Rigatoni Bolognese is a rich meaty pasta dish perfect for a cozy Sunday dinner. The sauce is cooked low and slow until the meat is tender and the flavors from the soffritto, wine and tomatoes are concentrated.
Just like my Italian Pot Roast and Short Rib Ragu, this slightly tweaked version of the classic northern Italian Bolognese is well worth the time it takes to cook. The long slow simmer gives this sauce it’s decadent texture and rich concentrated flavor. We love serving it over a nice hearty pasta like rigatoni that can hold so much of the luscious meat sauce.
Rigatoni Bolognese is the ultimate family dinner
Bolognese (pronounced “bow-luh-nayez“) is perfect for Sunday dinner with family or friends. You can also make this several days in advance and have it ready for a really quick weeknight meal. Your house will smell amazing while it simmers! Sit back and watch how the aroma lures everyone in to the kitchen for a taste.
Ingredients and notes
Unlike tomato sauce or other meat sauces (ragu) meat is the primary ingredient in Bolognese sauce and not the tomatoes. I have made a couple of adjustments to the original recipe to suit our family’s dietary needs and tastes. I don’t add any milk or butter so that our non-dairy family members can enjoy it too. I also add in garlic, just because we love it!
Here is what you will need:
Ground meat: I use 12 oz. of ground beef, 12 oz. of ground pork and 12 oz. ground veal. The recipe is typically made with a combination of beef and pork, but the veal adds extra flavor and tenderness. I have also made this using meatloaf mix, which is 1/3 each of beef, pork and veal.
Olive oil: Just enough to cook the meat and vegetables.
Pancetta: Dice the pancetta into small cubes. It will help to build the rich deep flavors in the sauce. You can often find it already cubed in the deli section of the grocery store.
Soffritto: Diced onion, carrot and celery. This combination of vegetables is used as the base of many Italian sauces.
Garlic: Finely diced, I love the added flavor garlic brings to the sauce, but you can leave it out.
Tomato paste: Just a couple of tablespoons is all you need.
White wine: Any dry white wine that you like drinking can be used. I used a dry Italian white wine.
Chicken stock or broth: Store bought works fine, just make sure that it is unsalted or low salt.
Whole canned tomatoes: Diced small or broken up with your hands. I prefer to use the kind that come in puree versus juice, but either will work. You may have to simmer it longer if the tomatoes are in juice. I also use whole tomatoes because I can dice them as small as I like. You want little bits of tomato in the sauce, but not big chunks.
Thyme: This is not normally used in classic Bolognese, but I think it works beautifully with the other ingredients.
Bay leaves: I use whole dried bay leaves so that I can find them and pull them out before serving.
Rigatoni: I love how the rigatoni holds the sauce. Traditionally, you will see this sauce served with Tagliatelle, or Pappardelle noodles, but you can use almost any larger noodle that can hold the sauce well.
Other pasta shapes that work well with Bolognese:
Step by step instructions and tips
- Brown the meat until there is almost no pink left. It will look gray and that is fine. Don’t cook it until it turns brown. Transfer the meat and pan juices to a plate.
- Brown the pancetta until it is crispy
- Add the soffritto, thyme, salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are tender.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook several minutes then return the meat and juices back in to the pan.
- Add the wine and reduce by half.
- Stir in the chicken stock, tomatoes and puree, and the bay leaves and bring the sauce to a boil.
- Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Cook for 2 1/2 – 3 hours stirring occasionally.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and leave it uncovered while you make the rigatoni.
- Cook the rigatoni according to package instructions,
- Drain the pasta. Ladle sauce into the empty pasta pan. return the pasta to the pan and toss to coat completely.
- Serve with additional sauce and grated parmesan cheese.
Cooking Tips for the best Bolognese
- Finely dicing the carrots, celery and onion, is important to getting the right texture in the sauce. You can cut them into larger chunks and put them in the food processor or blender to quickly get a very fine dice. The vegetables will basically melt into the sauce!
- The sauce should cook at a very low boil. If the heat is too high you risk burning the sauce.
- Remember to stir it occasionally.
- This is a good time to give it a taste as well and add a little more seasoning if it needs it. Just remember that the flavors will concentrate as the sauce cooks so be careful not to over salt.
- Let the sauce sit uncovered while you make the pasta. This rest time gives the sauce a few minutes to continue to thicken a bit.
- The sauce should have a little bit of separated fat when it is done. That is all good flavor that will get stirred back into the the sauce before serving.
- Generously salt the pasta water, but don’t over salt it. I know many recipes tell you the water should taste like the ocean, but, I would not recommend that. You want the pasta to taste like pasta not salt.
You can make the sauce 3-4 days ahead and store it in the refrigerator. Leftover rigatoni and sauce, will keep in the refrigerator for several days. If you want to freeze the sauce, put it in freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Once you know how to make a good Bolognese sauce you will want to add those rich flavors to other dishes. Bolognese is delicious in lasagna or tossed with penne, ricotta and mozzarella in a baked pasta.
This recipe lends itself quite easily to a slow cooker. Follow the steps above until you have reduced the wine. Transfer everything to the slow cooker and add the remaining ingredients for the sauce. Turn the slow cooker to high for 3-4 hours or to low for 6-8 hours.
This dish is quite substantial, so I would recommend keeping the sides light. All you really need is a crisp salad and you have a delicious meal!
Other Italian pasta recipes you will love
If you are looking for a meat sauce that comes together quickly, try my Penne Pomodoro or Mafalda Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Sausage. Other good weeknight pasta dishes include: Pasta Broccoli, Bucatini alla Carbonara and Caprese Pasta with Fresh Mozzarella.
I love to get your feedback so if you tried this recipe for Rigatoni Bolognese, please leave me a comment below. I hope you enjoy our recipes and look forward to hearing from you!
- 12 oz Beef, ground
- 12 oz Pork, ground
- 12 oz Veal, ground
- 3 tbsp Olive oil
- 2 stalks Celery small diced
- 2 Carrots large, small diced
- 1 Onion large, small diced
- 3 cloves Garlic diced
- 4 oz Pancetta diced
- 2 tbsp Tomato paste
- 1 cup White wine dry
- 1 cup Chicken stock or broth
- 28 oz Whole tomatoes in puree small diced
- 2 tsp Salt
- ½ tsp Black pepper, ground
- 1 tsp Thyme dried
- 2 Bay leaves
- 2 lbs Rigatoni
- Parmesan cheese grated for serving (optional)
- Heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a large heavy bottomed sauce pan. When it is hot, add the beef, pork and veal and brown until all no more pink is visible. Remove the meat from the pan, reserving any of the juices at the bottom of the pan.
- Wipe out the pan and add 1-2 more tbsp of olive oil. Add the pancetta and brown until just crispy. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic. Sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Cook stirring often for 2-3 more minutes.
- Add in the tomato paste and cook until it begins to turn brown a bit, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the white wine and cook until it reduces by half.
- Transfer the browned meat and any juices back into the sauce pan. Stir in the tomatoes with the puree, chicken stock and the bay leaves.
- Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pan. Simmer for 2-2½ hours. Stir occasionally so that the sauce does not stick to the pan. The sauce should be cooking at a slow boil. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper to your liking.
- When the sauce is done, turn off the heat, uncover and let it rest while you prepare the pasta. The sauce will continue to thicken slightly.
- In another pan, cook the pasta according to package instructions. When the pasta is done, drain it, ladle ½ of the sauce to the pasta pan. Pour the pasta over the sauce and toss to coat it completely. Serve the pasta with additional sauce on top and pass parmesan cheese for sprinkling over the sauce.