Real-deal Italian Bolognese sauce, made easy! Truly authentic recipe with tons of bold flavor, meat, and vegetables. Such a special meal!

Bolognese sauce served over cooked spaghetti with a dollop of ricotta.

Today I’m bringing you a truly special recipe!

My son calls it “bolgonies,” lol! We have a chalkboard wall in the kitchen where I list the upcoming meals and that’s how his brain read it, which I thought was pretty cute!

Actually, it’s Bolognese (BOWL-uhn-YAYS). It’s a classic Italian meat sauce that is slow-cooked over a low flame, to really develop the flavors into something magical.

It’s a widely held misconception that Bolognese sauce is just tomato sauce with ground beef added. While that is also really good (and I make it often!) it’s not an authentic Bolognese recipe.

In fact, Bolognese has lots more ingredients. And while it does have tomatoes in it, it’s less about the tomato and more about the meat and the variety of other veggies as well.

I’ve been cooking Italian food for many decades! Both professionally and as a home cook and mom. So if that’s your jam, be sure to check out my shrimp scampi recipe, my chicken Marsala, and my thin and crisp pizzelle recipe too.

Bolognese recipe, prepared and served over pasta with fresh basil.

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What is Bolognese sauce?

Bolognese sauce gets its name from the region from which it originated: Bologna. This part of Italy is along the front of the boot, about halfway down. In this area, pasta and pizza reign supreme, and there are lots of dishes that feature tomatoes prominently. Many of the dishes we think of as Italian American actually hail from Bologna.

Bolognese sauce is made from a combination of vegetables, meats, milk, herbs, and seasonings, slow simmered for a long time to meld and marry the flavors in a truly delicious way.

As it cooks, the meats become meltingly tender and the sauce thickens to a really hearty texture.

It can be scooped up with crusty, chewy hunks of bread (such as this ciabatta), ladled over pasta or polenta, or heaped onto a bowl of pillowy gnocchi.

It’s comfort food at its absolute best!

Why this is the best Bolognese recipe

  1. Tastes amazing: The combination of veggies, meat, and seasonings yields a silky yet robust sauce that will really tickle your tastebuds!
  2. Authentic: This recipe is made according to the real Italian tradition.
  3. Easy to make: While there are a lot of ingredients and it cooks for a long time, the steps to make it couldn’t be simpler.
  4. Versatile: Feel free to swap in your favorite ingredients to make this your own!

What does Bolognese sauce taste like?

In this authentic Bolognese recipe, all of the ingredients marry together so that no one ingredient is shouting at you.

While it has tomato in it, I wouldn’t call this a tomato sauce. The meats and vegetables all have an equal say. So it tastes savory, a little sweet, fresh yet rich, and herbal. You get a little bit of everything, and it’s so tasty!


Ingredients for making Bolognese sauce, with text labels.

Water: Hot water will soften up the dried mushrooms and create a savory broth.

Mushrooms: I like a combination of fresh mushrooms (white buttons are fine but more exotic mushrooms like criminis work beautifully too) and dried, reconstituted mushrooms. Dried porcinis are my go-to, for their intensely earthy umami flavor.

Pancetta: The meat and vegetables get cooked in the rendered fat from finely diced pancetta, which is similar to bacon but without the smoke. This adds a savory flavor like nothing else. You can find diced pancetta (which is cured pork belly) in the deli section of your regular grocery store.

Mire poix: Mire poix is a fancy French name for carrots, celery, and onion.

Garlic: Fresh garlic adds a sharp savory note to the sauce. It wouldn’t be Italian food if it didn’t have garlic, am I right?

Ground meat: You can use ground beef (I like 90% lean), ground turkey (85% lean is good), or meatloaf mix in this recipe. Meatloaf mix is a combination of ground beef, veal, and pork, and it’s really good!

Herbs: We are going to add dried oregano and bay leaves, and a sprig of rosemary to this sauce for a woodsy, classic flavor. I also like to sprinkle on some fresh basil just before serving.

Seasonings: I season this dish simply with kosher salt and crushed red pepper flakes.

Milk: It’s traditional to add milk to spaghetti Bolognese. I know it sounds strange, but if you think about it, it makes sense. The natural acidity tenderizes the meats and the fats add a richer taste.

Tomatoes: I like canned crushed tomatoes, just the plain kind. You don’t need the kind with garlic or basil added, because we are already adding that ourselves.

Wine: A bit of red wine carries and intensifies all the flavors, and adds a little something special of its own.

