Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

March 4, 2014

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: A bolognese that works around your schedule—and might even be better than Nonna's, thanks to a secret ingredient or four. Adapted slightly from The Kitchen Diaries (Gotham Books, 2006).Genius Recipes

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 2 hrs 30 min


For the bolognese

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 ounces cubed pancetta
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 fat cloves garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 large, flat mushrooms such as portobello, about 4 ounces
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound ground beef or lamb
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes or passata
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup stock
  • 1 nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half or cream

For serving

  • 8 ounces Spaghetti or tagliatelle
  • 1 handful Grated Parmesan, to taste
In This Recipe


  1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-based pot -- then stir in the pancetta and let it cook for five minutes or so, without coloring much. Meanwhile peel and finely chop the onion and garlic and stir them into the pancetta. Peel and finely chop the carrot and celery and stir them in, too. Lastly, finely chop the mushrooms and add to the pan, then tuck in the bay leaves and leave to cook for ten minutes over a moderate heat, stirring frequently.
  2. Turn up the heat and tip in the meat, breaking it up well with a fork.
  3. Now leave to cook without stirring for a good three or four minutes, then, as the meat on the bottom is starting to brown, stir again, breaking up the meat where necessary, and leave to color.
  4. Mix in the tomatoes, red wine, stock, a grating of nutmeg and some salt and black pepper, letting it come to the boil. Turn the heat down so that everything barely bubbles. There should be movement, but one that is gentle, not quite a simmer. Partially cover the pan with a lid and leave to putter away for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring from time to time and checking the liquid levels. You don't want it to be dry.
  5. Pour in the half-and-half or cream a bit at a time, stir and continue cooking for twenty minutes. Check the seasoning, then serve with the pasta and grated Parmesan.

More Great Recipes:
Pasta|Italian|Carrot|Celery|Milk/Cream|Nutmeg|Red Wine|Beef|One-Pot Wonders|Make Ahead|Slow Cook|Serves a Crowd

Reviews (86) Questions (5)

