Over the years I’ve made my fair share of Bolognese sauce. It’s a no fail dish that everyone from adults, to teens, to the youngest and pickiest kids gobble up. I love making it for a big dinner party or for pot lucks.
However, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I made my “Perfect” Bolognese. The difference?…. I started adding MILK!
Bolognese sauce is a tomato based meat sauce from the Italian cuisine. It is beef and tomato dominant and is rich with amazing layers and depth of flavors. However flavorful, it is fairly simple and calls for less ingredients than one might assume.
The traditional recipe calls for sofrito (onion, carrots, celery), but includes NO GARLIC! Pretty hard to believe that a classic Italian dish doesn’t have garlic right? Another interesting fact, it doesn’t require any herbs, other than bay leaf and seasoning is limited to salt, pepper and sometimes a pinch of nutmeg. Fairly simple right?
Properly cooked bolognese sauce is sweet, tomatoey, meaty and creamy!The key ingredients to achieve those flavors:
1. Carrots to enhance and add to the sweetness of tomatoes.
2. Tomato paste to give it more depth.
3. Good quality meat, that has good marbling (a bit of fat in the meat makes it richer)
4. MILK to make it creamy. It also helps tenderize the meat!
Another key to a well cooked bolognese sauce is to take your time. You need to allow the time to sweat, sauté and braise/simmer your sauce. You can not rush the process. Yes, you make a quicker version like this Spaghetti Bolognese, which I make all the time to save time, but you won’t achieve the depth of flavors that you get when you braise it for hours. But trust me, this is well worth your time!
Here’s another bright note, this sauce freezes very well. You can defrost it and use it over months in various dishes like lasagna, stuffed shells, baked ziti… etc.
About This Recipe:
I think one of of the biggest questions when it comes to Bolognese sauce is, to add or not to add milk! A traditional bolognese, especially in the Northern Italy, always has milk. And if you ask me, I say “add milk”. Trust me once you try this you will never go back.
There are two main reasons for the addition of milk; #1 (probably the most important one) it gives it a more delicate/luxurious feel and taste and #2, it helps remove the acidity of the tomatoes.
Speaking of tomatoes, I always recommend whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano is always the best). Whole tomatoes are less processed and adds to the texture as well (I like having bits of tomato chunks). However, if you can’t or don’t want to, it’s totally fine to use chopped tomato (try to stick to San Marzano!). I keep mentioning San Marzano, because they’re just that good! They are much sweeter, has fewer seeds and isn’t as acidic as others…. they’re simply the best and I ❤️ them!
A few notes, white wine is traditional, but I like using red wine because I think it adds to the beef flavor.
I add the rind of Parmesan cheese for a creamy, cheesy bolognese. This isn’t a must, but it definitely adds to the creaminess.
Also, a pinch of nutmeg! I can’t explain it, but it just adds so much to the beefy sauce!
So without further ado, grab your dutch oven pot and lets make the most delicious meat sauce of your life!
- 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 1/3 cup chopped celery
- 1/3 cup shredded carrots (finely chopped is fine as well)
- 2 cup plum tomatoes, about 4 tomatoes w/ juices (crushed by hand)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs of thyme (optional)
- 2 sprigs of rosemary (optional)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1/2 nutmeg, freshly grated (about 1/4 tsp)
- Heat the oil in a deep pot on medium high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, along with thyme and rosemary if using, salt and pepper and sweat the veggies. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes.
- Turn up the heat to medium high and add the meat and grate in the nutmeg if using. Sauté the meat, while breaking it into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes.
- Once beef is browned, pour in the wine and cook for about 4 minutes, until the alcohol is cooked off.
- Add the tomato paste followed by the crushed tomatoes and sauté for 5 minutes, until everything is well mixed.
- Add the sock and bay leaves. Turn down the heat to low, cover and cook on a low simmer for about 2.5 hours, checking periodically to make sure there’s sufficient liquid.
- After 2.5 hours, add the milk and butter. Cover and cook on low simmer for another 45 minutes. Take out the bay leaves and stems of rosemary and thyme.
- And ITS DONE! Serve with your favorite pasta sprinkled with Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.