Authentic Italian Bolognese Ragù Recipe With Secrets

Author: Veruska Anconitano, Award-Winning Food Travel Journalist, Sommelier & Outdoor LoverAuthor information
About the author
Veruska Anconitano
Veruska is a a food travel journalist with awards to her credit, such as World Best Food Travel Journalist. She holds a certification as a sommelier and she is also an ardent lover of the outdoors. Aside from this, Veruska is a Multilingual SEO and Localization Consultant and co-owns multiple websites that cater to a global audience.
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For Italians, a traditional Italian Bolognese ragù is not just a sauce; it’s a historical narrative of Bologna, the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy, and part of the history of Italy. Nestled in the heart of Italy, Bologna has given the world many gastronomic treasures, but perhaps none as globally beloved as this meat-based sauce.

The significance of Bolognese ragù in Italian cuisine is massive. In a land where food is an art, a culture, and a way of life, Bolognese ragù stands out as a testament to the timeless allure of Italian cooking. This sauce has been pivotal in countless meals, conversations, and memories, from family gatherings in rustic Italian homes to sophisticated dining rooms worldwide.

For those who seek authenticity, you’re in for a treat. In this article, you will find the traditional recipe for making Bolognese Ragù as filed on 17 October 1982 by the Bolognese delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce and reviewed in 2023. This isn’t merely a recipe; it’s a culinary heritage, a blueprint of flavors passed down through generations.

We take pride in the authenticity of our Italian recipes. Italy doesn’t just inspire them; they’re born from its very soul. Every recipe on this website is crafted by Italians, for whom the nuances of Italian cuisine are second nature, having been born and bred in the rich tapestry of Italy’s food culture.

The Importance of Ragù for Italians

For Italians, ragù is more than just a sauce; it symbolizes tradition, familial warmth, and a shared culinary heritage.

It encapsulates the quintessential Sunday experience, where nonnas and mammas dedicate hours to preparing this rich concoction, letting it simmer and permeate the air with its enticing aroma.

One of the most vivid scenes of when I was a kid was dipping bread into the simmering ragù. That simple joy is one of the reasons why I still love ragù today.

The scent of ragù cooking on a lazy Sunday is a deeply embedded memory for many, transcending mere food and embodying the essence of family gatherings, lively chatter, and the comfort of home. In many ways, it’s not just about the taste but the cherished moments and memories that the preparation and sharing of ragù evoke.

Key Ingredients of Ragù

At the heart of the iconic Bolognese ragù lie a medley of carefully chosen ingredients, each contributing its unique flavor and texture to create a dish that’s a symphony of tastes.

These are the traditional ingredients of the Italian Bolognese Ragù Recipe:

  • Meat: A blend of beef and pork lends the sauce its rich, savory depth.
  • Tomatoes: Whether freshly diced (pelati) or in the form of a concentrated paste (passata), they offer a delightful tangy sweetness that perfectly complements the meat.
  • Soffritto: Often described as the ‘holy trinity’ of Italian cooking, this aromatic mixture of finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery lays down a flavorful foundation for the sauce.
  • Liquids: Red or white wine adds acidity and depth. Meanwhile, milk or cream bestows the sauce with a velvety richness.
  • Other Essentials: Olive oil, the golden nectar of Mediterranean cuisine, sets the stage. Seasonings like salt and pepper balance and enhance.
Simmering ragù

The Traditional Italian Bolognese Ragù

The official recipe for Bolognese ragù was registered by the Italian Academy of Cuisine regional delegation at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce in 1982.

For the first time in over 40 years, the Italian Academy of Cuisine has updated the recipe in 2023. The new recipe, a result of extensive research on texts conducted by a Study Committee of the Italian Academy of Cuisine, has been formalized in a notarial deed filed at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.

Traditionally, the “cartella,” the beef diaphragm, was used in Bologna, but this is hard to find today. In its absence, or as an addition, it’s preferable to use front cuts rich in collagen, such as the muscle, shoulder, under-shoulder, belly, and brisket tip. Various combinations can be made. According to a modern preparation technique, the meats are well-browned separately, then mixed with the finely chopped aromatic vegetables that have also been sautéed.

Allowed Meat Variations to Bolognese Sauce:

  1. Mixed meats: beef (about 60%) and pork (about 40%) (loin or neck);
  2. Meat minced with a knife;
  3. Flat or rolled pork belly instead of fresh bacon;
  4. A hint of nutmeg.

Not Allowed Variations to Bolognese Sauce:

  1. Veal meat;
  2. Smoked bacon;
  3. Only pork meat;
  4. Garlic, rosemary, parsley, other herbs or spices;
  5. Brandy (in place of wine);
  6. Flour (for thickening).

Ingredients that can be added to enrich the Bolognese Sauce:

  1. Chicken livers, hearts, and gizzards;
  2. Skinned and crumbled pork sausage;
  3. Blanched peas at the end of cooking;
  4. Rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms.

Ragù Recipe Step-by-Step

Based on the above, here’s the traditional and official recipe to make traditional ragù sauce at home.

