Marcella’s rules for a great bolognese sauce (for pasta)

Bolognese is a staple at our house.

Since I did the post about tomato sauce for pasta, there have been people visiting my blog looking for a bolognese sauce.  And as I am in love with Marcella Hazan … and her bolognese sauce recipe is great … I am more than happy to meet googles expectations and cook some bolognese and take some photos along the way.

Then I think I have definitely covered off on anyone searching for the world’s best tomato (meat or vego) sauce (for pasta).

I will preface this post by saying that I do LOVE cooking but I tend to subscribe to the ‘near enough is good enough’ or ‘it’s the vibe’ theory of cooking. Which is why when it comes to baking I start to get cranky.

Whilst Marcella gives quite specific instructions and details in recipes, she also provides some theoretical concepts that are invaluable for the lazy/by memory cook like me.  With her concepts embedded you can waiver around a bit with quantities and substitute vegies and herbs and make it up as you go along.  Or read the recipe once through and go for it.

So, for those who don’t want to read the recipe in detail, these are the take home messages:


Rule No. 1 – add lots of vegies

For 350 grams of meat Marcella recommends 4 CARROTS, 3 STICKS OF CELERY and 1/2 ONION. In real life that’s about 1/3 carrot, 1/3 meat, 1/3 celery and onion combined. Cook the onions til translucent and add the rest of the vegies.


Rule No. 2 – add 1 teaspoon of salt at the same time as you add the meat.

This breaks down the fat and turns the chunks into fine pieces (I feel like an idiot for not knowing this before I was 40).  It makes such a difference.


Rule No. 3 – add milk and simmer it away.

I don’t tend to add the cup that she recommends, but a 1/3 cup changes the final product from astringent tomato to mild and delicious.


Rule No. 4 – add some wine and simmer it away.

We all know this. Marcella is of the Stephanie Alexander school, recommending white rather than red (Maggie Beer).  I’ve tried both and I don’t really think it matters. Happy to be corrected though!  And I certainly don’t add 250 ml.  I might pour 250 ml into a glass, but I just add a good dash (maybe 1/3 cup) and drink the rest!

Rule No. 5 - cook for 3 hours, add water along the way but at the end the fat should separate from the sauce

Rule No. 5 – add the tomatoes and herbs and cook slowly for 3 hours.

You will need to check every now and then, and add water along the way.  At the end though, let the sauce separate.

That’s it.  Marcella recommends nutmeg as the herb.  I like nutmeg or bay leaves.  And you should add black pepper as well.

I have made it exactly to Marcella’s recipe to photograph (but double quantities).

Note, the first stages of cooking take about 1/2 an hour which is quite a long time.  And she recommends slow cooking for 3 hours after that.  It is quite a lot of cooking if you only get cracking at 4pm!

Never mind, I can wait to eat til 7.30pm, and the kids can have leftovers tonight and eat it tomorrow night.

And … for Marcella’s effusive pasta recommendation,

there is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragu with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle.  Equally classic is lasagne with meat sauce.  Ragu is delicious with tortellini and irreproachable with such boxed, dry pasta as rigatoni, conchiglie or fusilli.  Curiously, considering the popularity of the dish in Britain and the countries of the Commonwealth, meat sauce in Bologna is never served over spaghetti.


Bolognese Meat Sauce (Serves 6)

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

45 g butter

1/2 onion, chopped

3 sticks of celery, chopped

4 medium carrots, chopped

350 g ground beef chuck



250ml full fat milk

whole nutmeg

250 ml dry white wine

500g tinned imported italian plump tomatoes, cut up with their juice

550-675 g pasta

freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table

1.  Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot, turn the heat to medium adn saute the onion until it becomes translucent.  Add the chopped celery and carrot.  Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper.  Crumble the beef with a fork, stir well and cook until it has lost its raw red colour.

3. Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely.  Add a tiny grating – about 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg and stir

4.  Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bublbe breaking through to the surface.  Cook uncovered for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time.  While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat.  To keep it from sticking add 125 ml water whenever necessary.  At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce.  Taste and correct for salt.

Thanks Marcella!

And  you can also use 1 part minced pork with 2 parts minced beef if you prefer.


  1. Love Marcella (always make her pizza dough and the pear tart) but have still vivid memories of attempting her lasagne…cannot recall what time I started, but I know we sat down to eat at 11.30pm…lucky we didn’t have kids at that stage 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My husband uses his family recipe to make bolognese sauce and although I follow the instructions he has given me he must not be telling me everything, because it never tastes as good. I’m going to try Marcella’s version and see what happens…

    We always serve bolognese with shell pasta (Macro brand from Woolworths is great) because it holds the sauce wayyy better than spaghetti.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ………………………………………..will try this method. Did not know the salt trick either and i am older than 40! I also have never added milk…the wine – well, some to the pot, some to the momma..

    Liked by 1 person

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