Special equipment

How to make Bolognese

This is a truly special meal that has a lot of love in it! There are a lot of ingredients and it takes some time to cook, but the steps are easy and it’s mostly downtime for the cook. And the results make it all worthwhile!

Step 1: Soak the dried mushrooms

Place the dried porcinis in very hot water and allow them to soak for 30 minutes (or longer).

Soaking dried mushrooms in hot water.

This creates a “mushroom stock” that adds tons of complex, savory flavor to the Bolognese.

Reconstituted porcini mushrooms.

Once the mushrooms are soft enough to chop, fish them out with the slotted spoon, reserving the liquid for later.

Step 2: Render the pancetta

Next, pop the pancetta into the pot. You don’t need to add any oil.

Cooking diced pancetta in a large pot.

As the pancetta cooks, it releases a lot of its own fat. This fat liquefies in the heat, and it’s full of flavor! We are going to use that to cook the veggies and meat in.

Step 3: Process the vegetables

Mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic all go into the bowl of the food processor.

Vegetables for making spaghetti Bolognese in the bowl of a food processor.

Process everything on low speed until ground finely, but don’t stress too much if there are a few bigger pieces. They’ll cook down and soften a lot.

Step 4: Cook the meat and veg with the seasonings

Add the ground veggies to the pot, along with the ground meat, herbs, and seasonings.

Adding ground meat, vegetables, herbs and seasonings to Bolognese sauce.

Cook the mixture, stirring, over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink.

Step 5: Add milk

Next you can add in the milk.

Adding milk to cooked meat and vegetables.

Allow it all to simmer, stirring, until all the liquid has evaporated.

Simmering Bolognese ingredients until no liquid remains.

Step 6: Add other liquids

Once the milk seems to have disappeared, you can stir in the tomatoes, mushroom stock, and red wine.

Adding crushed tomatoes, mushroom stock, and red wine to Bolognese sauce.

Step 7: Simmer

Once the mixture has come up to a boil, turn down the heat so it’s barely simmering. Pop on a lid, but don’t fit it on tight. Leave it a little ajar so some steam can escape.

Bolognese sauce simmering over low heat.

I like to let this bubble away for no less than an hour. Preferably more like 2 hours. It goes incredibly soft and tender, it thickens a ton, and the flavors combine and mellow out in the most gorgeous way.

How to serve

Spaghetti Bolognese is a total classic, so that’s how I’ve prepared this dish for the photos you see here. Just boil up your noodles in salty water for a minute less than the package directs, then add them to the sauce so they can finish cooking there, and absorb some of the yummy flavors. Toss them around and pile them in a bowl or on a plate.

I like to add a dollop of ricotta on top for its cool, milky flavor. And a shower of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano adds a salty richness as well. I also like a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and some freshly torn basil leaves. Such a great combination of rich and fresh!

You could also ladle this Bolognese sauce over polenta. It’s great on soft polenta or the more firm kind that’s been sliced and grilled.

It’s great on gnocchi as well! Truly a special Italian feast.

Whatever you put it on, a couple of garlic knots on the side are a must! And some fresh greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette or lemon vinaigrette provide a nice sharp contrast to all the earthy richness.

Bolognese sauce served over pasta with olive oil and parmesan.

Expert tips

Cook low and slow: This is slow food! Which is one of my favorite kinds. Even though it cooks for a long time, you can do other things while it bubbles away on the stove. And that low, slow cook yields the most incredible flavors! So keep it over a very low flame, stir it every so often, and allow some steam to escape so the sauce can reduce down and the flavors can concentrate and intensify.

Add your favorites: This Bolognese recipe is stripped down to its bare essentials, but you can get creative and really make it your own by adding in some of your favorites. I think you could use bulk Italian sausage or game meat like venison or wild boar (super authentic!), or add in fennel or eggplant, toss in the rind from a wedge of parmesan, or add a unique herb or spice that could take this recipe to a whole different level!

Make it healthy: Using ground turkey can really cut the calories! But don’t go too lean or you’ll miss out on flavor. I think a blend of 85% lean to 15% fat hits that sweet spot.

Crockpot Bolognese recipe: Once everything has been sauteed and the milk is evaporated, transfer everything to a slow cooker and allow it to simmer on low heat until you’re ready to serve it.

Instant pot Bolognese recipe: Cook the meat and veggies on the “saute” setting of your instant pot then simmer off the milk. Add the tomatoes, mushroom stock, and red wine, pop on the lid, and set it to high pressure for 20 minutes. Then release the pressure and simmer the sauce until thickened (approx. 5 to 10 minutes).

