Pasta Bolognese

Tested & Perfected Recipes

Fresh fettuccine pasta in a richly-flavored meat sauce, this pasta Bolognese is a family favorite.

Pasta Bolognese, or pasta in a tender and richly-flavored meat and vegetable sauce, is one of my favorite Sunday night family suppers. The sauce simmers on the stove for several hours, making the house smell delicious and inviting — and it’s one of those dishes that just tastes like it was made with love. I prefer fresh fettuccine here, which you can find in the refrigerator case at most supermarkets, but it’s good with dried fettuccine, rigatoni or anything, really.

What You’ll Need To Make Pasta Bolognese

ingredients for pasta bolognese

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few notes about the ingredients:

  • Pancetta is simply Italian bacon. Instead of being smoked like American bacon, it is cured with salt and spices and then dried. You can find it in the deli at most supermarkets or precut and packaged in the refrigerated gourmet foods aisle, which is a great time saver.
  • For the wine, use any dry red (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.) that is inexpensive but still good enough to drink.

How To Make Pasta Bolognese

Place onions in bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade.

chopped onions in food processor

Pulse until very finely chopped but not puréed.

finely chopped onions in food processor

Transfer the onions to a bowl, then add carrots and celery to the food processor.

carrots, celery and garlic in food processor

Pulse until finely chopped.

finely chopped vegetables in food processorHeat the olive oil in large heavy pot over medium-high heat, and add the onion and vegetable mixture.

vegetables cooking in oil

Cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Lower the heat if vegetables start to brown.

softened vegetables

Add the ground beef, pancetta, salt and pepper.

adding beef and pancetta to the pot

Cook over medium-high heat, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until meat is no longer pink, 5 to 10 minutes.

browned beef

Add red wine and cook until liquid is almost dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.

adding wine to the pot

Add the broth, crushed tomatoes and oregano.

adding broth, tomatoes, and seasoning to the pot

Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

bolognese sauce after simmering for 1.5 hours

Stir in the milk.

stirring the milk into the bolognese sauce

Cover with the lid slightly ajar and simmer until milk is absorbed, about 35 minutes. If the sauce looks greasy, use a soup spoon to skim the fat off of the top. Cover to keep warm while you make the pasta.

finished bolognese sauce

Cook pasta according to package instructions.

Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding the reserved pasta water little by little if the pasta seems dry. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Divide the pasta into serving bowls and sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using. Pass the grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the table.

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Pasta Bolognese

Fresh fettuccine pasta in a richly-flavored meat sauce, this pasta Bolognese is a family favorite.

Servings: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
Cook Time: 2 Hours 5 Minutes
Total Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, very roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/3 pounds ground beef (85% lean)
  • 4 ounces pancetta, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt (plus more for pasta water)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 (14-oz) can crushed tomatoes (about 1-3/4 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 pound pasta
  • Handful chopped fresh basil or parsley, for serving (optional)
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until very finely chopped but not puréed. Transfer the onions to a separate bowl, then add the carrots, celery, and garlic to the food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the finely chopped onions and vegetable mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Lower the heat if the vegetables start to brown.
  3. Add the ground beef, pancetta, salt, and pepper and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is no longer pink, 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add the wine and cook until it is almost dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Add the broth, crushed tomatoes and oregano. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  6. Add the milk to the sauce and stir to combine. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and simmer until the milk is absorbed and the meat is tender, about 35 minutes. If the sauce looks greasy, use a soup spoon to skim the fat off of the top. Remove the pan from the heat and cover to keep warm while you make the pasta.
  7. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Before straining, ladle out 1 cup of the pasta water into a bowl or measuring cup and set aside. Drain the pasta, then add to the sauce. Toss with tongs, adding the reserved pasta water little by little if the pasta seems dry. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Divide the pasta into serving bowls and sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using. Pass the grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the table.
  8. Note: I like the Buitoni brand of fresh pasta sold in the refrigerator case at most supermarkets for this recipe. It cooks quickly and tastes great. (But don't worry if you can't find it; any pasta will work well.)
  9. Make-Ahead Instructions: The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Let it cool to room temperature and then store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Reheat over medium-low heat on the stovetop before serving.
  10. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until hot.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 717
  • Fat: 30 g
  • Saturated fat: 10 g
  • Carbohydrates: 71 g
  • Sugar: 10 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Protein: 36 g
  • Sodium: 910 mg
  • Cholesterol: 85 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • My office mate made this last night (homemade noodles, too) and it is by far and away the very best Bolognese sauce I’ve had! Absolutely rich, with great depth of flavor, it’s the kind of dish I could just keep on eating it! My office mate said it was a time-consuming recipe, but worth every minute.

