rigatoni bolognese

This bolognese sauce is real comfort food. It cooks down all day (3+ hours) while filling your home with exquisite smells, and is the kind of dinner I want to come home to after trudging through snow in the dead of winter. No, it’s not exactly winter yet, but we’ve been having autumnal weather up here in the Northeast the last few days, and now I am craving fall/apples/apple cider/apple cider donuts (are we sensing a theme here?).

Don’t be scared away by the 3+ hour cooking time – during most of that time, the sauce is slowly simmering with very little attention needed from you. And depending on how many people you are cooking for, this recipe makes a lot of leftovers, so it’s an ideal Sunday afternoon project that will leave you with leftovers to be excited about for the next few days. Next time I make it, I think I’ll do a double batch and freeze half. This is a recipe that I will make again and again, and want my grandchildren to remember me by (er, though I’ll need to get around to producing some children first). 

Rigatoni Bolognese

First, this sauce can be served with all kinds of pasta – Marcella says the best of all is homemade tagliatelle, so those of you with pasta makers, take note. Rigatoni, fusilli, or conchiglie are also recommended – I like the way the sauce gets caught inside the rigatoni. Or you can do things the British way, and use spaghetti (apparently they never do this in Italy). Feel free to play around with quantities/ingredients in the sauce – I added garlic and pancetta to the original, and used more tomatoes, since I like a more tomato-heavy sauce. Doing all the chopping for the mirepoix is kind of tiresome, so if you end up with extra carrots, celery, or onions, it’s a good idea to finish chopping them up while you’re at it and freeze them for later use – I did this, and the sauce came together much faster the second time I made it!


1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 oz. pancetta, chopped
1 pound ground beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk
Whole nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
28 oz. can plum tomatoes, chopped up (reserve the leftover juice/puree in the can – you’ll need it later)
1 1/2 pounds pasta
Freshly grated parmigiano, to serve


Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed pan (a dutch oven is ideal here) over medium heat, until the butter has melted. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the chopped celery and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are starting to brown – this will build up a great flavor base for your sauce. Add the garlic and cook for another minute .

Add the ground beef and pancetta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and break up the meat. Cook until the beef is no longer red and raw.

Add the milk and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away (there will still be some liquid in the pan – the rendered fat from the meat). Grate a small amount of nutmeg over the meat – about 1/8 teaspoon. Stir.

Add the wine, and let it simmer until it has evaporated. Add the tomatoes and stir until everything is mixed in evenly. When the tomatoes start to simmer, turn heat down so that the sauce cooks at a very low simmer – for me, this is at the lowest setting on my gas stove. Cook uncovered for at least three hours, or more if you have the time. Check the sauce occasionally while it is cooking – it will dry out from time to time and the fat will separate from the meat. When this happens, add 1/2 cup of the extra tomato juices you have reserved in the can. If you run out of tomato juice, switch to water. When you are planning to serve the sauce, however, there should be no water left in it and the fat should have separated from the sauce.

Toss with the cooked drained pasta, and serve immediately, with freshly grated parmigiano to pass around. I also recommend a full-bodied red wine!

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking


3 Comments on “rigatoni bolognese”

  1. What a hearty and delicious pasta!

  2. […] else: Bolognese sauce Approximately 1 pound fresh spinach lasagne noodles (or dry noodles) 1 tablespoon butter, plus more […]

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