Authentic Pappardelle Bolognese (ragù alla bolognese)

Updated: Apr 16th, 2024 · By Bethany Kramer
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Learn how to make a restaurant-worthy and authentic bolognese sauce at home served with pappardelle pasta noodles! This famous Italian meat sauce (also known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese) originated in Bologna, Italy, and comprises pork, beef, pancetta, and San Marzano tomatoes. The end result produces an intensely flavored sauce simmered for several hours to achieve perfect results!

A white bowl with bolognese and pappardelle pasta in it. The bowl is arranged on a wooden background with a small bowl of grated parmesan cheese, a glass of red wine, and a gray napkin decorated around it.

Bolognese is one of the most popular condiments or sauces in Italy! It boasts tender bites of “mince” or ground meat, bites of vegetables, and sweet San Marzano tomatoes that harmonize all the flavors. It’s a sauce cooked low and slow and requires a little patience while it gently simmers and develops into the most richly flavored meat sauce you’ll ever have.

Bolognese Facts

Bolognese (pronounced in Italian bow-luh-ney-zeh) is not to be confused with Italian meat sauce. This sauce is less focused on the tomatoes, and more on the minced meat! It’s thick, hearty, and also involves small pieces of vegetables (soffritto) that set it apart from traditional Italian meat sauces.

Ingredients

This recipe honors the authentic recipes found in Bologna, Italy that are passionate about keeping things simple and letting the quality of each ingredient speak for itself. Nothing should overpower the ingredients in a bolognese. Below, you’ll find the original ingredients found in a classic Italian bolognese sauce.

Mince/meat – meat is the star of any bolognese sauce (Italians refer to this as “mince”). You’ll find a lot of recipes that use ground beef and pork and some that include pancetta. I like to use all three of these meats in my bolognese to add as much flavor as possible!

Soffritto – the base of this sauce uses onion, carrots, and celery cooked in butter and olive oil to create Italian soffritto, a popular base for Italian ragus, stews, and soups. I added Garlic for more flavor; however, it is not a traditional ingredient. To make classic Italian bolognese, chop the vegetables small; this helps them blend seamlessly in the mince so there are no obvious chunks of vegetables.

The sauce – you’ll need quality San Marzano tomatoes (whole plums), or you can use passata (tomato puree), tomato paste, chicken or beef broth (many Italians also use water), dry red or white wine, and whole milk to tenderize the meat while the sauce cooks.

For flavor – traditional Bolognese sauce seasoning is simple; salt, black pepper, and a little nutmeg. I like adding fresh basil for a bright flavor to the finished sauce. Some recipes will use herbs, but they are not in many classic recipes because some Italians believe they distract from the authentic flavors of the sauce. Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano is also essential for serving!

Pasta – In this recipe, we serve this sauce with pappardelle, a flat pasta noodle long like spaghetti but wide enough to catch all the meat sauce! Traditionally, you serve bolognese with either pappardelle or tagliatelle pasta noodles.

How to Make Bolognese Sauce with Pappardelle

  1. 1

    Chop the vegetables (soffritto). Roughly chop the yellow onion, celery, and carrot and add to a food processor with the garlic cloves. Pulse a few times until the vegetables are tiny pieces. If you don’t have a food processor, you can chop them finely with a knife.

  2. 2

    Cook the pancetta. In a large heavy cast iron pot or stainless steel pot, add the olive oil and butter and cook the diced pancetta for 3-5 minutes.

  3. 3

    Add the soffritto. Once the pancetta is cooked and the edges are nicely browned, add the soffritto and cook for 3-4 minutes with a pinch of salt.

  1. 4

    Cook the mince (ground pork and beef). Once the soffritto is softened, add the ground pork and beef and cook until browned and the liquid from the bottom is mostly absorbed.

  2. 5

    Cook off the wine and tomato paste. Once the minced meat is cooked, stir in the wine and tomato paste. Cook off the alcohol from the wine for 3-4 minutes.

  3. 6

    Add the tomatoes, milk, and broth. Add the tomatoes (rinse the cans with broth or water and pour any extra tomato juices into the sauce), broth, milk, nutmeg, and a generous pinch of salt and black pepper.

  1. 7

    Simmer. Cover the pot with the lid and let it cook on a gentle simmer for 4-5 hours, stirring often.