    • — ann blystone on January 19, 2021
    • Reply
  • Another A+ recipe! I decided to make this for dinner last night and didn’t read ahead and got to the part that said simmer for 1.5 hours and quickly realized it would be the next day’s lunch since I had started too late in the evening. I heated it up the next day and it was delicious. The entire family loved it and seriously felt like something I’d order in a restaurant…but better. Love your detailed instructions. Definitely needed to skim about 1/4 cup of fat off the sauce towards the end otherwise it would have been too oily. I’m working my way through your site and building my recipe box. Thank you for your collection of tested recipes that I know I can trust to be awesome every time!

    • — Michelle on January 10, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hello Jenn,
    I love your recipes!!!
    I have seen you using a food processor in your videos and in the pictures for your recipes. Could you please let me know the name and model of it. Also would there be another model (that would work just a well) that would be smaller (I have a small kitchen) and possibly more budget friendly, but work just as well to get the chopping jobs done in a jiffy.
    Thank you so much for your help!

    • — Holly Hendee on December 30, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Holly, So glad you like the recipes! Though it is a bit of an investment, I highly recommend this one from Cuisinart. It has a 14-cup capacity, which I think is ideal, but you could get away with an 11-cup bowl if need be (I wouldn’t go any smaller). Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on December 30, 2020
      • Reply
  • Winner! My family loved this. Followed the ingredients except did not need the pasta water.
    When you say 2 medium onions can you tell me how many cups is it?

    I really don’t know what I’d do without your recipes. You’ve made me a good cook!

    When is your new cookbook coming out?

    • — Edythe Davis on December 26, 2020
    • Reply
    • So glad your family loved it, Edythe! 2 medium onions will yield about 2 cups diced onions. Hope that helps — and my new book is coming out in October 2021. 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 26, 2020
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    I love your recipes! If I want to double this recipe do I DOUBLE the milk? I read past reviews and people were inquiring.

    Thank you for helping so many cooks out there!

    Edie

    • — Edythe Davis on December 23, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Edythe, If you double the recipe, I would double everything. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on December 23, 2020
      • Reply
  • I have a family member with a dairy and nut allergy. Do you think I can just add more beef broth in its place? I realize it won’t be exactly the same. I don’t want to use coconut milk in its place like I often do in recipes. I’m open to any ideas you may have.

    • — Annie L on December 19, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Annie, you can just omit the milk – it will still taste great. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2020
      • Reply
  • Outstanding!!! This is definitely a keeper! My family loved it! Thank you Jenn!

    • — Jonnette on December 18, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi there, love your recipes!
    Can I use heavy cream instead of the milk?

    • — Teri on December 18, 2020
    • Reply
    • Yes that should be fine, Teri.

      • — Jenn on December 18, 2020
      • Reply
  • Hi! Happy Holidays! I love using your cookbook! It’s now one of my favorites.

    My family LOVES bolognese sauce, but we don’t do pork. What do you recommend as a substitute for the richness from the pancetta? I feel like this recipe needs that depth of flavor, but I can’t figure out how to get it. Thank you!!

    • — Kim Ellsweig on December 17, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Kim, So glad you like the cookbook! It’s fine to omit the pancetta – the sauce will still be delicious!

      • — Jenn on December 18, 2020
      • Reply
  • Dying to make this. Do you use low sodium, unsalted or regular beef broth?

    • — Anna on December 15, 2020
    • Reply
    • Regular – hope you enjoy! 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 16, 2020
      • Reply
  • This bolognaise is outstanding. I have made it for years for my family, who love it. Whenever my son has friends over to share meals with us, he asks me to make this dish. A true hit! Thank you Jen!

    • — Damienne Dunham on December 9, 2020
    • Reply
  • Do you have a fresh pasta recipe to recommend? Thank you.

    • — Carolyn on November 10, 2020
    • Reply
    • As of now, I don’t have a pasta recipe of my own to share – I’m sorry! I’ll have to add that to my list of recipes to potentially develop. 🙂

      • — Jenn on November 10, 2020
      • Reply
  • This is the first recipe from this site that I did not really enjoy. Bland at best; missing something.

