If you’re looking for a meal that is delicious, decadent, and truly satisfying, look no further than my classic creamy bolognese sauce. Made with garden-fresh tomatoes, a combination of beef and turkey, and (my secret ingredient) parmesan cheese rind, this sauce is worth the little bit of extra effort it takes to make.
Bolognese sauce is one of those dishes that should take all afternoon.
Cooked low and slow, the deep, rich flavor of the sauce is developed over time, using a variety of techniques such as sautéing, sweating, and braising. By the time the sauce is finished, the tender meat practically melts in your mouth.
However, don’t be intimidated by the long cook time. While many of the steps are hands-on at the beginning, they’re simple and, once the sauce is simmering away, it only requires an occasional stir here and there. And trust me, it’s worth it.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about recreating this Italian classic at home.
Some links throughout this post are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you’re willing to use them, it helps fund this site and allows me to continue to provide content. I appreciate your support!
What is Bolognese Sauce?
Bolognese sauce (pronounced bow-luh-nayz in American English) is an Italian meat-based sauce that originated near the city of Bologna, Italy.
Known in Italy as ragù alla bolognese, a true bolognese sauce is cooked slowly and requires a series of flavor-developing steps to get just right. Traditional bolognese sauce is made using ground or finely chopped beef, fatty pork, soffritto (carrots, celery, and onion), white wine, milk, and tomatoes.
Why This Recipe Works
- Creamy- What makes this recipe so creamy? My secret ingredient is a piece of parmesan cheese rind! Simmered in the sauce for hours, the rind releases all of its delicious cheesy goodness, creating a rich, creamy bolognese sauce.
- Garden Fresh Tomatoes- Have an abundance of tomatoes during the summer? Here’s a fantastic way to use them up! In fact, I recommend doubling the batch and canning or freezing the extra to enjoy all winter long (Note: This recipe needs to be pressure canned because it contains meat).
- Large Batch- This recipe makes approximately 6 cups of bolognese sauce, or 12 generous 1/2-cup servings, which is enough for 2 pounds of pasta. So, whether you’re feeding a crowd or you just want to have leftovers for an easy weeknight supper, this recipe is perfect for you.
Here are some notes on key ingredients. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Fresh Tomatoes- Many bolognese sauce recipes use tomato paste or canned tomatoes. And honestly, those are both great options! But when your garden is bursting at the seams with fresh tomatoes during the summer months, this version is the perfect way to use them up.
- Soffritto- A classic Italian soffritto is made up of onions, carrots, and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio. In this recipe, I dice the vegetables very finely so that they melt into the sauce by the time it has finished simmering. A lot of the flavor in this recipe comes from the sweating of the soffritto.
- Ground Meat- A traditional bolognese sauce is made using ground beef and ground fatty pork or pancetta. In order to keep this recipe on the lighter side, I chose to swap out the fatty ground pork for a 93% lean ground turkey. I also use an 85% lean ground beef.
- White Wine- While the alcohol from the wine is completely simmered off in this recipe, it is still a very important ingredient. Alcohol helps to elevate the flavors of other ingredients. Make sure you buy a bottle of wine you’d actually want to drink!
- Milk- In this recipe, I use 1% milk, but you can use whichever type of milk you prefer. However, don’t skip it! The milk helps to tenderize the meat and contributes to the rich, creamy mouthfeel of the finished sauce.
- Parmesan Cheese Rind- My secret ingredient and what makes this a creamy bolognese sauce. Simply simmer the parmesan cheese rind in the sauce for the creamiest, most delicious bolognese sauce you’ll ever taste.
Zero Waste Tip: Save your carrot, celery, and onion scraps to make vegetable stock.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how you make this creamy bolognese sauce.
Step 1: Prepare the Tomatoes
To prepare the tomatoes, start by removing the stems and rinsing them under running water to remove any dirt or other particles. With the stem side facing upwards, cut the tomato in half and remove the hard center core. Then, lay the tomatoes cut-side-down on the cutting board and score them with an X. See the images below for reference.
Step 2: Sweat the Soffritto
Heat the oil and butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add in the onion and salt and sweat until the onion becomes translucent. Then, add in the grated carrots and diced celery and continue sweating until the vegetables are nice and soft.