  2. 8

    Add the basil toward the end. Stir in the chopped basil 30 minutes before the sauce is finished.

  3. 9

    Cook the pasta and toss in bolognese. Cook the pappardelle until al dente (according to package instructions), drain the water but reserve 3/4 cup pasta water. Add the pasta back to the pot with the pasta water, and add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of bolognese sauce with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Toss until the pasta is coated in cheese and sauce, then serve right away!

Recipe Variations

Best wine for bolognese – for traditional Italian bolognese, white wine is the top choice because of its subtle flavor compared to robustly flavored red wine. Use a dry white such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Red wine can also be used, and I have tested this recipe with cabernet franc and it was delicious! Use any dry red you like – cabernet franc/sauvignon or a dry red blend. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just use a good quality wine! Cheap cooking wine is definitely not recommended.

Herbs – fresh or dried herbs are not popular ingredients in a lot of traditional bolognese sauces. But some Italians like to use herbs in a tasteful way, so it’s not overpowering all the flavors. I like to use fresh basil because it’s subtle yet bright, but you can also use fresh oregano or dried Sicilian oregano, or fresh parsley.

Meat/mince – along with pancetta, ground pork and beef, bolognese can also be made with ground veal.

Add a parmesan rind – I love adding a parmesan cheese rind to simmer with bolognese sauce. As the rind softens it infuses the sauce with rich parmesan flavor that is subtle yet robust. If you do add a rind to this sauce I recommend using a smaller piece so the flavor is balanced with the other ingredients.

Instead of broth – you can also use water, this is very common in traditional bolognese sauces so the broth flavor doesn’t distract from the original ingredients. I like to use homemade chicken stock or beef stock, but I don’t recommend using vegetable broth because of it’s aromatic flavor.

Tips for Success

Cut the vegetables (soffritto) small – as noted throughout this post, traditional bolognese sauce keeps the vegetables small to blend in with the minced meat. No one wants to see big chunks of vegetables in their bolognese sauce. I do this in a food processor, cutting chopping time in half and getting the job done quickly!

Freeze it – place the bolognese sauce in freezer-friendly bags (air removed) or cube trays to make reheating easier! Freeze for 2-3 months.

Make it ahead of time – Making this sauce 1-3 days ahead will allow it to develop even more flavor! The great thing about Italian sauces, such as this one, is they taste better the more they sit.

Add the herbs at the end – rather than having the herbs cook with the sauce, my mom taught me to add them at the end. This yields a fresher and brighter herb flavor and prevents the sauce from turning bitter.

The best pot for bolognese – either a cast iron pot (enameled) or a heavy stainless steel pot. We like using our Staub Dutch oven because it heats much faster than stainless steel and produces a richer sauce!

Addressing extra grease – if you’re using fattier beef, you might find some extra grease forming at the top of the bolognese while it cooks. If this happens, you can label that extra grease from the pot and place it in a used can or jar to throw away.

A close up of pappardelle bolognese in a white dish with a fork twirling the pasta. Whole basil leaves are placed on top for decoration.

What to Serve Bolognese with

Pasta. Traditional bolognese sauce is dressed with tagliatelle, spaghetti, or pappardelle pasta noodles! It’s also famously layered in lasagne alla bolognese. You can also mix it into baked ziti’s, or vegetarian Italian dishes such as zucchini lasagna or eggplant rollatini!

Bread. A crusty bread to dip into this hearty sauce is also the perfect pairing! We love to make this with homemade sourdough or our rosemary garlic bread.

Salad. An Italian-style salad is also a great side dish, such as our Tuscan artichoke salad or Panzanella salad.

Authentic Pappardelle Bolognese (ragù alla bolognese)

5 from 1 vote
Learn how to make a restaurant-worthy and authentic bolognese sauce at home served with pappardelle pasta noodles! This famous Italian meat sauce (also known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese) originated in Bologna, Italy, and comprises pork, beef, pancetta, and San Marzano tomatoes. The end result produces an intensely flavored sauce simmered for several hours to achieve perfect results!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 30 minutes
Serves 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon salted butter

Soffritto

  • 1 medium yellow or red onion
  • 2 medium carrots, or 1 large carrot
  • 1 celery rib
  • 4 garlic cloves

Mince/Meat

  • 4 oz diced pancetta
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground beef