    • — Mark on October 24, 2020
    • Reply
  • I’ve always been a self-proclaimed hater of cooking, but since discovering Once Upon a Chef recipes, I actually look forward to the process and the end result. I have yet to make a single Once Upon a Chef recipe that didn’t turn out amazing, and this bolognese recipe was no exception. This is the best bolognese I’ve never had, better than any restaurant. Look no further for a bolognese recipe ever again. I made it with pappardelle noodles and it was out of this world. Followed the recipe to a tee; didn’t end up needing any of the leftover pasta water and skimmed some of the fat off the top of the sauce, although not sure how necessary this was. I accidentally over-processed the onions, but it was still amazing. Can’t wait to eat the leftovers today! Thanks, Jenn, for all your foolproof recipes!

    • — Hilary on October 18, 2020
    • Reply
  • Jenn…you never fail with your delicious recipes. This bolognese was the best we have ever had. Found your blog last spring and have become a huge fan. Every recipe I’ve tried has been a success. Thank you and keep them coming. BTW, never sent a review before.

    • — Gail D on October 12, 2020
    • Reply
  • Made this recipe, exactly as instructed, for a Sunday sauce with (Rao’s dried penne), proper el dente, for the unwashed.
    Sauce is an absolute game changer. Ridiculously deep and rich. From someone cooking for years, oh my!! All Timer, not even close……………
    Thank you

    • — Timothy Raczka on October 11, 2020
    • Reply
  • Want to buy a Le Creuset Dutch Oven to make some of your recipes I love (currently use a Le Creuset braiser, but need larger capacity). What size is your blue Dutch Oven, pictured in your Pasta Bolognese recipe. Thanks Jenn. Love your recipes!

    • — Marion on October 7, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Marion, That one is 5-1/2 quarts. Hope that helps (and glad you like the recipes)! 🙂

      • — Jenn on October 7, 2020
      • Reply
  • Another keeper! I made this for my husband’s birthday recently and everyone went back for seconds. I’ve made Marcela Hazan’s bolognese in the past and didn’t feel like the outcome was worth the effort/6+ hours of cooking time. This was definitely superior and took significantly less time. Thank you for another great recipe!

    • — Kim H. on September 13, 2020
    • Reply
  • How would the recipe be if I used light cream instead of milk?

    • — Virginia Lehner on September 9, 2020
    • Reply
    • I think it would be great! Enjoy 🙂

      • — Jenn on September 9, 2020
      • Reply
  • Delicious! I made a double batch so I can freeze some and take some to family. The meat is so tender and the flavor of the sauce is great. I’ve always liked bolognese much more than marinara because the tomato flavor is more subtle. Thanks for the recipe!!!

    • — Danielle on September 3, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen, We LOVE all your recipes! I have your cookbook and your recipes are ALWAYS a winner!! Question. I’m serving for company, 7 people, Pasta Bolognese and a salad. I wanted to serve another dish, thinking seafood, possibly your Greek shrimp with Feta? Or do you have a couple other suggestions? Thank you! I have confidence in entertaining because of you!

    • — Vicky on August 10, 2020
    • Reply
    • Oops one more question, should I double this recipe for 7? Thanks

      • — Vicky on August 10, 2020
      • Reply
      • It depends upon how much other food you’ll have. If you double it, you’ll definitely have leftovers (which freeze very nicely).

        • — Jenn on August 10, 2020
        • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes! Sure, I think the Greek shrimp would work. Some other options to consider: Oven-Steamed Mussels, Grilled Shrimp with Pesto, or Cioppino. Hope that helps and that you enjoy whatever you make!

      • — Jenn on August 10, 2020
      • Reply
  • This was delicious and great paired with fresh fettuccine. The meat was so tender and broke down to be the same size as the veges. Using the processor to prepare the vegetables makes it fast and uniform. I made half recipe for 2 of us just to try it out. Next time I’ll make full recipe so I can freeze some. Oh and I used bacon instead of pancetta. I think it worked well.

    • — Jude on June 24, 2020
    • Reply
  • I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for many months. I finally got around to making it today. It was absolutely delicious. My picky husband loved it. My foodie son loved it. I followed the recipe exactly and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    • — Wendy on June 18, 2020
    • Reply
  • This was very easy to make, and will now be my ‘go-to’ recipe!

