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Authentic meaty Rigatoni Bolognese recipe
Our favorite Bolognese Sauce
Rigatoni Bolognese is much easier to make than you’d think. While it takes a little time to cook the sauce down to meaty perfection, it’s really the stovetop that does all the work.
After years of experimenting, testing and devouring bolognese sauces, we’ve finally found the one that stands out from the rest. This recipe is consistently delicious each and every time I make it.
For this final version I drew inspiration from recipes by Bon Appétit, Cook’s Illustrated, the New York Times and Italian author Marcella Hazan.
Here are the basic ingredients needed to make rigatoni bolognese.
- vegetable oil or olive oil and unsalted butter for sautéing the vegetables
- grated, minced or finely chopped onion, carrot and celery to build the flavor base
- two tablespoons tomato paste
- one pound of ground meat – use a combination of ground beef and ground pork, or ground beef, veal and pork like you’d find in a 1 lb meatloaf mix.
- whole milk – this ingredient may seem odd but it’s just enough to complement the meat without adding too much richness.
- dry white wine
- canned whole tomatoes chopped fine with juice
- a dash of nutmeg
- plenty of fresh ground black pepper
- rigatoni pasta cooked according to package directions. You can also serve bolognese sauce with tagliatelle, spaghetti or pappardelle pasta.
- Parmesan cheese
- fresh basil or parsley leaves for garnish
How to make rigatoni bolognese
There are several simple steps taken in the beginning of the recipe to build the rich, complex flavor of a great bolognese. Each is easy to do and worth the time to do it right.
To make the sauce:
- Heat the butter and oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and sauté until soft but not brown. Add the tomato paste and stir until all vegetables are coated.
- Add the ground beef, veal and pork and season with salt. Crumble the meat as it cooks breaking it into tiny pieces. Cook and crumble the meat until no longer pink, but not browned.
- Pour in the milk and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking and stirring until the milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, about 15 minutes. Add the wine, reduce the heat and bring to a low simmer. Continue cooking and smashing the meat with a wooden spoon until the wine evaporates and the surface of the pot is almost dry.
- Add the diced tomatoes with juice, nutmeg and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting so the sauce barely simmers.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until all liquid is evaporated, about 3 hours. The bolognese will look like a Sloppy Joe mixture.
To serve the bolognese:
- Prepare the pasta according to package directions in a large pot until al dente. Don’t drain the pasta but instead use a slotted spoon to add the rigatoni to the sauce. Add Parmesan and a little pasta cooking water if needed to help loosen the sauce slightly.
- Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Divide the Rigatoni Bolognese into individual servings or spoon onto one large platter. Sprinkle with additional fresh grated Parmesan and parsley.
Serve and enjoy!
Bolognese can be made ahead
Not only does bolognese sauce seem to get better after it sits and melds for a day or two in the fridge, it also freezes beautifully.
I always make a double batch and then freeze half for later. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator then reheat gently on the stovetop. Done and done!
Since this sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead, it’s perfect for serving to company. Once your guests get a whiff of the aroma coming from your kitchen, they’ll think you’ve been slaving away all day!
There’s no need to tell them how simple this sauce really is to make.
Traditional pasta to serve with bolognese sauce
We love serving bolognese sauce with Rigatoni, but feel free to your favorite pasta cooked instead. Spaghetti, pappardelle and tagliatelle are all popular choices.
If you’re feeling a little authentic try making your own homemade pappardelle. Just a few ingredients are all you need to make amazing homemade pasta.
Sometimes we even serve this sauce with zoodles (zucchini noodles) for a tasty lower carb option.
For a quick lunch try a spoonful of leftover sauce in a butter lettuce wrap with grated Parmesan cheese on top. Sounds a little strange but it’s so delicious!
What to serve with Rigatoni Bolognese
You’ll want plenty of fresh grated Parmesan on hand when serving bolognese. It’s also a great idea to have a loaf of crusty bread on hand for scooping out every last drop from your bowl.
A simple green salad with homemade creamy Italian dressing is the perfect side dish for bolognese.
And finally, don’t forget to pop open a bottle of your favorite red wine to serve with this dish. Two of our favorites are Pinot Noir and nice Chianti Classico.
As this sauce is made with milk you can even serve with a light dry white wine as we’ve done here.
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- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup minced or grated onion
- ⅓ cup grated carrot
- ⅓ cup minced celery
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound meatloaf mix or 1/3 pound each ground chuck veal and pork or 2 parts beef and 1 part pork
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 28 ounce can whole tomatoes chopped fine (reserve juice)
- dash nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta tagliatelle or pappardelle
- fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh parsley leaves chopped
- Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a large heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté until soft but not brown. Add the tomato paste and stir until all the vegetables are coated and the paste darkens in color, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Next add the ground meat and season with salt. Crumble the meat as it cooks breaking it apart into tiny pieces. Cook and crumble the meat until no longer pink but not browned.
- Pour in the milk and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, about 15 minutes. Add the wine and reduce the heat to medium low. Bring to a low simmer. Continue cooking and smashing the beef with a wooden spoon until the wine evaporates and the surface of the pot is almost dry, about 15 minutes. The beef should be finely ground and reduced to little bits.
- Add the tomatoes with juice, nutmeg and pepper and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting so the sauce barely simmers with an occasional bubble or two at the surface until all liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours. It should look like a sloppy Joe mixture.
- Check the seasoning and add salt if needed. At this point the sauce can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for up to two months. Rewarm over low heat before serving.
- Prepare the rigatoni according to package directions. Don’t drain the pasta but instead use a slotted spoon to transfer the damp pasta to the sauce. Add the Parmesan and if needed add a little pasta cooking water will help to loosen the sauce slightly. Divide the Rigatoni Bolognese into individual servings or spoon onto one large platter. Top with additional fresh grated Parmesan and parsley. Serve immediately.
- This recipe makes about 4 cups of sauce, enough to serve 6 hungry people . I always double the sauce and freeze half for another meal. It may take longer to cook down a larger batch of sauce, but it’s worth it
Rigatoni Bolognese Sauce Recipe
An Italian classic that’s rich and thick with a complex flavor you won’t soon forget. While it takes a little time to make it right, the directions are simple and easy to follow.
For another meaty classic Italian recipe try this quintessential Sunday Sauce recipe. Made with beef short ribs, Italian sausage or even spareribs, it’s all good!