The sauce

  • 2 cans (28 oz each) San Marzano plum tomatoes with the juices, pulsed a few times in a food processor, or add the tomatoes to a large bowl and use your hands to break into pieces.
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup dry white or red wine, see notes
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock, or beef stock
  • 1 cup whole milk

Seasonings

  • 3 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 healthy pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt & black pepper to taste

Pasta & Cheese

  • 1 lb dried pappardelle pasta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Instructions

  • Chop the soffritto: use a chef's knife to finely chop the soffritto or use a food processor and pulse until the vegetables are chopped into fine pieces.
  • Cook the pancetta: in a large cast iron or Dutch oven pot, cook the pancetta in oil and melted butter for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the soffritto: Once the pancetta is done, add the soffritto and cook for 3-4 minutes with a healthy pinch of salt.
  • Brown the mince: Next, add the ground pork and beef and cook until the meat is no longer pink and most of the liquid from the meat is absorbed.
  • Cook off the wine and tomato paste: Then add the 3/4 cup of wine and tomato paste, and cook for about 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, milk, and broth, then simmer: Once the alcohol from the wine is cooked off, add the tomatoes with the juices, 1 cup of whole milk, and 1/2 cup of broth. Season with a generous pinch of salt and black pepper and a healthy pinch of nutmeg, then cover the pot with a lid and cook on a very low simmer for 4-5 hours. Stir the sauce often.
  • Add the herbs toward the end: As the sauce nears the end of the cooking time, stir in the chopped basil. Let the herbs cook in the sauce for at least 20-30 minutes. This is a good time to taste the sauce. Add additional salt and black pepper if needed until the flavor is just right.
  • Cook the pasta and serve with the sauce: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the pappardelle until al dente according to the package instructions. Strain the pasta but reserve about 3/4 cup of pasta water. Add the pasta and pasta water back into the pot, then add bolognese sauce as needed, with 1 cup of parmigiano reggiano cheese. Stir until all the ingredients come together, then serve with cracked black pepper and more cheese if desired. Enjoy!

Notes

Best wine for bolognese – for classic bolognese, white wine is the top choice because of its subtle flavor compared to robustly flavored red wine. Use a dry white such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Red wine can also be used, and I have tested this recipe with cabernet franc and it was delicious! Use any dry red you like – cabernet franc/sauvignon or a dry red blend. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just use a good quality wine! Cheap cooking wine is definitely not recommended.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword authentic pappardelle bolognese, ragù alla bolognese
Freezer Friendly Yes

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup of bolognese sauce without pasta | Calories: 396kcal | Carbohydrates: 15.5g | Protein: 27.8g | Fat: 23.4g | Saturated Fat: 8.6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2.6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10.3g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 88.9mg | Sodium: 765mg | Sugar: 9.8g | Vitamin A: 22IU | Vitamin C: 35mg

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3 Comments

  • Julia says:

    5 stars
    HI Bethany, well, yes, I finally figured out what the numbers related to the tins of tomatoes meant! And, yes, I made it yesterday. As I only cater for 2 I had not realised how much I would be making – thank God for freezers? Personally, being English I found the amount of pancetta a bit too much and would either halve it or use English bacon, if I am able to get hold of it where I live. The 2 tins of tomatoes cost 34 euros in total!!!
    Apart from reducing the pancetta, we really liked it, personally I would have used more nutmeg (I just love it). The butcher doxuble minced the beef for me and I will get him to double mince the pork next time too. We really, really, loved it and it will now replace the bolognese recipe I had which was at least 50 years old and English whereas I now prefer to make something more akin to how it would be in the country where the recipe originated! (I had to leave out the celery too, my beloved does not like celery, but I think I am going to sneak it in next time!) We now have enough bolognese for a good while and I will also make lasagne too – using proper bechamel sauce of course – not white sauce which chefs claim is bechamel!!

    • Bethany Kramer says:

      Hi Julia! I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe. The pancetta should only be 4 oz which is a small amount, but I understand if you’re used to English bacon that might be a little bit of a change. And of course add some more nutmeg if you like! Yes, this recipe makes a generous amount and we always freeze it too. I’m sure the lasagna will taste fabulous with it – especially with bechamel! Thanks so much for coming back and leaving a review! Also, so sorry about the price of the tomatoes ugh! Next time, you could swap for regular Italian plum tomatoes – no need to use San Marzanoes if they cost a small fortune 🙂 The recipe will still taste wonderful.