This quick and easy recipe for Weeknight Bolognese lets you enjoy a classic Italian meat sauce simplified into a 30-minute meal. It’s a little bit Ina Garten, a little bit Marcella Hazan, and a whole lot delicious.
There are a handful of semi-unfortunate side effects of being a food blogger and obsessed with recipes in general. One example? I so frequently seek out new recipes that I sometimes completely forget about tried and true favorites. Sometimes this happens for a short while, other times for months or years on end. I regret deeply that this has been the case with this weeknight bolognese pasta.
I love making it. My husband really loves eating it. It’s simple and fast to prepare, yet still has a complex, hearty taste, letting you imagine, for a moment, that dinner has been simmering on your Italian nonna’s stove all day long.
What is bolognese sauce?
Bolognese is a classic Italian meat sauce rounded out with wine, tomatoes, and a bit of cream or milk. It’s associated with the city of Bologna, in northern Italy, and known locally as ragù alla bolognese.
Traditionally, bolognese might be served with broad, flat ribbons of tagliatelle pasta, but of course any pasta shape that you like works in practice. I used to serve it with spaghetti, but have since switched to using shells, as shown in the photos here. The scoops are great for holding the sauce!
How to make weeknight bolognese
Be sure to scroll down for the full recipe!
- Sauté veggies in a large skillet.
- Crumble and brown ground sirloin or beef.
- Stir in seasonings, canned tomatoes, and wine.
- Let simmer while you start the pasta.
- Add a splash of cream, if using, and a more seasoning. Simmer again.
- Add drained pasta and serve.
A little Parmesan on top is always a good idea. 🙂
Those are the fundamentals. Interested in learning more about the origins and different versions of bolognese? Read on!
Ina’s vs. Marcella’s
I started making bolognese sauce about six years ago, thanks to Ina Garten. As a friend said once, I trust Ina; she looks like she actually eats. 😉
Many bolognese sauces take all day to prepare, and granted those are probably more authentic. Ina’s gift, however, is to make a delicious bolognese accessible to mere mortals and everyday cooks.
For example, one of the most lauded recipes for bolognese comes from the collected works of Marcella Hazan; the New York Times has featured it as a particularly beloved classic. I’ve tried it, and yes, you will be smitten after one bite. I mean, it has a 5-star rating over thousands of reviews. It can only be a thing of a beauty. But, that version takes at least 4 hours to prepare. Don’t get me wrong: I love Marcella Hazan. I kind of want to be her if I ever grow up. But, sadly, I just don’t have that kind of time. So back to Ina’s method I go, only with a few Marcella-inspired additions, namely:
- Veggies. Hazan, who famously introduced English-speaking cooks to authentic Italian cuisine, included veggies in her bolognese, so you better believe I’m going to do the same! More authentic! More vegetables! I typically use carrots, because we enjoy and nearly always have them. You can add a handful of finely chopped celery, as well, if you like.
What kind of wine to use in bolognese?
I strongly prefer red wine in bolognese, although white wine is reportedly more authentic. Use something robust and of a quality that you would be happy to drink, as well, because the flavor is prominent. Pinot Noir or Chianti work well.
Does bolognese have cream or milk?
This is yet another source of debate–yes, an authentic bolognese contains milk, which adds a bit more richness to the sauce. However, in practical home cook terms, this is purely optional. Add a splash of cream or milk if you have it and like it; the sauce will be delicious and hearty with or without.
More classic sauces and pasta recipes
If you try this Weeknight Bolognese, don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 3/4 cup shredded carrots finely chopped
- 1 pound ground sirloin or lean beef
- 3-4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 and 1/4 cups dry red wine divided
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes ideally San Marzano or another high-quality brand
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 10-12 cranks fresh-ground black pepper
- 1 pound dried pasta any shape
- 1-2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup cream optional
- freshly grated Parmesan to serve
- Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots and cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes.
- Add beef and cook, crumbling it as you go, for 5 minutes or until the meat is mostly browned. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute more. Add 1 cup of the wine and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and black pepper. Bring sauce to a simmer and let it bubble for roughly 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous sprinkle of kosher salt, and cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- To finish the sauce, add nutmeg, basil, remaining 1/4 cup wine, and cream, if using. Simmer 5-7 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add drained pasta to the sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan and fresh basil, if desired, and serve.
- Wine: This does have more wine than the average dinner recipe, to be sure to use something you enjoy and would drink on its own! We love a simple Pinot Noir or Chianti.
- Meat: Feel free to swap ground chicken or turkey for the ground beef to make this a bit leaner.
- Pasta: Any pasta works well for this; spaghetti is always fun, but using something like shells or corkscrew-shaped cavatappi gives the sauce plenty of nooks and crannies to sink into.
- Basil: Feel free to use fresh in the sauce if you have it! Add anywhere between 2 tablespoons and 1/4 cup of fresh basil, slivered or chopped.
- Recipe: Adapted from Ina Garten with a few additions inspired by Marcella Hazan via the New York Times.
This post was originally published October 18, 2017, and has been updated with new photos and more specific tips and tricks for the recipe.