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Bolognese Sauce, Sugo Alla Bolognese

User Rating 4.5 Star Rating (7 Reviews)


Tagliatelle al Sugo

Tagliatelle al Sugo

© Kyle Phillips, Licensed to About.Com
You may grow old, even doddering, but if you know how to make a good meat sauce, or sugo, people will still beat a path to your door.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours


  • 6 to 8 ounces (150-200 g) ground beef - it shouldn't be too lean, or the sugo will be dry
  • 2 ounces (50 g) pancetta, minced (optional; if you omit it increase the beef)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • A quarter of a medium-sized onion, minced
  • A half a carrot, minced
  • A six-inch stalk of celery, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes or 2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water
  • Beef broth (If you don't have any, dissolve half a bouillon cube in a cup of boiling water)
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pound (500 g) of pasta
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano


If you omit the pancetta you will want the full 8 ounces of meat.

If you are using the pancetta, mince it and the vegetables, and sauté them in a casserole or Dutch oven with the oil. When the onion is golden, add the ground meat and continue cooking till it's browned. Stir in the wine and let the sauce simmer till the wine has evaporated, then add the tomatoes, a ladle of broth, and check the seasoning. Continue simmering over a very low flame for about two hours, stirring occasionally, and adding more broth if the sugo looks like it's drying out.

The sugo will improve steadily as it cooks, and if you have the time simmer it longer - Artusi suggests it be simmered for six hours, adding boiling water or broth as necessary. When it is done it should be rich and thick.

This meat sauce will serve about six as the topping for a first course of pasta or gnocchi, or about four if served over pasta with a tossed salad on the side; in either case serve it with grated Parmigiano. In terms of a wine I'd suggest a relatively light red such as a Chianti Colli Fiorentini.

Two Observations:

  1. This bolognese recipe expands well, and if you double or triple it, using some and freezing the rest, you will have taken care of several meals.
  2. This sauce invites improvisation. For example, you may wish to add a few chopped dried porcini (soak them in boiling water first, and strain and add the liquid as well), or a minced chicken liver to the sauce while it's simmering. Some cooks use the meat from a link sausage instead of pancetta, whereas others omit the pork entirely, using more beef. If you use more pork the sauce will taste sweeter. Artusi suggests that you may want to stir half a cup of whipping cream into it just before you pour it over the pasta.

A Variation: one of my mother-in-law's most spectacularly good Sunday dinner dishes is bracioline al sugo, cutlets in sauce. Make the sauce with 3/4 of a pound of ground meat, adjusting the other ingredients accordingly, and buy a pound of thinly sliced cutlets as well - they needn't be an expensive cut - ask your butcher to cut some 1/4 inch slices from the rump or the round. Add them when you add the ground beef, and cook the sugo as you normally would. Serve paste al sugo as a first course, and the cutlets as a second course, with boiled spinach that's been reheated by tossing in a pan with a quarter cup of olive oil and a minced clove of garlic. If you want to try something even better, substitute ossibuchi for the cutlets. Figure one ossobuco per diner, and remember to snip the fatty membranes around the ossibuchi in a couple of places or they will shrink and the ossibuchi will curl. Flour the ossibuchi and brown them in a skillet while preparing the herbs and browning the ground meat, and drain them before adding them to the pot. Simmer the sauce until the ossibuchi are tender, about three hours.

Of course, Sugo alla Bolognese is not the only sugo made in Italy throughout the winter months. Sugo di maiale, pork sauce, is quite nice, as are sugo di vitelloveal sauce, and sugo d'agnello, lamb sauce. Though they do require some cooking time, you can easily expand them and freeze some for later.

Finally, if you want meatballs rather than ground meat in your sauce, check the pasta with meatballs page.

My Response to BDJH's Comment About Adding Garlic:
I did not include garlic in this recipe because, as a general rule, central and north Italians will put either onion or garlic into a dish, but not both. Here we have onion. You are, of course, free to add a couple of cloves if you like, but go easy. Too much would be, well, too much.
Kyle Phillips, Your Guide to Italian Cooking

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