Traditional (sort of) Ragù Bolognese

Instead of my usual (but oh so delicious) sauce with meatballs yesterday, I wanted to try a meat sauce instead.  I started researching bolognese sauce recipes and was very surprised to find out traditional ones aren’t tomato based.  What??  I always thought bolognese sauce was sauce with meat added to it.  No, it’s actually a meat based sauce.  Actually in my opinion, it’s not a “sauce,” it’s just meat.  The meat is the star.  I am half Italian so I really should have known that, but my mom never really made meat sauce growing up!  It was always about the meatballs!  After you make this recipe you will realize that when you’ve ordered bolognese sauce at some restaurants, what you’ve been served is not this.  This is far superior to any red sauce with meat added to it.  I’ve never ordered bolognese at a 4 or 5 star Italian restaurant, but I am very curious to try that now.

My recipe is blended based off 2 different recipes – one from Bon Appetit and one from  Interestingly, Bon Appetit uses red wine, Foodnouveau uses white.  It looks like white is more traditionally used than red, but as much as I love red wine, my first shot at this had to of course use red.  Both recipes call for pancetta which I forgot to buy at the store.  All I had in the house was maple flavored bacon.  I toyed with the idea of using none at all because the maple flavor might ruin the sauce, but everything is better with bacon, right?!  I am SO glad I used it!!  I have to say, the maple added a really interesting and delicious flavor to this dish.  I would indeed use the maple bacon again, but I will definitely try this with pancetta next time.  All the recipes I viewed called for celery which I also forgot (it’s called a soffritto – onion, celery, and carrot).  I am not sure the ragu would have been any better with it, but I shall definitely use celery next time for comparison.

The reason I used “sort of”  in the title is because this recipe varies in many ways from the 2 recipes I viewed.  It was amazingly delicious so I am posting it.  I will, however, make the additions I spoke of earlier and try this again (well, I will make this many more times lol) but I will post as to which recipe I prefer.


  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large package ground beef (I used 80/20)
  • 1 small package ground veal
  • 8 slices maple bacon
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 tomato, diced (optional – I had an extra one I needed to use)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup beef stock or broth
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
  • Freshly grated parmesan/romano, for serving.  It doesn’t have to be freshly grated off the brick of cheese, but it does have to say freshly grated on the container (Stella brand for example).  Do not ever use the Kraft cheese from the can!

**Note: when chopping the onion and carrots, keep them approximately the same size.  This will allow them to cook evenly and will produce a better sauce texture.  Next time I need to chop mine a little smaller.



  • In a sauté pan, fully cook bacon and set aside on paper towel lined plate to drain.  Once cool, chop into very small pieces.
  • Heat butter and olive oil in dutch oven (heavy cast iron pot) over med-high heat.  Add onion, carrots, garlic, and a healthy dose of sea salt & pepper and sauté until soft. 

**Note: I don’t usually measure when I add s&p or herbs to my cooking, I eyeball it.  If I had to guess on what a healthy dose of salt is, I’d say start with 1 TBSP.  It’s best to start small and taste halfway through the cooking time and then adjust.  The reason I don’t measure sea salt in particular is because I never add sea salt from the container in which it was purchased.  Why?  Because it’s too easy to over salt that way.  I put it into my salt grinder and it’s difficult to measure into a TBSP from a salt grinder since you’re using both hands to grind it 🙂  I never use table salt in my cooking, only for baking.  Always sea salt for cooking! 

  • Increase the heat to high and add the meat a third at a time, stirring and breaking lumps with a wooden spoon between each addition.  Adding the meat gradually allows its liquid to evaporate which is key if you want to brown your meat and not boil it.  After the last addition, when no pink can be spotted in the meat and no lumps remain, set a timer to 15 minutes. You want your meat to caramelize and even become crispy in spots.  More liquids will evaporate and flavors will concentrate.  You want golden bits of meat to stick to the bottom of your pan, which will be deglazed later.  Watch over your pan as you don’t want the meat to burn.  When the meat has mostly caramelized, lower heat to medium to reach the end of the 15-minute sautéing time.

**Note: most websites will say to remove the meat from pan to deglaze.  That is if you are using the remains to make a sauce or gravy to pour over the meat.  You can still deglaze while the meat is in the pan as we do here.

  • Over medium heat, pour the wine into the pot.  With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Push the meat all around to make sure you scrape it all off.  Be careful not to let the meat stick again (lower the heat if necessary).
  • Add the bacon, tomato paste, diced tomato, and 1 cup beef stock and mix well.  You don’t want the meat completely submerged in liquid, you want it to look like this – if it doesn’t you can add a little more stock.


  • Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and simmer for 2 hours with the lid covering the pan 3/4 way.  You don’t want the lid all the way on because the moisture can’t escape and the sauce will not cook down properly.  You can stir this once after an hour.  At this point you can taste it and see if you need more salt & pepper.  Salt & pepper are the only seasonings in this sauce, so you will most likely need more!  I have to admit I did throw in some dried basil too…I just love basil!
  • Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Gradually add to sauce while stirring.  Cover 3/4 way and let simmer for 1 more hour.  If your sauce is not thick enough at this point (i.e. you still see a bit too much liquid) you can keep on simmering!  Cooking this longer will only make it better.

After reading Foodnouveau’s site, I realize I need to get much better with my pictures.  But this is the very delicious final product!


One final note: I LOVE papardelle pasta (a very wide noodle) but it’s very hard to find in a grocery store so I served this over fettucine.  I don’t feel this sauce is meant for a thin pasta like spaghetti or angel hair.  Try to imagine swirling angel hair with your fork.  It’s not going to capture the meat well. 

Serve with some parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top, crusty bread, and some lovely red wine.  Enjoy! 🙂


About Stacey Tashjian

I am a mom of 2, happily married, work full time, and one of my favorite things to do is cook elaborate meals on the weekends! I also love to read, I'm a movie junkie, and if I win the lottery I will spend a good portion of my time traveling the world! Soccer has also been a great love of mine - I still play soccer (run a league in NJ) and have been playing since I was 4.
This entry was posted in Beef, Main Course, Pasta and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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