Few things are better than a rich, meaty sauce bursting with juicy ground beef, aromatic herbs and sweet and tangy tomatoes. Especially when the hearty mixture is poured over tender pasta strands.
Bolognese is the ultimate beef stew made with ground beef, aromatic vegetables like onions, carrots, celery and herbs. Some recipes also call for pork, milk or cream. Traditionalists claim that Bolognese is not heavily tomato-based, although many recipes call for tomatoes in one form or another, whole canned tomatoes that you mash with your hands in tomato sauce, mash or dough.
Start browsing the web and you’ll find there’s no shortage of recipes. But what’s the trick to a “perfect” meat sauce? Is it the choice of beef? Herbs and spices? Or maybe it’s the tomato products used to put it all together. I started cooking different versions to find out.
The following is the easiest and fastest recipe for a satisfying meat pasta sauce.
What makes it the best bolognese recipe?
While there are countless meat sauce recipes out there in the foodie stratosphere, the good news is that the most basic recipe is often the best.
Here I keep the ingredient list simple. There are only eight ingredients, carefully and purposefully chosen, and they balance and rise from the first stir-fry to the last ladle. Each element is intentional and essential, bringing its flavor and textural components to the final dish, which offers undertones of sweet, salty, salty, floral and nutty.
What kind of beef should you use for this sauce?
The recipe below uses lean ground beef, about 90% lean.
That said, any ground beef will work, so feel free to use whatever you have or find on sale.
An optional variation is to use half ground beef and half ground pork.
When choosing fatter options, above 90%, be sure to remove any excess fat released after browning before adding the herbs.
Can you replace Italian seasoning with individual herbs?
Italian Seasoning is a convenient, well-balanced, salt-free blend of basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, and thyme (brands vary, but that’s the gist).
If you wish, you can substitute the Italian seasoning for ½ teaspoon of each of the herbs listed above.
How long should you cook this bolognese sauce?
This recipe is the friend of a quick cooking because it simmers only 30 minutes before serving.
Traditional Bolognese sauce cooks much longer, often 4 to 5 hours. So if you have more time, feel free to cook your sauce for as long as you want. The flavors will simply improve and evolve over time.
Can you make this meat sauce ahead of time?
It’s a great make-ahead sauce because it keeps well when refrigerated or frozen. I like to double the recipe and keep a batch in the freezer.
To prepare the sauce ahead of time, prepare it as directed and then let it cool. Transfer the fresh sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
To enjoy it later, just thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
Recipe: Fettuccine with Bolognese Sauce
Bolognese is a classic pasta sauce, but this version is also excellent with rice, potatoes, or on a tender roasted spaghetti squash and acorn squash.
For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pound of lean ground beef
- 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups of tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
- 1 pound of cooked fettuccine (or pasta of your choice) or 2 cups of rice, potatoes or squash, for serving
- Grated or grated Parmigiano Reggiano or domestic Parmesan, for serving
- Fresh basil or parsley, for serving (optional)
- Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
- Heat oil in a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, 3 to 5 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the beef and cook until golden brown, breaking up the meat as it cooks. If necessary, drain off excess fat.
- Add the Italian seasoning, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper and toss to coat. Cook, 1 minute, until the dried herbs are fragrant.
- Add the tomato sauce and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and partially cover. Simmer for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
- When ready to serve, adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer the pasta or other starch to individual plates and top with the bolognese sauce. Finish with a pinch of cheese, fresh herbs and crushed red pepper flakes.