Forget what you've heard. Bolognese no longer requires milk in it to be official, nor is it hard to make. Simmer a pot of this rich, meaty, ragù alla bolognese (no milk recipe) and toss it with some homemade pasta for your next Sunday supper. Inspired by the authorized recipe for bolognese governed by the Bologna, Italy, Chamber of Commerce.
There is such a thing as good fortune. I know because I've experienced it. The first time I ever tasted bolognese sauce I was lucky enough to be in Bologna, the home of ragù bolognese. I wasn't much of meat sauce lover but I was raised to be a thoughtful guest so I accepted the plate of pappardelle with bolognese from my host with few expectations.
I wasn't prepared for what was set in front of me. Nor was I prepared with how it tasted. Delicate. Sweet. Rich with meat that was so tender it melted in my mouth and hugged the pappardelle.
Bolognese—you had me at hello.
Ragù bolognese research epiphany
It took many years later to make bolognese because frankly, I was afraid. Bolognese has a reputation for reputation for a long cooking time, which I mistook for being a difficult cooking process.
My goal is to give you the confidence to make the best bolognese sauce.
I first turned to my Italian cooking bible, The Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, the queen of Italian cooking. It has never let me down. And I made her renowned recipe for ragù bolognese.
It was, of course, fabulous but I wasn't finished researching.
You'd think I'd consult my grandmas' recipe books, but my family is from southern Italy (Reggio Calabria and Naples) and meat sauce or bolognese is more local to northern Italy. Meat sauce wasn't a staple for our family .
As I studied more about the traditional recipe for bolognese, I realized how nuanced of a dish it was with my usual references of Serious Eats, Food and Wine, and Bon Appetit each having their own and sometimes differing opinions.
Every recipe had its own nuance, which is perfectly acceptable in Italian cooking. Almost ready to develop my own bolognese recipe , I stumbled upon a major update in my research.
Milk was no longer a required ingredient!
The role of milk in bolognese
Milk has always been a benchmark ingredient in bolognese. If a recipe didn't have it, many wouldn't consider it bolognese.
Historically, milk was seen as a way to tenderize tough cuts of meat used in bolognese. It also helped mellow the gaminess of meats like wild boar used in Italian cuisine. Milk also serves to help balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
Bolognese isn't any different. The city of Bologna has an official recipe for bolognese with specific ingredient qualifiers for what bolognese is and what it isn't (teaser: it's not a tomato sauce).
And, in April of 2023, the former "approved recipe standards" for bolognese were revised.
Whether it's because leaner cuts of meat are available today or to help consumers with dairy dietary restrictions, the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina that governs the bolognese recipe decreed that authentic bolognese sauce no longer "requires" milk.
So—I was ready and made the controversial decision to eliminate milk from this ragù bolognese recipe.
Let the debate begin!
Bolognese without milk: the new "rules"
Here are the bolognese "rules" I'm following from the official recipe:
Ground Meat Mixture. A minced combo of beef and two kinds of pork (pancetta) but not veal, smoked pancetta or bacon.
↠You'll use a combo of ground beef, fresh ground pork, and diced unsmoked pancetta.
Wine. Typically white but red wine is ok. Never brandy or another alcohol.
↠White wine is the choice for this recipe.
Tomato. A blend of passata (tomato puree) and paste.
↠The passata I recommend is Mutti Passata in addition to tomato paste.
Soffritto. Sometimes also called the "holy trinity" in cooking. Soffritto is a vegetable mixture of diced onion, carrots and celery.
↠Not changing one thing here!
Equipment needed for bolognese
Traditionally, bolognese is made in a terracotta pot, similar to a chambra but an enameled cast iron dutch oven (the wider the better) is a perfect choice. Either way you want a large pot so the bolognese can beautifully brown.
How to make bolognese, step by step
Bolognese is all about adding ingredients in layers and cooking each layer until it is dry or absorbed which helps achieve an intense depth of flavor.
Here are the steps:
Your path to the best bolognese
Moderate heat. Everything is over moderate heat.
Building layers of flavor. Every step and ingredient is cooked and simmered in steps until it's dry. This is the key to the recipe.
Simmer on the lowest heat. The sauce should barely bubble as it simmers. If you've done these steps correctly, it is impossible to burn the sauce.
No lid needed. If you are simmering the sauce at a low enough temperature, there is no need to put a lid on the pot.
You'll add in butter and pasta water at the end which adds a luxurious creaminess.
Signs of a good bolognese
The sauce should cling to the pasta. This is achieved by the added pasta water and the butter. You shouldn't see meat separated from the pasta.
The meat should be so finely minced from the long, slow cook and it and the vegetables should practically melt in your mouth.
The best pasta for bolognese
A long pasta noodle gives the bolognese sauce lots of real estate to cling. My favorite types of pasta for bolognese are:
Tagliatelle. A delicate egg pasta, tagliatelle pasta is wider than fettuccine but narrower than pappardelle.
Spaghetti. I know I don't have to tell you what spaghetti is. It is a great alternative to one of the wider pasta types.
Storage, reheating and freezing tips
Store. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Reheat. The sauce will dry out even more when refrigerated. Add some pasta water, if available, to the sauce in a saucepan and heat over low heat until warmed through.
Freeze. Bolognese freezes beautifully. Freeze in a freezer-safe container or resealable bag for up to 3 months. Defrost completely before following the reheat tips above.
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Tender Ragù Alla Bolognese (no milk)
- 1 lb tagliatelle or pappardelle pasta, cooked, reserve 1 ½ cups pasta water plus more to reheat leftovers -SEE NOTE BELOW
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil, more if needed
- 3 oz pancetta, I use the diced pancetta from Trader Joe's
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 celery, finely diced
- 1 onion, finey chopped
- 2 lbs ground beef , I use 80%
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup white wine, it has to evaporate completely; you can use red if you prefer
- 1 ½ cup chicken broth
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 oz tomato paste
- 28 oz passata
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Heat a large wide dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil and stir in the diced pancetta. Saute in the olive oil until browned but not charred. (That will affect the flavor of the sauce.) Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Set aside.
- Add a little more oil to the pan if it looks too dry. Add the carrots, celery and onion to the pan. Saute the soffritto until cooked and softened a bit for 5-10 min.
- Add the ground meat and the ground pork to the vegetables. Season with the salt and pepper.Using the edge of a wooden spoon, finely mince the meats. Brown (but don't let it get too dark), over medium high heat until cooked about 8 minutes.
- Pour in 1 c wine and the nutmeg and cook until the wine evaporates and the meat is almost dry in the pan. This might take 5 minutes or so.After it does, stir in the tomato paste and melt into the meat. Stir in the passata and chicken stock. Allow to come together and then stir in the cooked pancetta.
- Reduce the heat to the lowest of simmers. The sauce should barely bubble (but it should bubble.)
- Simmer the bolognese for 3 hours on the lowest temperature.
- Add pasta water and a pat of butter at the end.
- You'll easily have enough sauce for 8-10 people so adjust the pasta portions as needed. We typically make 1 lb. for 4-6 people,but to be honest end up with leftovers.
- For the wine, I recommend a dry white wine like a pinot grigio or chardonnay. I don't recommend a sweet wine.
- Low and slow is the name of the game. This is not a sauce meant to be rushed. Take your time and enjoy the process!
- Make ahead up to 4 days ahead. This is a sauce that gets better as it sits.
About Lori Murphy
Lori has over 30 years in the food industry as a marketing strategist, culinary instructor and chef for three kids with discerning palates. As the chief content creator at Josie + Nina, Lori is dedicated to helping home cooks create food memories through fresh ingredients and Italian flavors.