Make Ahead

My Favorite Bolognese

October  7, 2019
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 4 hours
  • Makes about 9 cups
Author Notes

Everyone seems to have their own spin on how to make bolognese. My version is based on the ragu used in Bologna to make traditional lasagna bolognese. The longer you can slowly simmer this sauce, the better it will taste. I use a mix of ground beef, pork, and veal in my bolognese (although you can certainly experiment with whatever combination of ground meat you want). The true secret ingredient here is the bouquet garni containing a parm rind and prosciutto scraps. You might be able to obtain free prosciutto scraps by going to any store where they slice prosciutto to order and asking what they do with the stump of the leg when it gets too small to slice. Some stores will simply give you that prosciutto stump for free. —Josh Cohen

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
My Favorite Bolognese
  • 1 piece Parmesan rind
  • 1 piece prosciutto scrap, from the base of the leg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A few sprigs fresh thyme
  • Canola oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry red wine
  • 2 cups unsalted veal stock (or unsalted chicken stock)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  1. Make your bouquet garni by placing the parmesan rind, prosciutto scrap, bay leaves, and thyme in a piece of cheesecloth. Tie the cheesecloth into a tight bundle using twine. Set your bouquet garni aside.
  2. Set a large pot over high heat and add just enough canola oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pot. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the ground beef to the pot. Season it with a couple pinches of salt and a few cracks of freshly ground black pepper. Cook the ground beef until it begins to brown and caramelize. You'll get more caramelization if you wait one minute before stirring, and if you press the meat flat against the bottom of the pot to create more surface area. When the ground beef is fully cooked and somewhat caramelized, move the pot off the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the ground beef to a bowl. Repeat this cooking process with the ground pork and ground veal. Cooking the ground meat in batches prevents overcrowding the pot, helping you to caramelize the meat rather than steam it. When all of your ground meat is cooked, add it all back into the pot, along with the minced garlic, and cook for 1 minute over high heat, stirring consistently.
  3. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot along with a couple pinches of salt. Reduce the heat to medium, and use a wooden spoon to crush the whole peeled tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring consistently and crushing the whole tomatoes whenever you see them. Next, add the red wine, and add your bouquet garni. Make sure the bouquet garni is fully submerged under the liquid of the pot. Cook for 75 to 90 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so, making sure to use the spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot in order to prevent scorching. Adjust the heat so that the sauce is gently simmering.
  4. When the wine has nearly fully reduced, add the stock, and continue to gently simmer the sauce for another 60 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent any scorching. When the stock has reduced and the sauce appears to be thickening, add the milk. Cook for approximately 75 to 90 minutes, until the sauce looks rich and thick. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. You want to take the sauce off the heat when it looks thick and rich, but when it still has a little liquidity to it. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
  5. When you're ready to take the sauce off the heat, remove the bouquet garni, and squeeze it to make sure you've extracted all the liquid and flavor from it. You can then discard the bouquet garni (although the cooked prosciutto scrap is good flaked in an omelette if you want to save that meat). Stir the sauce and taste. Add more salt as necessary. Use the sauce immediately or store it in the fridge for a few days and use it when you're ready. If you're reheating cold sauce from the fridge, add 1/4 cup of water while you reheat it to help loosen the sauce back up.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Eileen Richter
    Eileen Richter
  • Anna Peloni
    Anna Peloni
  • Andy Zillges
    Andy Zillges
  • Smaug
  • Josh Cohen
    Josh Cohen