    • — Darcy on May 21, 2020
    • Reply
  • Jenn! Delicious! I doubled the batch and it’s simmering now! Even before the full hour-thirty it’s amazing! Thanks for another great recipe!

    • — Lisa Cronin on May 18, 2020
    • Reply
  • I’m currently simmering your Bolognese sauce and I have a question: the can of crushed tomatoes you have in your photograph is the 28 ounce size. Do you only pour half of that can of crushed tomatoes into the sauce? Thank you and love all your recipes!—Sheryl

    • — Sheryl Rosenberg on May 14, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Sheryl, Yes that’s correct – I photographed this during the shelter-in-place so there was a shortage of canned tomato products. Sorry for the confusion!

      • — Jenn on May 14, 2020
      • Reply
      • Thank you for your quick response! I ended up using the entire 28oz can of crushed tomatoes and it was wonderful! I cooked it closer to 3 hours total and it seemed perfect.

        • — Sheryl on May 15, 2020
        • Reply
  • I have made several of your recipes which have all turned out great. However this one had a very strong “beefy” flavor– the beef broth was so strong. (I doubled the recipe– all ingredients which resulted in 32 oz of beef broth–I used trader joe’s beef broth). What did I do wrong???

    • — debbie on May 14, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Debbie, while it’s made with beef and beef broth, it shouldn’t taste overly “beefy” due to all the other ingredients. Is this the first time you’ve used Trader Joe’s beef broth? If so, perhaps it’s got a stronger flavor than what you’re accustomed to.

      • — Jenn on May 14, 2020
      • Reply
  • I have this on the stove right now and can’t wait for dinner! I used ground (dark meat) turkey and added a little extra tomatoes, only because I had just the larger can and didn’t want to be wasteful! The house smells delicious!

    • — Michelle on May 10, 2020
    • Reply
  • If I’m making this (and other sauces) a day in advance, should I wait to use the fresh herbs until it reheats? It’s going to be good either way, but I don’t know how fresh herbs hold up over time once cooked.

    Thanks!

    • — Matt on May 9, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Matt, I’d wait until serving to sprinkle on the fresh herbs. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 10, 2020
      • Reply
  • The only milk I have in the house is skim. Would that work?
    Thank you!

    • — Sherry on May 5, 2020
    • Reply
    • In a pinch, you can get away with it. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 5, 2020
      • Reply
  • I made this for lunch today and it was fabulous! I didn’t have pancetta so I substituted ham, and no fresh basil so dried was added before turning off the heat. There’s only me and my husband in the household, so half of the leftovers were put in the freezer for a future meal. I’m excited to taste it again after it’s been in the refrigerator because I guessing it’s one of those dishes that taste better the next day

    • — Suzon on May 1, 2020
    • Reply
  • This was the first emailed weekly recipe I received. The picture looked so appetizing, plus I wanted to find out what a Bolognese sauce was, so I made this recipe. It turned out great!
    We had it with a Caesar salad made with dressing from your recipe. We loved this dish!

    • — Richard W. on April 30, 2020
    • Reply
    • Glad you enjoyed it – I hope it’s the first of many successes! 🙂

      • — Jenn on May 1, 2020
      • Reply
  • I am going to make this tonight for dinner. I have all the ingredients except the wine. Will substituting the wine greatly impact the flavor? Also, I only found crushed tomatoes in 28oz cans. Do I only use half? It seems like a small amount.

    • — Justine on April 30, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Justine, you can replace the wine with additional beef broth. And I’d stick with the 14 ounces of crushed tomatoes. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 30, 2020
      • Reply
  • Jenn, being stuck at home makes this the perfect time to make this sauce…a couple of questions. Some one told me to add a little nutmeg, how much is a little and will add anything to the sauce? Next question, will cooking it longer make it better? Some people swear my 3 to 4 hours and time we have plenty of. Would fat free half and half be any better to use than milk? Eagerly awaiting your answers and making this for dinner.

    • — Carol Winkelman on April 28, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Carol, The nutmeg will add a warm, nutty, slightly sweet flavor to the sauce. I’d probably suggest 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. And regarding the time it cooks, I think the amount specified in the recipe is sufficient, but you really can’t overcook this so feel free to simmer it for longer (just cover it if you find it’s getting too thick) if you’d like. And I think you could get away with half and half if you’d prefer to use that. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

      • — Jenn on April 29, 2020
      • Reply

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