Ragù alla Bolognese Recipe: The Most Iconic Italian Sauce

Some recipes are pages in the book of our life, full of memories.

This is ragù alla bolognese for me. It is the smell that makes me think about the city that welcomed me and the years when I was still commuting between Romagna and Bologna. It is above all one of my first memories in the kitchen.

Ragù alla Bolognese or Bolognese sauce is, like the Neapolitan ragout, a recipe full of history at every turn. And both are a derivation of a basic sauce, did you know that? Tomato sauce, of course.

Although it is probably not as old as the Neapolitan sauce, the ragù alla Bolognese is the most famous Italian sauce in the world.

Sometimes there is a bit of confusion around this recipe, especially abroad.

The real Bolognese sauce is without meatballs.

If you want to eat like a local, remember it isn’t served on spaghetti but always on tagliatelle or short pasta like gramigna, for instance. The reason is that the sauce clings better to a flatter pasta shape, rather than thin spaghetti.

If you’re in the right mood for spaghetti alla bolognese, what you really would to slurp is a good dish of tagliatelle al ragù. And when on a restaurant menu you read among the specialities “spaghetti alla bolognese”, please, get up and go. You’re in a touristic place!

Ragù alla Bolognese Recipe: The Most Iconic Italian Sauce

Kitchen’s memories

Here is the place where I share seasonal recipes while telling the seasons of my life.I think that tortellini and ragù alla bolognese are two of the most significative recipes of my life.
It reminds me of my childhood and about the city that welcomed me and where I live now, Bologna.

If you want to read why, I’ll wait for you below the recipe.

My recipe for Ragù alla Bolognese

“Moni, what does YOUR recipe mean? The original recipe is one and, since 1982, it has been deposited at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, where all the typical Bolognese products are deposited”. Here’s the note from the careful reader. Right and inevitable. But I want to put my face on it and say what I think.

I can’t deny that. The original recipe wants only beef. So, for example, made Claudia, my husband’s paternal grandmother. Grandma Claudia had two qualities: she was an extraordinary cook with a bad temper. And, apparently, they were both true.

In my favour I can say that my mother-in-law, who is also an expert cook of Bolognese and Italian cuisine, makes it as I do and for the same exact reasons.

Like her, I add ground pork, as well as beef and sweet pancetta, to make the meat sauce juicier.

Using only beef pulp will make the sauce drier. And the meat sauce has to wrap the pasta, macaroni or tagliatelle whatever.

And don’t run away from the bride before the wedding starts.

In the food tips I leave you the amount of ground meat you need to make the original recipe, below instead you can find mine. It’s up to you. And by the way, always below the recipe, among other things, I shared a note that shows how the issue of pork, yes or not, was discussed.

Before you start cooking, one last thing.
Did you know that the ragù alla bolognese has a soul?

Ragù alla Bolognese: The Most Iconic Italian Sauce

Soffritto, the soul of the Ragù alla Bolognese

Soffritto for the Bolognese sauce is always and ONLY made with onion, carrot and celery. No pepper, no bay leaves. If you want to make the Bologna’s meat sauce.

The cooking of the soffritto is quite slow, the vegetables must not brown but cook slowly, releasing its aromas. The final result is a translucent looking diced.

Then you have to add some ground sweet pancetta (ground and not cubed as in the picture below and that I left so that you could see it), which is cooked over low heat in oil and butter just before adding the ground beef and pork.

The cooking of the soffritto is quite slow; the vegetables must not brown but they have to seem translucent.

When the soul has taken shape, you can start making Bolognese sauce. Are you ready?

Good Bolognese Cooking, Monica

Ragù alla Bolognese Recipe: The Most Iconic Italian Sauce

Food Tips

Prepare the Bolognese sauce the day before and let it rest for a day or night. It can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.

It’s a great sauce to store in the freezer and use for a last-minute but tasty meal!

The ground to make Bolognese sauce is quite coarse, never fine.

The Bolognese sauce is perfect on tagliatelle, gramigna and to make lasagne alla bolognese. If you make it, and don’t tell anyone, you can also season tortellini (but remember that in Bologna food conservatives only eat tortellini in broth).

Bread and ragù alla bolognese is a great combo. Use Bolognese sauce to make amazing crostini as appetizer.

The original recipe, registered at the local Chamber of Commerce, provides: 300g of beef pulp; 300g of tomato puree; 150g of sweet bacon, white wine (but I prefer to use red that “makes good blood”) and a glass of fresh cream at the end.

As I also wrote in the post, no parsley, pepper or laurel are added to the Bolognese sauce.

