spaghetti bolognese

Back when I was in grade school, the joy of waking up early on Saturday mornings was being able to watch new episodes of my favorite cartoon shows. Surprisingly, not much as changed over the years. Nowadays, I wake up early on Saturday mornings to catch new episodes of my favorite cooking shows on the FoodNetwork.

Every once in a while, you’ll come across a recipe that you just know has to be good, even without taste- or smell-o-vision. That moment came one fine Saturday morning while I was watching Anne Burrell making her version of Pasta Bolognese on her new show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. I think any sauce that takes more than four hours to make should be good, but this is definitely the best meat sauce I’ve ever tasted! Of course, keep in mind that I did grow up on my mom’s version of bolognese… ground beef cooked with a jar of Ragu… not exactly gourmet but not too shabby either. This version of spaghetti bolognese, however, brings a whole new meaning to spaghetti with meat sauce. The sauce is so rich and flavorful, and since you cook the pasta with the sauce in the last minute, the flavors get a chance to marry together and you have one unified dish. For sure, this is not plain old spaghetti tossed with some meat sauce… this is the real deal!

And don’t think that you’ll be slaving over the stove for more than four hours just for a single meal because you’ll definitely have some sauce leftover. Don’t let it go to waste! You can store the sauce as it is in the freezer or make lasagna bolognese and store that in the freezer for a quick go-to meal any day of the week. Also keep in mind that since the bolognese sauce holds up so well, you can surely substitute spaghetti for your favorite type of pasta. This past weekend I brought some of the leftover sauce to my niece and cooked it with some Barilla Piccolini pasta and she absolutely loved it!

COOK TIME 4 Hr 30 Min



2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  Kosher salt
2 pounds ground beef (preferably 90/10 lean-to-fat ratio)
3 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 cups hearty red wine (See the Guide)
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade or tear*
  Good quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing (See the Guide)



Large cutting board
Vegetable peeler
Chef’s knife (See the Guide)
Food processor or blender
Heavy-bottomed French or Dutch oven (See the Guide)
Can opener
Wine opener
Splatter screen (See the Guide)**
Tupperware or storage container
Colander or pasta strainer
Cheese grater
Slotted wooden spoon/non-metal spatula



  • Using a food processor or blender, puree the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste.
  • In a large heavy-bottomed French or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Stirring frequently, cook until all the water has evaporated and brown bits start forming on the bottom of the pan, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Stirring frequently, brown the beef for another 15-20 minutes.
  • Stir in the tomato paste and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes until brown bits start forming on the bottom of the pan again.
  • Add the red wine and turn up the heat to medium-high. Reduce the wine by half, another 5 minutes.
  • Add enough water to the pan so there is 1-inch of liquid above the meat, about 2 cups. Toss in the bay leaves and bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Sprinkle in the sugar and bring the sauce to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • As the liquid evaporates, gradually add more water, 2 cups at a time, and let it reduce to develop the flavors. Stir and taste occasionally and season with salt, if needed. Simmer for 3 1/2-4 hours.**
  • During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt the water and cook the spaghetti for 1 minute less than the time required for al dente as indicated on the package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  • While the pasta is cooking, transfer 1/2 of the bolognese sauce to a large tupperware or storage container and reserve. Be sure to discard the bay leaves and bundle of thyme.
  • Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining bolognese sauce. Stir to combine.
  • Add the reserved pasta water and cook the pasta with the sauce until al dente, tossing frequently.
  • Turn off the heat and sprinkle 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta. Drizzle with good quality extra-virgin olive oil and toss to combine. Add some of the reserved bolognese sauce if needed, for an even ratio of pasta-to-sauce.
  • Divide the pasta among 4 serving platters. Garnish with the remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil*.