Frequently asked questions

What if I don’t have dried mushrooms?

These are a real pantry staple for me. I use them to add complex, earthy, umami to all kinds of dishes, including mushroom risotto.

They can be bought in the produce section of your regular grocery store, or online: dried porcini mushrooms. They’re sold with silica gel packets in the container, so they keep for a long time at room temperature.

If you really don’t want to use them you can leave them out, but the flavor won’t be quite the same. Add additional red wine in place of the liquid.

Do I have to use wine?

Again, this ingredient can be left out and water or stock can be substituted, but you won’t get quite the same flavor, and it won’t be as authentic.

Why is my Bolognese too watery?

If your sauce is too runny, just continue to simmer it so that more of the liquid can evaporate off. The longer you cook this sauce, the thicker it will become!

Why is my Bolognese too thick?

If you cook it for too long, it could get really thick and it might even taste too salty. If this happens, thin it out with water.

Can this be made ahead?

Bolognese is a great make-ahead recipe.

Keep it at a bare simmer on the stove for several hours or in a slow cooker.

Once fully cooked, it will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for a few months. Thaw it in the fridge and reheat it in the microwave or over low heat in a pot on the stove until warmed through.

What is the serving size?

One batch of this Bolognese recipe should serve about 8 people if it’s ladled over spaghetti, polenta, or gnocchi.

The nutritional info in the recipe card below is for 1/8th of the whole batch. It includes the ricotta, parm, basil, and olive oil, but not the starch you’d be likely to serve it over.

Spaghetti Bolognese garnished with fresh basil, ricotta, parmesan, and olive oil.

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Bolognese sauce served over cooked spaghetti with a dollop of ricotta.
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Bolognese Sauce

Servings: 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Soaking Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours
Real-deal Italian Bolognese sauce, made easy! Truly authentic recipe with tons of bold flavor, meat, and vegetables. Such a special meal!


  • 1 cup (236.59 g) water, hot
  • 1/2 ounce (14.17 g) dried mushrooms, preferably porcinis
  • 4 ounces (113.4 g) pancetta, finely diced
  • 8 ounces (226.8 g) fresh mushrooms, such as white buttons
  • 1/2 (55 g) onion
  • 1 (61 g) carrot
  • 1 stalk (40 g) celery
  • 5 cloves (15 g) garlic
  • 1 pound (453.59 g) ground meat, such as beef, turkey, or meatloaf mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (3 g) dried oregano
  • 2 (0.2 g) dried bay leaves
  • 1 sprig (0.1 g) fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (9 g) kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (0.5 g) crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup (122 g) milk, whatever kind you keep on hand
  • 28 ounces (793.79 g) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup (240 g) red wine
  • 16 ounces (453.59 g) ricotta, (optional garnish)
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano, (optional garnish)
  • 1/2 cup (12 g) basil leaves, freshly torn (optional garnish)
  • 1/2 cup (108 g) extra-virgin olive oil, (optional garnish)


  • Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot water for at least 30 minutes.
  • Place the pancetta in a large, dry pot over medium heat and cook, stirring, until it releases some of its fat.
  • Fish the reconstituted dried mushrooms out of the water (reserving the liquid for later) and add them to the bowl of a food processor along with the fresh mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.
  • Process the mixture to a fine paste, and add it to the pot along with the ground meat, oregano, bay leaves, rosemary, salt, and crushed red pepper.
  • Cook, stirring, until the meat is no longer pink (approx. 5 to 10 minutes).
  • Add the milk and continue to cook, stirring, until it boils away completely (approx. 5 to 10 minutes).
  • Add the crushed tomatoes, the reserved liquid from the dried mushrooms, and the red wine, and bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down to low and allow the sauce to simmer (partially covered) until very thick (approx. 1 to 2 hours).
  • Serve over cooked spaghetti, gnocchi, or polenta, and garnish with ricotta, parmesan, basil, and olive oil.
Serving: 0.125batch, Calories: 536kcal, Carbohydrates: 16g, Protein: 23g, Fat: 41g, Saturated Fat: 14g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 20g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 86mg, Sodium: 877mg, Potassium: 787mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 7g, Vitamin A: 1953IU, Vitamin C: 12mg, Calcium: 259mg, Iron: 3mg
Cuisine: Italian
Course: Main Course, Sauce, Topping
Tried this recipe?Mention @bakingamoment on Instagram or tag #bakingamoment.


  • Allie

    Allie is the creator and owner of Baking a Moment. She has been developing, photographing, videographing, and writing and sharing recipes here since 2012.