Ingredients for 6 people

  • 400 g of coarsely ground beef pulp
  • 150 g of fresh pork belly slices
  • 60 g of onion, about 60g
  • 60 g of carrot
  • 60 g of celery stalk
  • 1 glass of red or white wine
  • 200 g of tomato puree: 200g
  • 1 tablespoon of double concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 glass of whole milk (optional)
  • Light meat or vegetable broth (can also use bouillon)
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  1. In a top-tier, sturdy casserole dish — whether non-stick, aluminum, or enameled cast iron, measuring 24-26 cm in diameter — gently melt the finely minced pancetta using 3 tablespoons of oil.
  2. Then, add finely chopped aromatic vegetables, avoiding the use of a blender, and allow them to tenderize on medium-low heat. Stir consistently with a wooden spoon, taking care to prevent the onion from acquiring a burnt taste.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the minced meat, stirring carefully, and cook it for about ten minutes until it "sizzles."
  4. Pour in the wine and let it evaporate until there's no wine scent left, and then add the concentrated tomato paste and tomato puree.
  5. As you stir thoroughly, add a cup of hot broth (or just water), and allow it to simmer on low heat, covered, for around 2 to 3 hours— the exact duration might vary based on individual tastes and the meat variety, replenishing with more broth when necessary.
  6. Halfway through, following an old tradition, you can add milk, allowing it to be fully absorbed.
  7. Finally, once cooked, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. The ragù should have a beautiful, dark orange hue, and be rich and creamy.


Preparation time: 1 hour

Cooking time: 2 hours

Total time: 3 hours

Tips for the Perfect Bolognese Ragù

Traditional ragù has enchanted Italian palates with its robust and heartwarming flavors across generations.

The journey from mere ingredients to this celebrated sauce involves mastery, tradition, and a few pivotal choices that set the stage for the perfect outcome.

At the heart of this iconic dish is the commitment to using pristine ingredients. The interplay of fresh, high-quality components forms the soul of an authentic Bolognese. Whether it’s the tomatoes, picked at the peak of their ripeness or the aromatic herbs that infuse the sauce with their essence, every ingredient should be a testament to quality. The difference between a good ragù and an exceptional one often lies in choosing these raw materials.

Then comes the art of cooking. Bolognese isn’t about hurried preparation. Instead, it celebrates the essence of slow cooking. Letting the sauce simmer gently for hours allows the flavors to meld beautifully. This patience in preparation, deeply rooted in Italian culinary traditions, ensures that the ragù tastes divine and tells a story of love, care, and tradition with each spoonful.

The meat selection and its ratio in the sauce can make a substantial difference. While beef and pork are traditionally used, the precise balance between the two offers variations in taste and texture. Beef lends the sauce a hearty depth, while pork introduces a certain tenderness and fat content that enriches the ragù. With its fatty richness, incorporating pancetta introduces a smoky hint, weaving a layer of complexity into the sauce.

Lastly, the choice of pasta can elevate the experience of savoring Bolognese Ragù. While the sauce can grace various pasta types, it finds its most harmonious match in tagliatelle. The flat and broad nature of tagliatelle ensures it clings to the meaty sauce, achieving a balance in every bite. Spaghetti, though popular outside Italy, doesn’t traditionally pair with Bolognese in its homeland. There’s wisdom in this preference; the structure of tagliatelle ensures that the ragù is not just an accompaniment but an integral part of the dish.

In the end, crafting the perfect Bolognese Ragù is about respect — respect for tradition, ingredients, and the time-honored processes passed down through the annals of Italian culinary history.

traditional ragù sauce bolognese

The best pasta to serve with Bolognese Sauce

With its rich and meaty texture, Bolognese sauce demands pasta that can withstand its robust flavors and hold the sauce effectively.

Tagliatelle is the unrivaled champion, a traditional flat ribbon pasta from the Emilia-Romagna region. Its broad, flat surface provides an ideal canvas for the sauce to cling to, ensuring each bite is an exquisite blend of pasta and sauce. Furthermore, the porous nature of freshly made tagliatelle allows it to absorb the sauce, enhancing the overall taste experience. While spaghetti is often a popular choice outside of Italy, purists argue that its round and slick surface doesn’t capture the sauce as effectively. Pappardelle, another wide pasta, or rigatoni, with its ridges and tubular shape, is also a commendable alternative, as they cradle the Bolognese in their nooks and crevices. However, regardless of personal preferences, choosing a pasta that complements and showcases the Bolognese sauce’s depth and richness turns a simple dish into a culinary masterpiece.

The Perfect Wine Pairing for Bolognese Ragù

When it comes to wine, traditional ragù, with its myriad flavors and textures, is an intriguing canvas for wine enthusiasts.

At the heart of this pairing lies the medium to full-bodied red wines, known for their robust profiles that match the intensity of the ragù. With its rustic charm, Sangiovese offers notes of tart cherry and spices that dance seamlessly with the meaty richness of the sauce. On the other hand, a classic Chianti, characterized by its red fruit characteristics and earthy undertones, has the potential to enhance the savory elements of the Bolognese, creating a harmonious blend of flavors.