  • Since basil tends to bruise easily, wait until the last minute to prepare the basil garnish. You can stack up the basil leaves, roll them tightly like a cigar, and use a sharp knife to chiffonade or cut the basil into fine ribbons. Note that a steel knife will oxidize the basil quite rapidly and turn the cut edges of the basil black. Simply tearing the basil leaves by hand will slow down the oxidation process and will provide your dish with a more rustic look.
  • A splatter screen really comes in handy at this point. Once the liquid starts to reduce, the bolognese will begin to bubble and splatter everywhere unless you have something covering the pot. You don’t want to place the lid on the pot because then the liquid won’t be able to evaporate. Since a splatter screen is made out of a fine mesh, the liquid can still evaporate, but the erupting sauce won’t splatter all over the stove, kitchen walls, and most important of all, you!

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22 comments to spaghetti bolognese

  • Lizy

    Instead of the 3 6-ounce cans tomato paste, would it be okay if you use a canned pre-made sauce?

  • Lilia

    Hi Lizy! Unfortunately, you can’t really substitute the tomato paste in this recipe for canned sauce. Tomato paste is purely tomatoes that have been cooked down and pureed (with the skin and seeds removed). In this recipe, it acts as a flavor enhancer and also a sauce thickener. Regular canned tomato sauce usually has seasoning in it and also contains a lot more water… so in my opinion, there’s really no substitute for tomato paste. You should be able to find it in your regular grocery store down the canned veggies aisle. They’re usually sold in small cans or tubes and are relatively inexpensive. Hope you try out the recipe!

  • Lorna

    Can you use cooking wine? Also the recipe says “Refer to Guide”. Where is the guide?

  • Lilia

    Hi Lorna, if you don’t have a bottle of red wine at hand, you can surely use cooking wine, but I highly advise against it, since the flavor of your sauce will be lackluster and pale in comparison. As a general rule, you don’t want to cook with wine you normally wouldn’t drink… after all, the wine will be going into the food and you’ll be eating the food, so you want it to taste good! You don’t have to invest in an expensive bottle of wine, but a good, drinkable bottle of red wine will definitely give you more robust flavors than any cooking wine =)
    Culinary school has kept me quite busy these days and away from working on the Guide, but rest assured it’ll be up and running soon!

  • Christopher

    Hello Lilia. I’ve read the use of white wine is more traditional for a bolognese sauce. Can you provide a taste comparitive opinion on using red vs. white?

  • Lilia

    Hi Christopher, I’ve read about white wine being using in traditional recipes, but I’ve only made it with red, and I quite like the robust flavor it brings to the sauce. Next time I’ll use a dry white wine and let you know how it goes =) When it comes down to it, I think it’s all a matter of personal taste… some prefer red, others white, just like some prefer vanilla, others chocolate =) To each his (or her) own!

  • Bonnie

    Hi, I’m excited to try making your version of this sauce. I had this in a restaurant and my hubby loved it. So I set out on a quest to make my own. I had heard it was a sauce heavy with veggies and meat but not chunky. I came up with a cooked down sauce where I cooked my veggies till they fell apart,then blended them. I used a stock base with red wine, garlic, basil pesto and diced tomatoes with garlic and oregano. Added in ,my ground meat blend and drippings of beef/pork sausage/chicken. Thickened with tomato paste. It is a great way to hide veggies and the puree veggies thicken the sauce so you need little tomato paste. I had used half the meat mixture to make ravioli’s and use Alfredo as an accent sauce over this. Just not sure what to call my creation!

  • Lilia

    Sounds delicious! It’s a great idea to use pureed veggies to thicken the sauce… I’ll give it a try next time

  • Marilyn

    Hi, I have a vegetarian in the house. Have you ever made it without meat? Any ideas for a substitution? When I make spaghetti, I just set aside the sauce before I add meat. I know I could do the same here but sometimes it is just not as flavorful.

  • Jacksson

    where’s the heavy cream, the nutmeg, the finely minced chicken livers? It ain’t bolognese without ‘em!

  • Mary

    I absolutely adore a really excellent Boognese saude, and it’s been a long time sice it’s “graced” my pallette, so I’m more and ready to head from the kitchen!

  • Jimmy

    Percatelli instead of spaghetti makes an interesting pairing for the sauce. i. e., a nice sturdy pasta that holds up to the rich flavors of the bolognese.

