Spaghetti Bolognese is a classic family recipe, though not an Italian one. This wonderfully flavorful meat sauce for spaghetti, rigatoni, and more tastes like it cooked all day long but is ready in under an hour. It's dreamy comfort food to the max. See all our pasta recipes here.
Why we love this recipe
Spaghetti Bolognese gets literal cheers from our family when I tell them it's for dinner. It's a cheap trick, and one I'm happy to employ liberally as needed. This big batch of perfectly flavored meat sauce lasts a week in the fridge and freezes well for later. It's easy to make and easy to keep on hand. You really can't go wrong.
I'm 50 percent Italian-American but like 75 to 80 percent Italian-American Food. Don't try to do the math, just trust me on this one. Especially where comfort food is concerned, I so often turn to Italian-American, my OG comfort foods. Spaghetti Bolognese is hearty, rustic food, yet a version this good still feels a little bit refined.
Bolognese sauce ingredients
Here's what you'll need to make a big batch of Bolognese sauce:
- Thick-cut bacon
- An onion
- Lots of garlic
- Tomato paste
- Ground beef
- Salt and pepper
- Dry white wine
- Canned tomatoes (we use half strained tomatoes and half chopped tomatoes)
- Ground cinnamon
- Ground nutmeg
- Heavy cream
- Pasta and grated cheese for serving
How to make spaghetti Bolognese
This one-pot sauce comes together in about an hour. Here's what you'll do. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post.
- Chop thick-cut bacon and cook it in a large, heavy pot (we use a 5.5 quart Dutch oven) until browned
- Drain excess fat. You can leave a tablespoon or two in the pot to help brown the vegetables.
- Add diced onion, carrot, and celery, and cook, stirring once in a while, until softened and a little bit browned. You don't have to go out of your way to brown the vegetables, but if they do get a little bit of color, it will just add to the flavor of the sauce.
- Stir in garlic and tomato paste and cook for a minute or two.
- Add ground beef and half the salt. Break it up into small pieces and cook until it isn't pink anymore.
- Stir in white wine and simmer until about half the liquid evaporates.
- Stir in tomatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, and remaining salt. Cover and simmer while the pasta cooks.
- Stir in a splash of heavy cream. Sauce is ready to eat, and it only gets better over time.
The history of spaghetti Bolognese
You could be forgiven for assuming that spaghetti Bolognese hails from the Italian city of Bologna, but it doesn't, quite. Bologna does have a delicious meat sauce called ragù that's long-simmered and shares some ingredients with this meat sauce. It's typically served with tagliatelle or other broad, flat pastas.
Spaghetti Bolognese surely draws from that tradition, but this particular recipe is Italian-American in origin. (Brits and Aussies have similar versions of this comfort food, too, and often call it spag bol for short.
It's easy to find people getting angry about Bolognese sauce online, so I don't recommend you go down that rabbit hole unprepared. Just know that this is a popular Italian-American sauce that really needs no introduction or justification beyond its deliciousness.
Tips for the best spaghetti Bolognese
- Use grass-fed ground beef if possible. It's got great flavor and a better nutritional profile.
- Embrace a little bit of browning on the bottom of the pot (from cooking the bacon and the veggies). Scrape it all up into the sauce when you add the wine. It adds a lot of flavor.
- Tossing a little bit of really good butter (like salted Kerrygold) into the mix when you stir the sauce into the pasta is never a bad idea.
- This sauce is great right away but only improves as it sits, so feel free to make it in advance.
Our favorite sources for meat
For years, I've been sourcing our meat from ButcherBox. We love this curated meat delivery service, which provides grass-finished beef, heritage breed pork, organic chicken, and more from small farms direct to the customer. You can learn more in my extensive Butcher Box review and unboxing.
More recently, we've also become big fans of Cooks Venture for chicken.
For the Bolognese sauce
- 6 ounces thick-cut bacon, diced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced small
- 2 medium carrots, diced small
- 2 ribs celery, diced small
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 pounds grass-fed ground beef
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 28-ounce can (or 26.4-ounce tetrapack box) strained tomatoes/tomato sauce
- 1 28-ounce can (or 26.4-ounce tetrapack box) chopped tomatoes
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 ½ pounds spaghetti
- Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Set a heavy 5 ½-quart pot (this is my favorite) over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. If there is more than about two tablespoons of fat at the bottom of the pot, spoon out the rest and discard or save for another use. Add onion, carrot, and celery and continue cooking, stirring from time to time, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and tomato paste and cook two minutes more.
- Add ground beef, along with one teaspoon of the salt, stirring to break up the meat into small pieces. Cook for about 5 minutes, until beef isn't pink. Stir in wine and simmer for a few minutes, until liquid is reduced by about half. Stir in tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, and remaining teaspoon of salt.
- Cover pot and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer while you cook the spaghetti. Stir in cream and leave pot uncovered for the last few minutes of cooking.
- While the sauce simmers, fill a large, heavy pot halfway with well salted water and bring to a boil. Cook spaghetti al dente according to package instructions. Drain, return pasta to pot, and toss with several ladles of sauce. (Psst...I also sometimes throw in a big pat of really good butter while tossing the spaghetti with the sauce.)
- To serve, plate spaghetti in wide, shallow bowls and top with additional sauce. Pass grated cheese and a pepper mill at the table, along with some flaky sea salt if you like.
Nutritional information for this recipe includes spaghetti.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 719Total Fat: 23.3gCarbohydrates: 82.3gFiber: 7.3gProtein: 39.9g