A delicious spaghetti bolognese that’s super easy to make and tastes amazing! Thick and chunky tomato meat sauce with such beautiful depth of flavour, and infused with traditional herbs and spices. Ready in under an hour, but super flavourful in 3 – 4 hours!
In our home, we love all sorts of pasta dishes but spaghetti bolognese would have to be our all-time favourite.
This is my version of an easy, classic Italian spaghetti bolognese, and it’s my favourite recipe that’s evolved as much as I have over the years.
The first time I ever made spaghetti bolognese was when I was studying abroad in college. I won’t lie, I was Miss Instant Spaghetti Bolognese for years.
All I knew to do at the time was throw in store-bought bolognese sauce with al dente noodles. Even then, mind you, I thought it tasted pretty good.
Since I started teaching myself how to cook, my meat sauce was one that I really worked on time and time again, as I inched closer and closer to my ideal of the perfect spaghetti bolognese. And this is it.
Why this spaghetti bolognese is so good
- Super flavourful meat sauce. There are so many layers of flavour in this tomato meat sauce. Infused with fresh and dried herbs plus my secret ingredient, this sauce is slow-stewed till you get a really rich, creamy and full-bodied sauce.
- Maximum tomato flavour! The combination of canned diced tomatoes, tomato puree and tomato paste makes this sauce sing!
- Thick and chunky like any good, hearty stew! This bolognese sauce has just the perfect balance of hearty vegetables and meat for that thick, chunky deliciousness! If you have time, slow-simmering the sauce in a slow cooker will give you the most flavourful, tender and juicy meat.
Ingredients for the best bolognese sauce
- Ground meat. I used to cook with only ground beef until I tried a mixture. I’ve never looked back since! I love a mixture of ground beef for the traditional flavour in a bolognese sauce, ground pork to add juiciness and tenderness. I use half-and-half, but you can cook with 3 parts beef to 1 part pork, if you prefer.
- Soffritto. This is the aromatic flavour base for sauces, soups and stews in Italian cuisine. Sounds fancy but all it is, is the classic combination of sautéed onions, carrots, and celery. I love adding garlic, fresh and dried herbs as well as spices – this makes for an amazing sauce!
- Streaky bacon. I use streaky bacon as a cheap alternative to pancetta (Italian unsmoked bacon) only because I can’t find it here. Try not to skip this, as the oils and bacon meat adds a savoury dimension to the sauce. You won’t even know it’s in there, after it’s stewed and simmered with the rest of the sauce for hours!
- Canned diced tomatoes. I now always cook with canned variety of tomatoes, because I don’t have to worry about fresh tomatoes being too bland, not juicy enough, too sour, etc. With canned, I get consistency all the time. Be sure to pour in all the soaking juices as well.
- Tomato puree. Also known as tomato sauce, depending on the brands. Tomato sauce is thinner in consistency than tomato paste.
- Tomato paste. For that richer, bolder and intense tomato flavour, I always include tomato paste in my bolognese dish. Sometimes, when I happen to be out of this, I use tomato ketchup but only as a last resort because it doesn’t come close. Try not to skip this.
- Red wine. Any dry red wine (or even white wine) will be fine. The wine acts to melt the meat as it stews.
- Beef bouillion or stock cubes. This is my instant beef broth, except that you don’t need to make broth per se. Just cut them into the sauce to dissolve and simmer with the rest of the ingredients.
- Italian herbs. I use store-bought, ready-made Italian herbs (some brands package as Italian seasoning or Bolognese herbs). This is typically a combination of dried thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley and marjoram, and it can vary from brand to brand. You can make your own Italian seasoning if you’ve got the individual herbs, and mix them in (see recipe notes below).
- Other herbs. I love to use freshly chopped English parsley, bay leaves and a couple of rosemary sprigs.
- Seasonings. I use coarsely ground black pepper, sea salt and brown sugar.
- Sour cream (optional, but highly recommended). This is my secret ingredient, guys! Traditionally, milk is slow-simmered with the meat and veggies. As the sauce stews, the milk imparts a richer depth of flavour and helps tenderise the meat. My quick substitute is sour cream. It’s added just before you start reducing the sauce, and it emulsifies the bolognese sauce, rendering a gorgeously smooth, creamy richness and delicious tang. You can also use heavy cream, if you prefer.
Step-by-step: How to make bolognese sauce
- In a Dutch oven or large, shallow skillet, sauté onions and garlic until light brown and softened, 1 minute.
- Add the carrot and celery, and stir-fry together until softened, another 2 minutes.
- Turn up the heat to high. Push the veggies to the side. Add streaky bacon, and fry for 15 seconds.
- Tip in the ground beef and cook to brown the meat, breaking up as you go.
- Then tip in the ground pork, again breaking up as you cook, until it browns.
- Keep stir-frying for 2 to 3 minutes, giving everything a good stir.
- Add the red wine, bring to a simmer and cook until you no longer smell the alcohol.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients – diced tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste, beef stock cubes, fresh and dried herbs, and brown sugar (except salt and pepper).
- Stir the meat sauce, let it come to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium.
- Over-the-stove cooking: Let simmer for 20 – 30 minutes over low heat, adding water to thin the sauce a bit if it gets too thick. Slow-cooker option: Transfer to a slow cooker set to Low, and add ½ cup of water. Cook for 3 hours.
- Stir in the sour cream (or heavy cream). Cook uncovered for 20 minutes to reduce the sauce until thick to your liking. Add salt and pepper, to your liking.
- Cook the spaghetti and serve as suggested. Do take some time to read my tips on how to serve the spaghetti – it’s a little more effort (extra 2 minutes, tops!) but will make your eating experience all the more pleasurable!
The best way to serve spaghetti bolognese
I picked up this priceless tip from my sister-in-law, who was really the one who had me kindling a whole new love for spaghetti bolognese.
Whenever she served this dish, the spaghetti noodles were always gloriously tinged and coated with sauce. She never served the noodles ‘naked’, right out of the pot.
If you want your spaghetti noodles to have that beautiful, magnificent thick sauce you’ve just spent time stewing, clinging to every bit of pasta, do not rinse the spaghetti under running water after draining it.
Because this actually washes away a starch coating on the noodles that will help the sauce stick.
Once you’ve drained it, tip into a large bowl and spoon some meat sauce over. Then toss vigorously! Add a bit of the salted pasta water you just cooked your spaghetti in, if the meat sauce has gotten a bit thick. You want just enough water to have the meat sauce adhere to the noodles, not run off.
Then dish out onto your serving plate. This is when you can pile on more of that glorious meat sauce!
Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Finally, I love serving every plate of spaghetti bolognese with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil all over. Buon appetito, everyone!
Here are more recipes to inspire your next meal:
- Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce (Ayam Masak Merah)
- Stir-Fried Eggs and Tomatoes – Easy Step-by-Step Recipe
- Chinese-Style Superior Sweet and Sour Fish
- Chinese-Style Beef Fried Rice