Saturday, May 26, 2012


Well, I finally came up with the definitive recipe for Bolognese sauce.  Definitive for my taste buds that is.  It could be that your sauce recipe is superior to mine. If it is, can I borrow it?  In all honesty, it took me a few tries and a few years to perfect it, and I am proud of the results.  I think I like it because I've started using more than one kind of ground meat in it, and because the sauce isn't made up solely from tomatoes.  One other thing:  most Bolognese sauce recipes call for the addition of milk or cream at the end of cooking.  I finally had the nerve to leave the dairy stuff out.  So right now I'm loving my version of Bolognese sauce, and since I can't eat too much pasta due to dieting restrictions, I eat it plain, or I top a slice of high protein bread with it.  Then I watch my family devour their sauce with pasta, and I write down on my diary how unfair that is.  Even my dogs eat sauce over pasta.  They love it, and they love me for giving it to them.  Oh, well. What's my point?  My point is that this sauce tastes really good.  So good you don't even need pasta with it.
Bolognese sauce (or ragu alla Bolognese), is a classic Italian meat sauce that originated in the city of Bologna, the capital of the Emilia–Romagna region in Northern Italy.  Bologna is an Italian university town, with a long and impressive history of art, music and culture.  An important part of the local food industry is the production of cured meats such as prosciutto and salami.  The classic version of sauce Bolognese contains prosciutto. By classic version I mean the standardized recipe for "ragu alla Bolognese," which was created to preserve the culinary heritage of Italy.  That recipe has been deposited with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.  My recipe for Bolognese sauce is deposited in a drawer in my kitchen.  Which of the two recipes do you think is more important?  

Just being a little artistic with this picture here...

Anyway, my recipe varies from the standard in that there is no prosciutto in it, just to cut down on the amount of fat.  Another thing I changed, is the addition of milk or cream at the end of cooking.  I have added one or the other many times, and I can’t understand (or taste) how the addition of milk improves a tomato-meat sauce.  So as I already mentioned, I finally decided to leave the milk out.  After all, the original recipe was created about 150 years ago, and tastes do change.  Chicken livers?  Out.  Cinnamon and nutmeg? Out. I think cinnamon overpowers tomato sauce.  I include bay leaves in my recipe.  They add an herbal, sweet flavor which is somewhat reminiscent of the sweetness of cinnamon.  I like the end result.  The meat takes precedence over the tomatoes.  The ingredients cook for close to two hours, so the flavors meld well. The end result is a dense, silky, multi-dimensional sauce. If there are any leftovers, they can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 1 month.

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (perhaps you will need just a little more)
  • 1 large red onion, chopped well (the red onion is sweet and strong flavored, plus it looks really pretty combined with all those vegetables. Use any onions you have, though.  This time around I used a red, a yellow and a fairly old shallot.  It was "empty the onion drawer" time)
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped well, and go ahead and use the celery leaves, too
  • 3 carrots, chopped well
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 or maybe 2 bay leaves (if you use 2, you will definitely know there are bay leaves in the sauce)
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 3/4 of a pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 can tomato sauce, 8 ounces
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 or 2 rinds of Parmesan cheese
  • 8 plum tomatoes, skins and seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 cup beef broth
For the pasta:
  • 1 pound pasta such as fettuccine
  • well chopped parsley
  • a little olive oil
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • black pepper
  • In a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, sauté the onions, carrots and celery in 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil until the vegetables are soft.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes.
  • Turn up the heat a little.  Make a well in the center of the pot by pushing the vegetables all the way to the sides.  Add a little olive oil in the center, let it heat up and then add some of the ground meat into the well you created.  Break up the meat with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring to mix with the vegetables.  Keep stirring and adding the ground meat, and cook until the meat is no longer really pink.  Season with salt and pepper and mix again.  Cook until the meat is browned well, about another 5 minutes. 

After the meat has browned the herbs and spices go in.

  • Add the red pepper flakes, the oregano and thyme, and cook for about another minute.
  • Add the tomato paste and mix.
  • Add the wine and deglaze by scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pot.  Cook until the alcohol in the wine has evaporated. 

These are plum tomatoes that I peeled and seeded the day before.  I refrigerated  them in a plastic container with basil leaves, garlic and a little olive oil.  The were ready for the cooking pot!

  • Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, one cup of beef broth, the Parmesan rinds and the bay leaf. 
Bay leaves, Parmesan rinds and beef broth give this sauce a unique flavor!                      Most of the cheese will melt, but there will be one or two tiny, semi-solid pieces that are a nice surprise to get on your plate and a special treat to eat.  The cheese I use is Locatelli pecorino Romano, but I always refer to it as "Parmesan."
  • Mix, turn the heat down to simmer, cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally so that the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pan. 
About half way through...

  • Cook for about 1 ½ hours, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  Finished cooking, chunky and aromatic!

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and place on a serving platter.  Season with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, a little olive oil, black pepper and some finely chopped parsley.  Spoon some of the sauce on top and mix.  Then serve the sauce and some grated Parmesan cheese on the side and let everyone serve themselves, taking pasta, sauce and cheese according to their taste. 


  1. I'll be over for dinner. I need some of that pasta. My mother in law makes it all the time. We love it! Can't go wrong with pasta and meat sauce!!!!!!!

  2. One of my favorites! Your sauce looks just great. I think the wonderful part of cooking is making recipes your own.

  3. Pasta sauce or macaroni gravy as we called it in my Italian family is a favorite of mine, of course. Can't go wrong with it, as you say. Also, I agree, tastes do change. This was a dish my mom taught me how to make when I was a youngster. For years and years I made it the same way every time. Now, I have started to make changes. I like them. For example I now use some pepper flakes, a nice little addition. But I certainly will try the parmesan rinds. My meat mixture has always been beef, pork and veal. Your recipe uses lamb instead of pork, and I think that sounds really flavorful. Plum tomatoes are a must. Great recipe Ana, thank you. Definitely going to follow it through and give it a whirl.