Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese

This rich and meaty sauce doesn’t require much work, but it does require a lot of time. Much acclaimed Italian cookbook author, Marcella Hazan says the “minimum being 3 1/2 hours but 5 hours is better”.

Using a modification of Hazan’s recipe for bolognese is the perfect wintry recipe for a Sunday afternoon.

Hazan explains in her “The Classic Italian Cookbook” (first published in 1973), that ragout is a French meat stew and ragu is Bolgna’s meat sauce. The only thing they share is the verb “ragouter” which means to “excite the appetite”. The deep flavor results from the reduction of ingredients throughout various stages of the cooking process.

Hazan writes there are 3 essential points in making a good ragu: Sauté meat just until it loses it’s raw color or it will lose its “delicacy”.

The meat must be cooked in milk BEFORE the tomatoes are added to keep the meat creamier and sweeter. And, finally, it must cook at a very slight simmer for a very long time.

Pancetta contributes to the unctuous meaty flavor of the dish. You could substitute with bacon and this will add an element of smokiness to the sauce. The amount of smokiness would depend on the type of bacon you choose to use.

The ultimate way to enjoy a good Bolognese sauce is with a thick cut homemade pasta, such as paparadelle. Making pasta from scratch, while the sauce is simmering, would be the ideal accompaniment to this bolognese. I, however, am using the opportunity of passive simmering for non-culinary projects; a box of ziti will be fine for today.

Though not traditional, I enjoy bolognese with whole grain pasta, too. The rich and intense bolognese is delicious, in my opinion, with the whole grain pasta.

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “Tagliatelle alla Bolognese” (Classic Italian Cookbook 1973)

Recipe: Pasta Bolognese


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or olive oil)
  • 1/3 cup diced white onion
  • 3 tablespoons diced carrots
  • 3 tablespoon diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced pancetta
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3 cups (28- ounce can) canned Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped with their juice
  • Parmigianno Reggiano


  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter, if using, over low heat. Add the onion, carrot , celery and pancetta and sauté until some of the fat is rendered from pancetta, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the ground beef, breaking it up with a fork, and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook gently just until traces of red meat are gone. Add the wine, turn the heat to high, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 13 minutes or until wine has evaporated.
  3. Add the milk and nutmeg and cook until milk has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes. When bubbly, turn down heat to a minimum simmer. Cook, uncovered, 3 1/2 to 4 hours, occasionally stirring.
  5. Season with freshly ground pepper and kosher salt, if needed. Serve with pasta and liberal amount of shaved Parmesan.

Active Time: 30 minutes

Simmer Time: apx. 4 hours

Number of servings (yield): 4 cups

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