Step 3: Cook the Ground Meat
Next, add the ground beef and ground turkey into the pot. With a wooden spoon, break up the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Continue cooking and stirring until the meat has lost its raw color and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Step 4: Simmer the Milk
Once the ground meat has fully cooked, stir in the milk and reduce the heat to low. Allow the milk to simmer, stirring frequently, until it has completely evaporated (about 20-30 minutes). Sprinkle in the nutmeg.
Step 5: Deglaze with Wine
When the milk has fully evaporated, pour in the white wine. Allow the wine to simmer and reduce by about half (about 5-10 minutes).
Step 6: Cook the Tomatoes
In a single layer, place all of your prepared tomatoes cut-side-down in the pot on top of the sauce (the score mark should be facing upwards). Cover the pot or Dutch oven with a lid and steam the tomatoes for about 20-25 minutes.
Step 7: Peel the Tomatoes
After about 20-25 minutes, remove the lid. You should notice that the tomato skins are beginning to peel away from the tomato flesh. If not, cover and continue cooking until they do. One by one, remove each tomato half to a plate and carefully peel the skin away using a fork. NOTE: DO THIS VERY CAREFULLY – THE TOMATOES WILL BE HOT. Add the peeled tomatoes back into the pot.
Step 8: Simmer Until Thickened
Once all of the tomatoes are peeled and added back into the pot, crush them into bite-sized pieces using your wooden spoon. Add in the parmesan cheese rind and reduce the heat until the sauce is just barely simmering. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 2-3 hours, or until all of the water is gone and the fat begins separating from the sauce. Remove what remains of the cheese rind before serving.
Step 9: Serve with Pasta (optional)
Cook two pounds of pasta to al dente according to package instructions, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
Add the finished pasta, the reserved pasta water, and the creamy bolognese sauce back into the pot you cooked the pasta in. Over low heat, stir the pasta into the bolognese sauce until the pasta is well coated and all of the liquid has been absorbed. Serve with grated parmesan cheese, fresh parsley, and red pepper flakes, if desired.
Here are a few ways you can make this creamy bolognese fit your diet.
- Dairy-Free- To make this recipe dairy-free, replace the butter with an equal amount of olive oil, use a plant-based milk alternative in place of the cow’s milk, and skip the parmesan cheese rind. Add some grated dairy-free parmesan cheese to the sauce when it has finished cooking.
- Alcohol-Free- If you can’t have alcohol, you can replace the wine with chicken stock and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar for a bit of acidity. However, keep in mind that this will change the flavor profile of the finished sauce.
- Gluten-Free- This recipe is naturally gluten-free, but is often served with pasta. To ensure all of your gluten-free friends and family can enjoy this recipe, double-check all labels and make sure to choose a gluten-free pasta brand. My favorite is Explore Cuisine Red Lentil Penne.
Here are a few ideas of how you can serve your creamy bolognese sauce.
- Pasta- Traditionally, bolognese sauce is enjoyed with pasta, particularly tagliatelle pasta. However, any type of pasta will work! I usually make this creamy bolognese sauce with fettuccini.
- Zucchini Noodles- Another vegetable that is abundant during the summer is zucchini. Replacing the traditional pasta with zucchini noodles is a fantastic way to keep this dish low-carb and use up your garden fresh zucchini.
- Green Salad- If you’re looking for something to serve along side your delicious pasta dish, a lightly dressed green salad is the perfect match! An acidic dressing pairs nicely with the rich, creamy bolognese sauce.
- Roasted Vegetables- If you’re not much of a salad person, roasted vegetables also work well as a pasta bolognese side dish.
- Garlic Bread- My personal favorite. Because what’s better than crispy, buttery garlic bread served with pasta and sauce? Honestly, not much.
Storage and Reheating
Refrigerator: Store this sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. I recommend storing this sauce separately from the pasta or any other sides, if possible.
Freezer: Allow the sauce to cool completely in the refrigerator. Then, portion it into preferred serving sizes and freeze for up to 6 months. Don’t forget to label and date your container!
If you’re interested in preserving this sauce via canning, follow these step-by-step pressure canning instructions.
How to Reheat
From Refrigerator: Reheat the sauce either in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stovetop. You can add a tablespoon of water, broth, or milk to help loosen the sauce if it’s too thick.