Ragù alla Bolognese Recipe

serves 4 or to make 1 rich mold of lasagne alla bolognese

300 g of ground meat (200g of beef pulp (or shoulder or spindle) + 100g of pork loin
ground bacon, sweet (never smoked), 150g ground separately
carrot, 80g
celery coast, 80g
onion, 80g
passata di pomodoro, 300g
red wine, ½ glass
1 glass of milk
broth (vegetable or meat) to taste
olive oil, butter and salt to taste


Start making the soul of the sauce, the soffritto.

Cut finely and keeping onion, celery and carrot separate.

Make soffritto by cooking chopped vegetables in a large pot with a small amount of olive oil (2 tablespoons) and butter (50g). Melt butter with olive oil on low heat, add in onion. Stir and wait 1 minute before to add in carrot. Do the same for celery.

Add the ground pancetta and cook gently until it’s melted completely or almost completely.

Look at the soffritto, is it translucent? Then you’re ready to add in a new ingredient.

Add ground meat, stir well, and cook for about 5 minutes on low heat. When you hear the meat starts to sizzle, turn heat up, add red wine, and, stirring occasionally, cook until reduced.

Is it a good wine? I hope it is for you because you just used it in your meat sauce. Remember that, of all possible savings, skimping on “cooking wine” by thinking “evaporates” is a mistake as common as it is serious. Every ingredient that goes into the pan, you’ll taste it. And that a good wine is also good company while cooking (without exaggerating).

Turn heat down. Add passata di pomodoro and stir.

Put the pot on a medium low heat. Stirring every now and then, simmer uncovered for about 1 hour. If salsa seems dry, add one little ladle of broth. How to know when the sauce is too thick? Let’s say that when you stir, if you encounter resistance, it’s right to add some broth. Then, if you think it’s too much, continue cooking until the final consistency is dense but fluid.

The meat sauce must not boil, it must cook slowly, singing softly.

When you’re half cooked, after about an hour, add the milk and stir. Cook another hour, for a total of about two and a half hours (a half hour has passed between soffritto and adding the different ingredients).

The ragù will be ready when you will notice on the surface of the meat sauce puddles of olive oil, now red for the long cooking with the tomato sauce.

Turn off, taste and adjust the salt (the next day, before using the meat sauce, taste again and if you think it needs another pinch of salt, add it. Seriously. If it’s missing, add it, if it’s too much, there’s nothing more you can do.

When the meat sauce is ready, according to Bolognese tradition, some people add panna (cream) to season dry pasta. This isn’t something I do. If you add cream to the meat sauce, you’re making ragù pasticciato. If you make lasagne, béchamel sauce is enough.

Gastronomic Curiosities

In international cuisine, there are 5 basic sauces, from which many other sauces descend or which are at the origin of equally extraordinary recipes. And they are: velvety, Dutch, béchamel, Spanish or gravy, tomato.

My very first food memory is about ragù alla bolognese

It’s my first olfactory memory. I learned how to make ragù alla Bolognese before I even chopped an onion or knew what soffritto was. While I was playing in the kitchen, next to my grandma, I exercised my nose and eyes without knowing it. Only when I was a young woman who lived alone in Bologna, I discovered that I had assimilated her gestures. And to recognize the scents that characterize the different steps of the preparation. That of vegetables becoming soffritto. The sweet smell of pancetta while it melts slowly, that of passata. Finally, the most important scent, that of ragù when it is ready.

Bologna and Its Iconic Recipes

I still remember when I was attending classes at the University of Bologna. I still lived in Romagna and caught the train to go to Bologna. After getting off the train, I went out to the square in front of the Central Station and here, like all the other travelers, I was enveloped, almost like a hug, by the unmistakable smell of Bolognese meat sauce.

But times have changed.

Original recipe vs. outcome

You should know that the recipe registered in the Chamber of Commerce did not agree with all the experts and that even today it is largely disregarded. Probably that deposited has accepted the ancient procedure, when it was used -perhaps- only one type of meat, recycled and ground.

Although: “After an unstable phase lasting almost twenty years, the final transformation took place at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century when almost all the authors opted for the replacement of tagliatelle instead of macaroni (a variant already suggested by Artusi) and the constant addition of passata. To complete the ingredients of the ragù alla bolognese, finally the fresh pork meat, but only after the Second World War, as reported in the famous Il cucchiaio d’argento (The Silver Spoon) proposing a recipe that has remained substantially unchanged until today. This recipe, however, does not correspond to the one registered in 1982 at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce by the Bologna Delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine” (Luca Cesari, Gambero Rosso).

Ragù alla Bolognese Recipe: The Most Iconic Italian Sauce


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