Bolognese sauce is the most famous, classic sauce from Northern Italy. Suddenly Bolognese sauce is being spotlighted in numerous food blogs and cooking magazines (Italian and non-Italian). After reading so many recent articles on this sauce, it seems that for some people, preparing and enjoying Bolognese sauce is like finding gold lately! As for my family . . . we’ve been preparing Bolognese sauce since any of us can remember.
I’ve had several people ask me for my family’s recipe. When I’ve shared it, one of the first questions that some of them ask is “don’t you add milk?” That leads to the ultimate question, which way is best to prepare this comforting tomato-based pasta sauce? Truthfully, no one is going to share their best, treasured family recipes, especially if it is part of a family restaurant, such as my family’s recipe. After all, Coke’s secret recipe is locked up in a vault!
I’ll never forget when I was growing up, how much of this sauce my parents used to make for their restaurants. Especially on Sundays when they had ‘all you can eat Spaghetti dinners’ for college students who could never get enough. I doubt that my parents made a dime of profit for those events, especially considering the college athletes with enormous appetites who showed up to get their Bolognese fix!
As a scrawny child who was in charge of re-filling customers’ glasses of water, I remember watching college students out on dates, fumbling spaghetti noodles on their forks, trying to determine whether or not to ‘twirl’ the pasta noodles or to cut them instead. I was always waiting to see if some of those pretty girls would spill the sauce on their clothes!
So for this delicious red pasta sauce, I can certainly guide you in making your own beloved version. Plus there are tons of recipes out there that are already published in cookbooks and magazines. This month you can find a recipe in Taste of Italia, as well as Cuisine at Home’s Holiday Recipes. Any Italian cookbook author who is worth their weight will include a recipe in their books. Goodness, if you even google this sauce, thousands of completely different recipes will appear on your own computer screen!
So back to those million dollar questions: Is wine added? Should shredded carrots be added? Does the recipe require milk or cream?
Because I was so curious, I texted my cousin Silvia Santi in Modena, Italy for how she prepares her Bolognese: Yes, she adds carrots and wine, but she does not add pancetta, milk or Italian parsley. See what I mean, we all make it differently. You can also add some ground pork, veal and/or pancetta if you prefer. Even my cousin in Iowa adds chopped mushrooms to her recipe! ”Grazie mille, Silvia for sharing your recipe with me yesterday!” ;-)
There are as many different recipes for Italian Bolognese Sauce as there are for American Apple Pie! Everyone makes it differently based on family traditions as well as their own personal tastes. So for this post, my mother and I made 3 different versions and did a taste test!
For the first pot, we made our traditional family recipe. In the second pot, we added some sautéed pancetta and then added it to the browned beef. Finally, for the last pot, we added carrots, wine and cream (which we normally never do). All of these turned out delicious, with the last version being very rich and creamy, tasting much like a super-rich vodka sauce!
Here is the sweet email message from my cousin Silvia:
“Ciaoooo cara Roz…
I put celery carrots and onions in oil.
when everything is soffritt add the meat.
when the meat is well browned, add a little wine.
I let the wine evaporate and then add the tomato sauce and a little water
also let cook 3 hours
The meat can be a mixture of pork, veal ground or you can also use bacon ground
Let me know how it came
I send you a big kiss
Now let me warn you about my family’s recipes: Nothing is written down on paper, they are all memorized and so I’ll give you all that I know. And the only way we make our sauce is in HUGE batches to freeze, so we use quantities of ingredients that are very, very large. I’ve never broken them down into smaller batches . . . so you’ll need a calculator or a good math mind to determine what’s in a small batch.
One last note of advice: This is a pure, classic, authentic Northern Italian recipe in which nothing else is added to it. It does not need the addition of alot of spices and other ingredients. What you will create with all of those other ‘celebrity chef’ recipes is a completely different sauce altogether, but it won’t be a Bolognese sauce.
What You Need:
- Olive oil -- a cup or so
- Ground Beef, Pork & Veal -- 20 pounds total
- Pancetta (optional) -- 1/4 pound, cubed
- Yellow Onions - 2 small bags, chopped
- Celery - One entire bunch with leaves attached, chopped
- Carrots (optional) -- 2 large carrots, grated
- Italian Parsley -- about 3 bunches, stemmed removed, chopped
- Wine (optional) -- 1 - 2 cups (red or white, depending on how strong you want it)
- Milk/Cream (optional) -- my family does not include -- 1 cup
- Tomato Paste, sauce, or fresh/frozen tomatoes -- about 10 12-oz cans to start with
- Water or beef broth to thin the sauce
- Clean and chop the onions and celery.
- If adding carrots, shred one or two with a micro-grater.
- Use two heavy pots: One to saute the beef/pork/veal in olive oil until very brown and one to saute the chopped onion, celery, (and carrots if you prefer) in olive oil until soft.
- IF YOU WANT TO ADD MUSHROOMS, saute them at this point and add to the soffrito (veggies).
- After the beef/pork/veal is thoroughly browned, add the sauteed vegetables to the large heavy pot that contains the beef.
- Add the (non-cooked) chopped Italian parsley.
- Mix well.
- IF YOU WANT TO ADD wine (red or white), this is when you add it.
- Allow it to boil and cook off the wine's liquid.
- IF YOU WANT TO ADD milk/cream, this is the moment that you add it.
- Allow the mixture to boil for a few minutes to reduce the milk.
- Add tomato sauce, paste or fresh/frozen tomatoes.
- Stir well.
- Add more to the level of tomato-y-ness that you prefer.
- Add water to thin down to your desired level of thickness.
- Place one or two cookie sheets or pizza pans between the bottom of the pot and the heat source TO HELP PREVENT BURNING the sauce.
- Turn the temperature to the lowest possible and simmer for a minimum of 3 hours.
- Keep an eye on the sauce, adding water when needed, stirring and checking to see that it is not burning on the bottom of the pan.
- IF YOU BURN THE SAUCE, you will know it by feeling a crusty build-up on the bottom of the sauce. DO NOT SCRAPE IT IN! Remove the unburned sauce immediately into another clean pot and continue to cook. If you scrape in the burned sauce into the un-burned sauce, it will be completely ruined . . . a sad thing after all of that work!
- Add salt and pepper to taste throughout.