But the pairing journey doesn’t stop there. Venturing into other Italian reds, like a Nebbiolo or Barbera, can also offer delightful nuances to the experience. The key lies in balancing the wine’s tannin structure with the sauce’s depth, ensuring neither overshadows the other.

The perfect pairing elevates the dish and the wine, crafting a symphony of tastes and aromas that linger, evoking memories of shared moments and the timeless beauty of Italian culinary traditions.

Common Misconceptions About Bolognese Sauce Abroad

As Bolognese sauce has traveled and been embraced worldwide, it’s inevitably been subject to modifications and reinterpretations as with carbonara pasta.

One of the most common misconceptions is the association of Bolognese with spaghetti, giving rise to the popular “spaghetti Bolognese.” While this pairing is beloved in many international cuisines, tagliatelle reigns supreme in its birthplace of Bologna. Another frequent oversight is the heavy use of tomatoes, making the sauce almost like a marinara. Authentic Bolognese boasts a meat-centric nature, with tomatoes playing a more subdued role. Moreover, adding ingredients like garlic, basil, or large amounts of herbs deviates from the traditional recipe. Outside of Italy, Bolognese is sometimes considered a quick sauce, but purists know its flavor matures and deepens with hours of slow simmering. While showcasing the sauce’s adaptability, these misconceptions also highlight the importance of preserving and appreciating the nuances of traditional culinary arts.

The Difference Between Bolognese and Other Italian Sauces

In the intricate tapestry of Italian sauces, distinctions and variations abound. The story of Bolognese Ragù and its counterparts is, in essence, a tale of regional uniqueness, textures, and timeless traditions.

Venture south to Naples, and you’ll encounter Neapolitan Ragù, a sauce that stands apart in its richness and robustness. While Bolognese reveals its meaty depth, Neapolitan Ragù distinguishes itself with its pronounced tomato base. It generously incorporates more sizable portions of meat, like whole sausages or sizable chunks of pork, stewed slowly to perfection within the tomato sauce. This culinary gem carries a two-fold treat: after delighting in the pasta drenched in the sauce, one can relish the tender meat, traditionally served separately, as a delectable second course.

Contrast this with Marinara, the embodiment of simplicity and finesse. Marinara is a hymn to the garden’s bounty, unlike the meat-laden Bolognese or Neapolitan. Tomatoes, the show’s stars, are complemented by the aromatic chorus of garlic, herbs, and onions. Absent of meat, Marinara stands as a beacon for vegetarian pasta dishes, offering a light yet flavorful alternative.

Bolognese asserts its distinct identity by delving into the nuances of texture and ingredients. While many Italian sauces, like Marinara, tend to be more fluid and less dense, Bolognese boasts a thick, meat-forward profile. This characteristic body of Bolognese is further accentuated by a secret weapon not commonly found in other sauces: milk or cream. This addition imparts a unique, slightly creamy consistency, setting it apart in both taste and texture.

Then there’s time – a key ingredient in the culinary world. Bolognese pays homage to the adage that good things come to those who wait. The sauce’s character is carved out through extended simmering, allowing flavors not just to mix, but to dance, entwine, and meld into a harmonious whole. On the flip side, the vivacious Marinara, with its fewer ingredients and straightforward approach, embodies speed and simplicity. In under thirty minutes, one can whip up this sauce, making it a favored choice for quick meals without compromising on flavor.

While each sauce traces its roots to the same rich Italian culinary heritage, they are tales of different cities, traditions, and tastes—each exceptional in its own right.

Ragù bolognese

How to store leftover Bolognese

Proper storage is crucial to maintaining a traditional Bolognese sauce’s deep flavors and rich consistency.

After cooking, allow the ragù to cool to room temperature. Transferring hot sauce directly into a refrigeration unit can cause a drop in the fridge’s internal temperature, potentially compromising the safety of other stored foods. Once cooled, place the sauce in airtight containers to prevent exposure to air, which can lead to flavor degradation and potential contamination. If you plan to consume the Bolognese within 3-4 days, storing it in the refrigerator will suffice. However, for longer storage, consider freezing it. Frozen Bolognese can retain its quality for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy it again, thaw the sauce in the refrigerator overnight and reheat gently on the stovetop, stirring occasionally to ensure even warming. Remember, properly stored Bolognese ensures safety and preserves the rich, authentic flavors that make this dish a timeless Italian classic.

Traditional Italian Bolognese Ragù: Honoring Tradition At Its Best

In a world that constantly evolves and embraces fusion in its cuisine, turning to time-honored recipes is profoundly comforting. The traditional Bolognese sauce, with its rich flavors and history, is a testament to the culinary legacy of Bologna. Every ingredient, every simmering hour, is a tribute to generations of Italian nonnas and mammas who passed down their culinary wisdom. As you delve into creating this sauce at home, remember that you’re participating in a cultural rite more than just a meal, honoring the spirit of an age-old Italian tradition. And when you savor that first bite, let it transport you to the bustling streets of Bologna, where history, food, and passion intertwine seamlessly. Buon appetito!

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