The Absolute Best Bolognese Sauce

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Everyone needs a recipe in his or her arsenal that is reliable and flexible; a recipe that can be easily quadrupled to feed a small army or frozen in small portions and thawed for dinner on the fly.  Finding a recipe that is deserving of five stars even after it is pulled from the dark depths of a freezer is no small fete. But don’t worry; I have done the heavy lifting for you.  I give you the Absolute Best Bolognese sauce ever (just a fancy pants name for meaty spaghetti sauce).

Honestly, I can’t take the credit; I was just lucky enough to stumble upon it. The genius behind the sauce is Emeril Lagasse. I found this recipe back in law school when I had way to much time on my hands faithfully watched Emeril every day and dreamed of one day being selected from the studio audience to sit at his tasting table. And when he threw out his catchphrases like “BAM!”, “feel the love”, and “aw yeah babe”, I was smitten. I am such a dork.
Over the years, I have modified the recipe a teensy bit. Not much - I know better than to mess with perfection. I just tinkered with it a bit to better suit my tastes. First, I double the amount of nutmeg and cinnamon originally called for in the original recipe. In my opinion, these two spices give the Bolognese its edge. They leave people wondering what exactly you put in the sauce.

I also omitted the cream and butter because, while they do make the sauce rich, I don’t think they are absolutely necessary from a flavor perspective. And I would rather bank those calories for a glass of wine, thank you.
Pretty much every time I make this dish, I use a different combination of meat. I have used bacon; I have used pancetta; I have used a combination of bacon and pancetta. I have made the recipe with only ground beef, or with a mix of ground veal, ground beef and ground pork.  I'll even thrown in venison if I have some in the freezer.
Even though I am only cooking for two, my standard size batch is basically Emeril’s original recipe size doubled. I always make enough to fill the largest pot in my house to the brim so that I can bag the leftovers and toss them in the freezer. I can honestly say this sauce tastes better out of the freezer, after the flavors have had ample opportunity to get frisky in the freezer. Aw yeah, babe.
If you are like me, having something tucked in the freezer that can be turned into dinner in .2 seconds when your day has gone to hell in a hand basket is a must. This is my "old faithful".

Thaw it and serve it over spaghetti squash or zucchini spaghetti, or add some baked meatballs to it and serve it as a meatball sub or over brown rice penne, or simply toss it with ravioli (Costco has an amazing selection of ravioli that all freeze well in my experience). I also use this Bolognese to make a mean lasagna.

Ok, I will quit rambling on about this Bolognese. But only because I have to get ready for work. Otherwise, I would probably keep you here all day. But not without offering you a glass (or three) of wine.

The Absolute Best Bolognese Sauce
Adapted (really only slight modified) from Emeril's Spaghetti Bolognese)

Yield: Serves 16
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

1 tbsp. grape see oil
10 slices of bacon diced
2 medium yellow onions
1 1/2 c. diced carrots
1 1/2 c. diced celery
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1 tsp. fresh oregano
2 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 lbs ground beef
1 lbs ground pork
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 bottle red wine
2 tbsp. brandy
2 (28 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 cup beef stock
2 tsp. sugar

In a very large pot, heat the grape seed oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the beef and pork, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and brandy and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan and remove any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, and until half of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, beef broth, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful, about 2 hours. Discard the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Freeze leftovers in family size servings in Ziploc bags.

On this particular occasion, I served the Bolognese with baked meatballs (beef, Parmesan, spinach and spices) over Jovial Brown Rice Penne Rigate.  I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor of this brown rice pasta.  If you like whole wheat pasta and you're looking for a gluten free alternative, give this a try.


  1. I will try this recipe next time I make bolognese. I usually cook a large amount of tomatoe sauce, freeze it and with some pasta is my "ready to go" meal when I don't want to cook.

  2. In the instructions is says to add the sausages, but there are no sausages on the list of ingredients.

  3. This is an excellent recipe, thanks for sharing!

  4. I'm eating it at this moment for supper and it's super DELICIOUS! be that as it may, one inquiry, what amount of calories? As to I'm watching what I eat and calories admission. Much thanks to you!


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