86 Reviews

Katie B. October 3, 2018
Tested this recipe last night- good but not wowed. And I am hoping to wow my bookclub with this recipe.
It did not taste layered as described. Maybe more cooking between layers?
Served over rigatoni’s e and sauce got lost. Not thick enough?
Used contadina crushed tomatoes, homemade chicken stock and light cream. Tasted saltier than preferred, not sure why. What does tipping the ground beep into the pan mean?
Want to get this right!
Kristen M. October 5, 2018
Hi Katie! I'm so bummed this wasn't a hit on the first try. My first thoughts on how to amp up the flavor: It should keep improving and melding after a day or so in the fridge, so it could be worth making ahead and reheating. Be sure to salt enough to taste to bring out all the flavors, but not enough to drown them out. Let plenty of browning happen on the bottom of the pan in step 3 (but not burning!). And make sure that the vegetables are at least softened and cooked through, no longer raw, before moving onto the next stage (you could let them even brown a little, if you want). I fit still seems too thin, let it keep reducing down and it will concentrate the flavors. I think by "tip in", he just means "add to the pan" in his lyrical way. By the way, if you're looking for less of a ground meat texture and more of a shredded, falling apart one, this recipe is very easy and delicious (some people like to add more tomatoes):
Fran M. September 8, 2018
My significant other informed me he was no longer eating beef or pork, I used lean ground chicken left out the pork and this dish still shines. It was wonderful. He thought I forgot and used beef.
Louise A. June 23, 2018
I love this recipe. I go to it again and again. I have even used it in lasagne and everyone I've made it for love it.
Fran M. March 22, 2018
I have been waiting for a request to make this again. It just arrived, I knew it would eventually. I didn’t think it would take this long.
riverdwell November 25, 2017
I plan to make this, but without the spaghetti because I'm on the Keto Diet.
Loreal November 25, 2017
This is a recipe I return to again and again. I never add the dairy because I'm lactose intolerant, but it's fabulous!
Anthony B. November 22, 2017
Wow, this was totally delicious--a streamlined bolognese worthy of the name! Do not be put off by the commenters below who are worked up by some detail about authenticity. This is very close to the real thing, with much less trouble! Thank you Nigel!!
Fran M. May 31, 2017
The first time I made this I forgot to add the cream. Still delicious.
Fran M. May 31, 2017
This dish is Amazing no matter what should or shouldn't be in it.
Ethel B. April 27, 2017
I've been reading over some posts. I realized from the remarks about butter, cream, mushrooms, broth, that this is not really authentic Bolognese ragù. Olive oil is used to sauté the carrots, celery and onions. There is no broth, and just a touch of cream at the end. AND NO MUSHROOMS!
Christy C. April 26, 2017
I made this and substituted coconut milk for cream, since we can't drink milk. It was lovely, with no coconut taste. Thank you for sharing this recipe!
Nicole K. January 2, 2017
Ok perhaps this is a silly question... when making any recipe for bolognese, they don't call for draining fat off of the ground meat used. Are you supposed to drain the fat or leave it for flavor. I always leave the fat. Maybe this helps to prevent the sauce from drying out?
Kristen M. January 3, 2017
Not a silly question! It's a matter of preference, and how fatty the meat is—I've never spooned off the fat in this recipe, but if there was a substantial amount, I'd consider skimming a little off.
Renee B. November 19, 2016
I made this last night but discovered during prep that our mushrooms were not usable. The result was still delicious. I'll make it again with the mushrooms as we are both fans.
Caroline N. September 26, 2016
What kind of stock should I use? Beef?
JulieBee September 26, 2016
Rachel April 28, 2016
Thank you! I was able to use my leftover breakfast sausage tube in place of pancetta. Next time I might try to find an opportunity to drain off some of the fat but it wasn't too greasy either way. What it was, was delicious!! Easy too! I wasn't very careful when dicing my veggies I ended up with some rustic chunks. I have no idea how much butter I actually used but more than a cup of cream seemed like overkill when I reached that step so I just added in a dash or two to smooth things out. I put half in the freezer for another night. Can't wait to make this again!!
Ethel B. April 25, 2016
Aaaand, this is where I shine. This is my Forte after having lived in Bologna for 7 yrs. Yes, there are secret ingredients. For one, now get this, about 1/4 lb. chicken livers. Aaaaand a mixture of meats, 2:1, beef:pork.
Florence L. August 22, 2016
Germans always use beef:pork 1:1. I get deer legs and liver, so I mince deer meat and thanks to your comment, will be sneaking in some liver as well!
Margaret January 18, 2016
3/4 cup heavy cream is waaaay too much for my taste. With that much cream, there's no way it can look like the photo. The Bolonese is great with just 1/4 cup.
4376ab November 5, 2016
You're right, that much heavy cream is a bit much, but 3/4 cup of half and half is perfect.
Joe C. September 20, 2015
From just reading it, this looks like an awesome sauce recipe.
DrGaellon September 6, 2015
Couldn't find pancetta, substituted steak-cut bacon. Had three portobello caps in the package, so used all three. Added a tablespoon or so of tomato paste before adding the meat. Used about an extra half-cup of tomatoes (half a 28-ounce can). AMAZING.
Smaug September 9, 2015
It's your dinner to do with as you would, but smoked meats are all but unknown in Italy and add a jarring note to essentially Italian recipes.
Alexis M. November 21, 2015
Lol, wrong. Never heard of speck, I take it?
Alexis M. November 21, 2015
OR prosciutto affumicato
Smaug December 31, 2015
Sure, I've heard of speck- that's where the "all but" comes in. Speck is used to a limited degree in parts of the north, probably a Swiss influence, and has no place in a Bolognese sauce.
Smaug January 1, 2016
Prosciutto Affumicato (smoked ham) I have of course heard of, though never in Italian; then again, in the modern world you're likely to find anything anywhere. Poking around a bit, I did find it on one long list of Italian dishes, though no one seems to have any more information on who makes it, where, or how it's used(there is a smoked Dalmatian version, Prsut)- apparently someone in Italy did once smoke a ham; still, has no place in a Bolognese sauce.
jstucky August 6, 2015
One of the best things I have ever made! So many of my favorite flavors to cook come together-- pancetta, butter, garlic, onions, mushrooms, red wine, cream. Like others mentioned, I also reduced the amount of butter and half and half and it still absolutely delicious!