Create the perfect bowl of classic Pappardelle Bolognese with a slowly simmered rich meat sauce featuring beef, pancetta, soffritto, wine, tomato paste, stock, and milk.
Slow food equals delicious. Take the time to fall in love with slow food classics like this Butternut Squash Chicken Tajine or grab a glass (or two) of wine while your oven works its magic on Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs.
Sunday Sauce. Meat Sauce. Whatever you want to call it…Pappardelle Bolognese (pap-par-DAY-lay bow-luh-NEIZ) is creamy, rich, delicious, and so very worth the time it takes. Make a double batch so you can enjoy it on fresh pappardelle, then use the leftover sauce in a layered lasagna.
Fresh Pappardelle just calls out for this incredible meaty, beefy, creamy sauce. Add a bit of acid via tomato paste or passata to cut through the rich and bring it all home with a final pour of whole milk.
What is Bolognese Meat Sauce?
In general, Ragù alla Bolognese is an Italian meat sauce containing soffritto, meat (ground beef veal and pork), stock, white wine, and a small amount of tomato paste or (passata). The long cooking time produces a rich, thick meaty sauce.
Soffritto is an aromatic mix of onion, carrots, and celery gently cooked in a generous amount of olive oil. It is the base for most sauces, soups, stews and braises in Italian cuisine.
In Italy it traditionally contains dairy, though many North American recipes tend to omit it. American style Bolognese tends to be a thinner, more tomato based meat sauce.
Often the term ‘Ragù‘ describes a thicker sauce that contains larger chunks of meat, not ground beef/veal. However, I have based this recipe on the Classic Ragù Bolognese from bon appetit which uses ground meat.
Let’s take a closer look as to what an ‘authentic’ Ragù alla Bolognese recipe might look like…
The Search for Authentic Ragù alla Bolognese
In the interest of full disclosure, there really seems to be no definitive recipe for ragù alla Bolognese. It is a complex meat sauce that contains multiple cooking techniques and is quite open to personal interpretation.
In 1982, the Italian Academy of Cuisine recorded a ‘classic’ version of Bolognese featuring beef, fresh (unsmoked) pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, passata (or tomato paste), stock, white wine, milk, salt and pepper.
While this recorded classic version exists, there are many variations within the ingredients. It seems everyone has their very own traditional recipe when it comes to Bolognese.
Variations alla Bolognese
The most typical variation of this classic meat sauce is the Americanized version of Bolognese.
This thinner, tomato based meat sauce contains soffritto, ground meat, and plenty of tomato sauce. It is much closer to a Neapolitan style ragù than sauce style of the Bologna region in Italy.
However, it differs from the Italian sauce as it also contains herbs such as basil and oregano along with vegetables such as mushrooms and peppers.
Other variations arise according to which pasta Bolognese is served with. In America, the dish is affectionately referred to as ‘Spag Bol or Spag Bog’ because it is served with spaghetti.
Italians prefer to eat their Bolognese in pasta dishes with a flat wide pasta such as fresh egg tagliatelle, fettuccine, or pappardelle. The sauce is also great on pastas such as penne and rigatoni. It’s excellent in a layered lasagna or spooned over creamy polenta.
Pappardelle Bolognese Ingredients
- olive oil
- ground beef
- white wine
- tomato paste
- beef stock
- whole milk
- salt and pepper
- fresh pappardalle
Finely diced onions, celery, and carrots (soffritto) form the basis for this sauce and many other Italian soups, stews, and braises. The three become aromatic as they slowly cook in a generous amount of olive oil.
Choose a premium cut of medium ground beef such as top sirloin for this dish. If you prefer, use half the amount of ground beef and make the other half ground veal as per the original recipe.
Classic recipes often contain unsmoked pancetta. However, feel free to add the smoked pork product of your choice. Bacon adds a lovely layer of richness and smokiness to this sauce.
No one is judging you if use white or red wine. Or no wine at all. However, if you can, add a little vino to the sauce. You won’t be disappointed.
While traditional recipes only include a small amount of tomato paste, this recipe also has some of my homemade passata. I can never resist using it to create amazing tomato dishes.
This post features Pappardelle Bolognese so I highly recommend this large flat noodle. However tagliatelle, fettuccine, penne, or rigatoni also make a fabulous choice of pasta.
How to Make Pappardelle Bolognese
Begin by gently cooking the finely diced soffritto (onion, celery, carrot) with a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven. Stir intermittently the vegetables do not scorch.
Once the vegetables have become aromatic and softened, add the garlic and cook a few more minutes. Add the pancetta (or bacon) and allow the pork fat to gently render out into the vegetables before adding the ground beef.
Break up the ground beef as it cooks. Once it has browned, deglaze with the white wine and allow it to cook for another two minutes.
Stir in the tomato paste and passata (if using) then pour in the beef stock. Simmer uncovered over low heat for 2-3 hours stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sauce is rich and luxurious.
Before adding the milk, it needs to be heated up. Otherwise you run the risk of it curdling as it hits the acidic sauce. Heat the milk up in a microwave or in a pot on the stove until it reaches a slight simmer. Gradually add milk into the sauce, stir and simmer uncovered for another hour.
Boil up the pappardelle over medium high heat in a pot of salted water as per package instructions and drain, saving some of the pasta water. Stir some of the sauce into the drained pasta, adding the hot starchy water to thin as needed.
Serve the Pappardelle Bolognese with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley and finely grated Parmesan Reggiano.
Pappardelle Bolognese as Leftovers
You have leftover Bolognese in your fridge…lucky you! This classic sauce tends to get better as it sits in the fridge so I really hope you made a double batch.
If you’ve already mixed it with pappardelle or another pasta, no problem! Just reheat it gently in a saute pan or in the microwave under a cover.
This meaty sauce is so easy to freeze and reheat via your stove top. Or, bake up a brand new dish by layering it with lasagna noodles and cheese.
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