Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese

If you don’t have a recipe like this in your winter repertoire, then you should. In our house, we refer to this dish as Pasta Bolognese. Now, before you raise your hand to point out that this is not an authentic Bolognese sauce, I’ll save you the time and announce it right here: This is not an authentic Bolognese sauce.

You might, instead, call this sauce a distant relative, the result of many family dinners, and the evolution of a sauce tweaked to ensure ease of preparation, ingredient access and unanimous approval.

Bolognese sauce is a meaty Italian ragu, often containing a combination of beef, pork, pancetta and/or veal. It may also include tomatoes, although they are not typically predominant, since meat is the principal component (which is why Bolognese is often called a ragu). This recipe calls exclusively for ground beef, because that’s the meat I can easily find in my market and likely have stashed in my freezer. And it includes a generous amount of tomatoes, which always lend bright acidity to meat sauce.

Other traits of traditional Bolognese sauce are the minimal use of spices (salt, pepper, nutmeg), no garlic (gasp!), and the inclusion of white wine and milk. For the record, you can be sure there will be garlic in the following recipe, as well as oregano and thyme. And there will be no trace of milk; otherwise, at least one young family member would have rebelled years ago due to a mystifying bias against dairy. And, in place of white wine, I always add red, because I prefer how it deepens flavor and adds fruity acidity to meaty sauces — and there’s always red wine in our house.

Finally, Bolognese is hearty, traditionally served with equally hearty pasta, such as pappardelle. We love these thick, ribbon-y noodles, but, unlike red wine, there’s rarely pappardelle on hand in our house for an impromptu dinner, so spaghetti is the go-to staple of choice.

The point here is that this is a flexible pasta sauce that tastes great no matter its name or origin. In our home, it’s a beloved family staple we’ve called Bolognese, and we’re sticking to it.

Lynda Balslev is the co-author of “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture” (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to Or visit the TasteFood blog at

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