  • Paul Bradiagan

    Ciao! Owned 5 pizzerias in Toledo, won “Best of Pizza” 4 out of 5 years. Sold profitably when diabetes made work not able on feet. I love to cook and make people happy. This is a very nice and simple recipe. Make a double of triple size batch and freeze.
    Small improvements… Quality tomato and beef.
The paste should be the best San Marino or Italian import
(I use 6 in 1 tomastoes in puree from California…. 70 cents a can more, but unbelieveable taste.)
“Cream” the garlic with kosher salt and side of broad blade knife (mashed garlic cloves…. I add more.)
Extra yellow onions, which are soaked for 3-4 hours in cold water to sweeten… Heat and slowly carmalize (transparent to brownish color) , add onions after the celery and carrots (mini cubes) are soft and mallable.
    A separate pan: brown meat with 2 tbspoons of olive oil, breaking it down finely, stir, stir, stir (I use chuck for best flavor 80-20 mix) and then drain of oil/fat.
    A fresh pot: simmer and add meat, veggies, tomaotes over medium-lo heat 15-20 minutes, add and use whole milk until the sauce is delicious “pink” color. Salt and pepper to taste, add some grated cheese (put the cheese in before salting!), but little, better to garnish along with fresh basil.
    I use a thick long Amish noodle, that is hearty and “meat-like” and is cooked in boiling water for 9 minutes and drained. I put the noodles back into pot (still hot from boiling water) on medium-lo, and add 2 ladles of sauce and stir. Do not over sauce. Add a little more sauce and turn off heat. Stir gently, allow to sit 2-4 minutes (absorbing the sauce), plate, and top with 1/2 laddle of sauce atop, and a tablspoon of Parm and tspoon of fresh basil. I serve with a fresh fruit cup (cantelope is perfect), and fresh green salad (with oil&red wine vinegar/fresh blasck pepper and parm shake dressing.)
Fit for a King/Queen, and the sauce freezes well for next lunch. Don’t make too many noogles, and if no Amish fresh noodles, us a feticini noodle. Wow. I making this currently and cooking sauce down for 3 hours on simmer to meld all the flaors. Use good Red wine. Rinse cans out with rd wine and toss in the gravy/sauce. Ciao

  • Paul Williams

    Some of you people are unbelievable. Dumb as in fact. Lilia has kindly shared this recipe and idiots come along and ask if you can substitute jars of readymade tomato sauce, different types of wine and goodness forbid want a vegetarian version of a meat sauce. Experiment all you like and post your own recipes but don’t insult the owner of this recipe.

    Try baking a cake by substituting flour with salt and see how you go.

  • Now that is the spaghetti I want to make and eat.

  • Ebony

    Agree with Paul above!!! The recipe sounds amazing and would love to try it one weekend when I have the time. I cant believe all the people giving their advice for improvement. Post your recipes on your own blog!

    Will post again once I make it. YUM.

  • Congrats on Top 9! This looks fantastic.

  • Nicely done!! I have to say that is one of the most amazing spaghetti photos I’ve ever seen. Your narrative was spot on and this appears to be one of those recipes to make as written (and I don’t usually do that!). Excellent post, easy to follow, well written directions and a lovely photo!

  • Sha

    I’m a non-drinker and am having trouble with what a “good red wine” is. There are many websites offering lots of advice, but for me it makes it all the more confusing. If it’s okay, can you tell me specifically what red wine you used? I’d greatly appreciate it!

  • Lilia

    Sha: I’ve made this bolognese sauce with Cabernet and Bordeaux a few times, but it might come on a little strong, especially if you’re a non-drinker. I’d recommend you use a Pinot Noir, which I also love with this recipe. It also pairs beautifully with the final dish. You should be able to find a bottle of 2009 Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir at stores for about $10. (If you can find it, 2007 is even better.) Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

  • Lovely! Using it as inspiration this afternoon! Thank you for the idea!

  • Hi! I’m doing a link roundup for great bolognese recipes over at my site, Spice or Die, and I wanted to let you know that I included a link to your recipe here :) You can check it out at


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