolognese at home is easy and you just need 2 pans – one for the pasta and one for the sauce – and maybe 15-20 minutes of hands on time.
- Start with the soffrito – sweating down onions, celery and carrot until softened (image 1).
- Add the meat and garlic and stir until the meat has browned.
- Next you add the wine (image 2), then let it cook down slightly while scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
- One after the other you’ll add the remaining ingredients (image 3 & 4) then it’s a matter of letting it simmer very low –
- for 1 ½ to 2 hours, lid on but slightly ajar, on a very low simmer – this is my recommended way of cooking it. It has the most amazing flavour. See images above for after ½ an hour (image 5), after 1 hour (image 6), after 1 ½ hours (image 7) and after 2 hours (image 8)
- for half an hour, no lid on a slightly higher simmer – so you can have it during the week too.
- Cook the pasta and serve.
Tips and tricks
- Use a large pan to cook the Bolognese sauce. This way you’ll have plenty of room to toss the drained pasta in the sauce before serving.
- Simmering the sauce: Make sure to cover it and keep it on the lowest simmer you can, otherwise the sauce can evaporate and reduce too much.
- Pasta water: save some pasta water before draining the spaghetti. It’s useful for thinning the sauce if you think it needs it without watering it down.
Can I make Bolognese ahead
Absolutely, in fact the flavour develops even more after 1 or 2 days. You can make the sauce a couple of days ahead but make the pasta fresh.
Bolognese sauce also freezes well. Store it in an airtight container or a ziplock bag with all the air press out of it.
What to serve with spaghetti bolognese
To me a big bowl of meat sauce and pasta is perfection in itself but a simple side salad of greens using the vinaigrette from this recipe is lovely. You can also add some crusty bread or sizzler cheese toast for mopping up any leftover sauce.
More recipes you’ll love
- Chicken Lasagna with Spinach and Mushrooms
- One Pan Chicken Pesto Pasta Bake
- Easy Salmon Pesto Pasta
- Greek Pastitsio
- Mini Lasagna Cupcakes
- Weeknight Meatball Stroganoff
The Best Spaghetti Bolognese
- 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (notes)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, grated
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 500 g combined pork and veal mince (17.6oz) (notes)
- ⅔ cup red wine (not sweet wine) (160ml)
- 1 cup tomato purée (passata)
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano (notes)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅔ cup whole milk (160ml)
- 400 g dry spaghetti (14oz)
- Finely grated Parmesan, for serving
- Heat oil in a very large heavy based pan, or dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté until soft, around 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and meat, and cook stirring and breaking up with the back of a spoon, until the meat has browned, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add wine; boil for 1 minute, stirring often and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add tomato purée and beef stock. Stir and bring to a simmer.
- Now add the rest of the ingredients; oregano, sugar, pepper, salt and milk. Stir well to combine.
- Reduce heat to very low, cover with a lid slightly ajar and gently simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 ½ – 2 hours. Check the seasoning towards the end and add more salt and pepper to taste if required.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
- Reserve ½ cup of pasta water, then drain the spaghetti.
- Add the soaghetti straight to the bolognese sauce, and toss to coat. Stir in some of the reserved pasta water by tablespoonfuls if sauce seems dry. Divide pasta among warm plates. Sprinkle with grated parmesan.
- I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon.
- Meat: Use a mixture of pork and veal or pork and beef – 250g of each.
- Make this ragu up to 2 days ahead. Once it has simmered for the 2 hours, allow it to cool in the fridge uncovered. Once completely cooled, cover and reheat in a pot when required.
- This ragu freezes well, for up to 3 months.
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