When Americans think of meat sauce, images of spaghetti slathered in a bland ground beef and Prego sauce often come to mind. Until I tried an authentic Bolognese sauce in a small trattoria in Tuscany, I thought the same thing. And, to be honest, I loved boring old American meat sauce until I tried the Italian version. It’s complex, meaty, creamy and completely satisfying—everything a bowl of pasta should be.
What makes it different? This is a meat sauce with tomato added, not tomato sauce with a sprinkling of meat. Also, the Italian version includes vegetables, lots of them, a splash of red wine, and a good dose of beef stock—all of which make this a multilayered meaty marvel. A little half-and-half and Parmesan added to the sauce at the end of a long, low simmer make this a sinfully luxurious dish. A tube-shaped pasta like rigatoni allows the sauce to really penetrate the nooks and crannies of the pasta for a little meat in every bite.
I serve this with a Caesar salad and crusty Italian bread made with the help of my bread maker. A spicy Chianti Classico can really stand up to the meat in this dish. You’ll probably need more than one bottle to drink while you’re waiting for the sauce to finish. There’s no better time to drink wine and catch up with friends than around a bubbling pot of the best meat sauce you’ve ever had. Buon appetito!
Sugo alla Bolognese
This authentic meat and tomato sauce originates from Bologna, Italy. Any other type of ground meat can be substituted, just make sure it’s high quality. Use a thick-cut egg noodle or tube-shaped pasta with this sauce. I love rigatoni—spaghetti just can’t handle the weight. To save time and energy, chop all your veggies in the food processor instead of by hand. Just don’t over-process. Serves 8-10. This sauce freezes well. For a print copy of this recipe, click here.
3 stalks celery, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onion, chopped fine
4 oz. (about 5 strips) good quality-bacon bacon, cut into ½ in. pieces
1 lb. good-quality ground beef
1 lb. Italian sausage, hot or mild, ground or removed from casing
2 Tbs. Italian seasoning
2 (28 oz.) whole peeled canned tomatoes, San Marzano if available
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
2 Tbs. sugar
1 c. red wine
1½ c. beef broth
1 Tbs. kosher salt
1 Tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. half-in-half, heavy cream or milk
1 lb. thick-cut egg (like pappardelle) or tube-shaped pasta
S & P to taste
½ c. Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for garnish
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Cook the meat and veggies. In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat. When it starts to get crispy, drain off half the fat. Add the veggies and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add both meats and sauté until brown. Mix in the tomatoes, Italian seasoning, sugar, and tomato paste, breaking up the tomatoes slightly.
Add liquids and leave to simmer. Stir in the red wine and the beef broth, and simmer over medium-low heat for 1.5-2.5 hours. At this point, the sauce will have thickened and reduced by almost half. Add the half-and-half, salt and pepper, and simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes more. Salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta, add sauce, and garnish. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain in a colander and return to pot over low heat. Ladle in a few cups of Bolognese sauce, stirring to coat the pasta. Add more sauce as desired. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and pour into serving dish. Top with chopped fresh parsley and more Parmesan.