15 Reviews

rochelle K. April 14, 2024
best bolognese is right. the bouquet garni of prosciutto and parm rind is what makes it. super simple. slightly caramelizing each batch of meat important. then just remember to start it early enough in the day.
Eileen R. March 5, 2021
I am wondering why the milk toward the end? I always through that the time and reason to add the milk was to the meat after it is browned -- simmering for a few minutes - so that it tempers the acidity of the tomatoes- when they are added.
Josh C. March 5, 2021
Hi Eileen, the milk softens and tenderizes the meat in the bolognese sauce. I like adding the milk at the end because I do not want it to cook/reduce too much. This way it also doesn't interact too much with the acidic red wine (letting the alcohol cook off and reduce will help ensure the milk doesn't accidentally break/curdle while it cooks).
Smaug March 6, 2021
Absolutely the most misunderstood step of this dish; you're right, it needs to be done at the beginning of the recipe, before any acid (wine or tomatoes) is added. The meat proteins combine with the milk proteins to produce a unique texture. Meat shouldn't be browned, though, just barely cooked.
Eileen R. March 6, 2021
ok. That's the way I've always done it but now am at a crossroads I'm not sure I want to cross but may need to: 2 out of 3 are rather dairy-sensitive. That said, hard cheese (parm) is fine. But..and here's the but, I don't keep cow milk in the house anymore and we've all transitioned to oat milk (and sometimes a bit of almond milk) for coffee and cereal and smoothies. SO...I like the tempering of the acidity that milk provides. Any chance I can safely add either: 1. oatmilk or 2. coconut milk to achieve the same effect? Of does it just enrich and not temper the acidity? I feel like I'm jumping off a cliff here but ready to try a slightly different path.
Smaug March 6, 2021
Well, the milk's effect on the meat is from milk proteins, which are unique, so there's no obvious substitute. Most of the flavor of the tomatoes is in the acid range, hopefully tempered by sweetness though that can be difficult to come by with commercial tomatoes. If you find the acidity excessive, you could add some fat to tone it down- milk fat will help, but you really don't want a milky sauce and milk itself contains lactic acid; I presume that oat milk contains some fat, and coconut milk often contains a lot, but it adds its own taste. Some people (I'm not one) like to add olive oil or butter. In a deesperate casee I suppose you could try baking soda, but I don't like the idea and wouldn't do it myself.
Anna P. January 19, 2021
This recipe sounds delicious, but I’m confused a bit. I’m planning on making it this weekend and I’m just wondering that if I have to crush the whole tomatoes then why not just buy crushed tomatoes? In the video it mentions that I do not need to add all of the tomato juices, but in the instructions it states to “add the tomatoes & their juices.” If someone could clarify I would appreciate it.
Josh C. January 19, 2021
Hi Anna, as hand-crushed whole peeled tomatoes simmer and break down they add body to a sauce in a way that canned crushed tomatoes do not. It's a subtle difference though. A far as the discrepancy between the video and the written recipe, I'm sorry for that. I think in the video we eliminated the "juices" because there were some time constraints and we had to film it as quickly as possible - I apologize again for that. Only skip the juices if you're in a rush.
Anna P. January 19, 2021
No need to apologize, I understand! Thank you so much for your response. I will remember this tip regarding the tomatoes from now on. I’m very excited to make this soon. :)
Jean May 29, 2020
I never knew there was so much to creating bolognese, but it was my favorite dish at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Atlanta owned by a chef who had a colorful past and had trained in Italy. I couldn’t help but order it every time I went there. When I moved to the Charleston area I mourned the loss of that bolognese and knew I had to try to make my own. This recipe hits all the high notes and rivals, for for fork, my Atlanta restaurant version. I will make it over and over again. The extensive time involved only makes it that much better (and it’s the perfect way to spend a quarantine day). Thank you for sharing!
Josh C. May 29, 2020
Hi Jean, thanks for this great comment, I appreciate the positive feedback
Andy Z. December 24, 2019
I have a recipe for Lasagna Bolognese that I got from a work associates grandmother from Bologna Italy. The ingredient list is simple but the results are amazingly delicious. I usually simmer the sauce for about 3 hours minimum and as you said, the longer the simmer the more flavor you develop. My recipe is quite different than yours though with no browning of the meat (as Smaug notes below) and no umami add-ins. Thanks for your recipe!
Smaug November 22, 2019
Like most recent Bolognese recipes I've seen, this one is virtually the antithesis of the Marcela Hazan recipe I use. Two major differences; "Umami" has become a fad- though it's been known and used forever, having found a name for it it's become a thing; recipes tend to umami load to the max in the name of "building flavor" though in truth it is often muddying the basic flavors. The Hazan recipe specifically avoids browning of the meat ("just until it's lost it's raw look")or onions, uses white wine rather than red and skips currently popular add ins such as the "bouquet garni" in this one, or anchovy paste, tomato paste etc. often used nowadays. No stock is added' the wine is reduced at the beginning and the liquid comes from the tomatoes. The other big difference is the milk; it is completely reduced before the wine is added. As far as I can tell what's happening, the milk proteins denature and combine with proteins from the meat- at any rate the milk soon becomes transparent and the meat is transformed by combining with the milk solids; the finished dish does not visibly show any signs that it contains milk. The overall effect is an airy yet powerfully flavored sauce totally different from the dark, heavy dishes modern recipes tend to produce, a complete difference in philosophy.
Ethel B. May 12, 2020
You are right on. Or maybe i should say Marcella is right on. We both lived there, although she longer than I. I lived in Bologna for 7 years. There are no mushrooms, no thyme, no 1-1/2 C of milk, no red wine, rather white. And to make it the true traditional way, which no one does anymore, beef and pork (2:1) with, (now get this), ground up chicken livers that are sauteéd with the sofritto (the carrots, celery and onions). No sauce in the northern part of italy is simmered for 3 hrs., 45 min max. But the ragù should sit for a long while, which probably subs for the long simmer. And the next day? Absolutely superb.
Smaug May 13, 2020
I remember the chicken livers from a Giuliani Bugialli recipe; I don't eat chicken in any form so always skipped it, but I do have to dig out that cookbook again.