From Freezer: Thaw completely in the refrigerator overnight or place your container under cold, running water to thaw. Once the sauce has thawed, you can either microwave it or heat it in a saucepan on the stove.
One serving of creamy bolognese sauce contains:
- Calories: 286
- Fat: 15 grams
- Carbs: 11 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sugar: 7 grams
- Protein: 23 grams
While they both contain similar ingredients, bolognese sauce and an American-style meat sauce are actually quite different. Bolognese sauce is a rich, slow-cooked, meat-based sauce that happens to also have a bit of tomato in it. On the other hand, meat sauce is a more acidic, tomato-based sauce that has ground meat cooked into it.
One of the key steps in this bolognese sauce recipe is simmering the ground meat in milk until all of the milk evaporates. The milk helps to tenderize the meat and creates a creamier, richer end product.
Absolutely! As a matter of fact, this recipe only gets better with time. As the sauce sits in the refrigerator overnight, the flavors have time to meld together, creating a more tasty sauce. Simply reheat in a saucepan, using a tablespoon of pasta water, broth, or milk to loosen, if necessary.
If your bolognese sauce seems a little loose or watery, just keep simmering away! The sauce should cook for at least 2-3 hours, but the longer the better. By the end, there should be no water remaining and the fat should separate from the sauce.
If you don’t want to freeze or pressure can your extra bolognese sauce, you can use it to make lasagna bolognese, stuffed shells, pizza, stuffed peppers, sloppy joes, and much more!
This list includes affiliate links.
More Italian Recipes
Creamy Bolognese Sauce
- 6-Quart Enameled Dutch oven
- Cheese grater optional
- 6 whole tomatoes halved, cored, and scored
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter unsalted
- 2 ½ cups yellow onion finely diced
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ cups carrot grated or finely diced
- 1 ½ cups celery finely diced
- 1 pound ground beef 85-90% lean
- 1 pound ground turkey 93% lean
- 1 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- 1 ½ cups milk 1%
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup white wine sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio
- 1 parmesan cheese rind
- Prepare the tomatoes by removing the stems and rinsing them to remove any dirt. Then, with the stem side facing up, cut the tomatoes in half. Remove the tough core from the center and place the tomato cut-side-down. Score the back (skin side) of the tomato with an X. Set aside.6 whole tomatoes
- In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat until the butter is completely melted. Add the onion into the pot, along with the salt, and cook until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add in the carrots and celery and continue cooking until all of the vegetables are softened.2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 ½ cups yellow onion, 1 ½ cups carrot, 1 ½ cups celery, 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- Add the ground beef, ground turkey, and black pepper to the pot and begin to break the meat up with a wooden spoon. Continue crumbling and cooking the meat until it has lost its raw color and most of the liquid has evaporated.1 pound ground beef, 1 pound ground turkey, 1 teaspoon black pepper
- When the liquid from the meat is mostly gone, pour in the milk. Turn the heat down to low and allow the milk to simmer, stirring frequently, until it has completely evaporated (about 20-30 minutes). Sprinkle in a pinch of nutmeg.1 ½ cups milk, ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Once the milk has cooked off, add in the white wine. Stir occasionally and let the wine reduce by half.1 cup white wine
- When the wine has reduced a bit, place your halved and scored tomatoes cut-side-down in a single layer on top of the simmering sauce. Cover with a lid and allow the tomatoes to steam for approximately 20-25 minutes. The tomato skin should be peeling away from the flesh. If not, continue steaming until it is.6 whole tomatoes
- One by one, remove each tomato half to a plate and carefully peel the skin away using a fork. NOTE: DO THIS VERY CAREFULLY – THE TOMATOES WILL BE HOT. Add the peeled tomatoes back into the pot.
- Once all of the tomatoes are peeled and added back into the pot, crush them into bite-sized pieces using a wooden spoon. Add in the parmesan cheese rind and reduce the heat until the sauce is just barely simmering. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 2-3 hours, or until all of the water is gone and the fat begins separating from the sauce. Remove what remains of the cheese rind before serving.1 parmesan cheese rind
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.
Did you try this recipe?
Let me know! Comment below, or take a picture and tag me on Instagram @enwnutrition.