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Oct 22, 2009 07:35 AM

Bolognese Sauce: How do You Make Yours?

This past weekend I made a bolognese sauce using a recipe from Saveur. We were pretty disapointed as it was WAY too beefy tasting (the only meat used was beef with the exception of a small amount of chicken livers and proscuitto di parma). I also felt the sauce needed alot of seasoning where are the spices like thyme, bay leaf or nutmeg (my mom's key ingredient in her Bolognese).

I'd be interested in hearing what you guys do to make killer bolognese sauce.
Here's the ingredients we used:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 rib celery, trimmed and minced
1/2 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed, and minced
2–3 slices prosciutto di Parma (about 1 oz.), finely chopped
2 chicken livers, finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup hot milk
1 cup beef, veal, or chicken broth
1 28-oz. can Italian plum tomato purée


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  1. I agree with the nutmeg. I use Marcella Hazan's recipe and it epitomizes subtlety. Definitely no pronounced beefy flavor at the end.
    The key is to cook it down very, very, very slowly-this may be a factor in your results. Also, the meat should be cooked until the redness is gone. NOT browned, so no Maillard effect that definitely alters the flavor profile.
    Hope this helps!

    11 Replies
    1. re: monavano

      Monavano, my mother swears by Marcella Hazan and I believe she lifted the nutmeg from Marcella's recipe. How long do you let it cook for in total and do you use heavy cream or milk?



      1. re: SundaySauce

        I too use Marcella's recipe and I really like it. I let it cook for 3 hours at least and I've always used whole milk. I also add some chopped pancetta at the beginning although Marcella is very tyrannical (God bless her) when it comes to her recipes and would probably not approve!

        1. re: HungryRubia

          Yup, cook about 2 hours (google the recipe and you'll find it in many places).
          I use whole milk, just like Ms. Hazan says. Everyone says to follow the recipe exactly, and I did, trusting that the end product would be worth the wait.
          It is.

        2. re: SundaySauce

          i have marcella's essentials of classic italian cooking. i have never made anything out of there that was less than spectacular.

          1. re: SundaySauce

            I've used cream half and half regular milk or [hiding here] skim. I've used what I had in the house if I was making it off the cuff.

          2. re: monavano

            I use her's too but find I must add more milk towards the end or the sauce is not saucey enough. But, the flavor and slow cooking as well as the nutmeg is fabulous. It's such a hit with my family- they often don't want pasta with it !

            1. re: pbw7

              and that's my concern or difference with the milk addtion too as I add more at the last stage of cooking because I like that and it add a lighter color in the end sauce which is enjoyed too.

            2. re: monavano

              May I ask why do we not want to brown the meat in this situation? Doesn't it create more complex flavors?

              1. re: xiaobao12

                it's not part of the tradition, as it changes the flavor profile. More complex is not always better. There's a lot going on as it is.

                1. re: Karl S

                  OK - thanks for posting. I just wonder because other chowhounds have posted their versions which suggest to brown the the meat. I'm sure both taste great but in the end, does that extra step of browning really create a noticeable difference?

                  1. re: xiaobao12

                    It can. More important, it also toughens the meat; this ragu is about seducing the succulence of the meat.

            3. Sautee onion, carrot, celery, salt and pepper, till soft
              add garlic + pepper flakes and sweat
              add ground beef, veal and pork, salt and pepper, cook,
              add white wine scrape bottom, reduce
              add milk reduce
              add san marzano tomatos + bit of water
              add thyme, bay leaves, grate some nutmeg
              salt + pepper
              cook 1:30/2h semi covered, add more water if it gets too dry.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Evilbanana11

                Look great, do you think there would be a difference if using milk as opposed to the heavy cream?

                1. re: Evilbanana11

                  This is what I do, too, except reverse the milk and wine. I also add a bit of tomato paste.

                2. I will shamelessly doctor any Bolognese sauce recipe with some grated lemon zest. It really seems to work well with the nutmeg. Might be worth playing around with. - Cay

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: cayjohan

                    Lemon zest is excellent over braised dishes. Gremolata takes a deeply flavored dish and brightens it like nothing else.
                    Actually, I don't like raw garlic, so I just use lemon zest and fresh parsley.
                    Also, I serve the bolognese over tagliatelle when possible-a good dried eggy pasta that I find at an Italian store.

                    1. re: cayjohan

                      I'll give the lemon zest a try next time I attempt my favorite meal. Are mom's Myers ok or do they have to be the regular lemons?

                    2. That's a good basic recipe. I would use a mixture of beef+pork and add the bay leaf as well as a few cloves.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: carbonaraboy

                        I've used a recipe that also mentioned to add ground ham, not a lot, but some none the less. Some recipes call for bacon or parma ham or serrano ham. I've yet to make one that can't be improved on at least in my mind, they can always be better.

                      2. Here is the iconic Karl S recipe, which has served me very well over the years.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: GretchenS

                          Thanks for the elevation to iconic status for this recipe!

                          1. re: Karl S

                            Ah, you got that status with me so, so long ago.