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The only meat sauce recipe you'll ever need is this 8-ingredient weeknight pasta Bolognese

For seasoned cooks and kitchen novices, cookbook author and nutritionist Robin Miller takes it back to basics with great, family-friendly recipes worth making over and over again.

Few things are better than a rich, meaty sauce brimming with juicy ground beef, aromatic herbs and sweet-tangy tomatoes. Especially when the hearty blend is ladled over strands of tender pasta.

Bolognese is the quintessential beef ragu consisting of ground beef, aromatic vegetables like onions, carrots, celery and herbs. Some recipes also call for pork, milk or cream. Traditionalists assert that Bolognese is not heavily tomato-based, though many recipes call for tomatoes in some form, from whole canned tomatoes that you crush with your hands to tomato sauce, purée or paste.

Start scouring the web and you’ll discover there’s no shortage of recipes. But what’s the trick to a “perfect” meat sauce? Is it the choice of beef? The herbs and spices? Or perhaps it’s the tomato products used to pull it all together. I started cooking different versions to find out.

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What follows is the easiest, fastest recipe for a satisfyingly meaty pasta sauce.

What makes this the best Bolognese recipe?

Although there are countless meat sauce recipes in the foodie stratosphere, the good news is, the most basic recipe is often the best.

Here I keep the ingredient list simple. There are just eight ingredients, chosen carefully and purposefully, and they balance and elevate each other from the first sauté to the final ladle. Every element is intentional and essential, contributing its flavor and textural components to the final dish, which delivers nuances of sweet, savory, salty, floral and nutty. 

What type of beef should you use for this sauce?

The recipe below uses lean ground beef, around 90% lean.

That said, any ground beef will work, so feel free to use what you have or what you find on sale.

An optional variation is to use half ground beef and half ground pork.

When choosing fattier options, above 90%, be sure to drain away any excess fat released after browning before you add the herbs.

Can you replace the Italian seasoning with individual herbs?

Italian seasoning is a convenient and well-balanced salt-free blend of basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary and thyme (brands vary, but that’s the gist).

If desired, you can replace the Italian seasoning with ½ teaspoon each of the herbs listed above.

How long should you cook this Bolognese sauce?

This recipe is a quick-cook’s friend because it simmers for just 30 minutes before serving.

Traditional Bolognese sauce cooks for much longer, often 4 to 5 hours. So, if you have more time, feel free to cook your sauce as long as you like. The flavors will simply get better and evolve over time.

Can you make this meat sauce in advance?

This is a great sauce to make in advance because it stores well when refrigerated or frozen. I like to double the recipe and keep a batch in the freezer.

To make the sauce in advance, prepare it as directed and then let it cool. Transfer the cool sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

To enjoy it later, simply thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stove or in the microwave.

Recipe: Fettuccine with Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese is a classic sauce for pasta, but this version is also excellent with rice, potatoes or spooned over tender roasted spaghetti squash and acorn squash.

Servings: 4


For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For serving:

  • 1-pound cooked fettuccine (or pasta of choice) or 2 cups rice , potatoes or squash, for serving
  • Shredded or grated Parmigiano Reggiano or domestic Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • Fresh basil or parsley, for serving (optional)
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)


  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the beef and cook until browned, breaking up the meat as it cooks. If necessary, drain away any excess fat.
  3. Add the Italian seasoning, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and stir to coat. Cook for 1 minute, until the dried herbs are fragrant.
  4. Add the tomato sauce and sugar and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and partially cover. Simmer for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. When ready to serve, adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Transfer the pasta or other starch to individual plates and top with the Bolognese sauce. Finish with a sprinkle of cheese, fresh herbs and crushed red pepper flakes.