Rigatoni Bolognese

Rigatoni Bolognese

Ragù all Bolognese is a classic Italian dish from Bologna, a beautiful Renaissance city in Northern Italy (check out our travel pictures here). Spaghetti Bolognese is an Americanized version of this dish — the Italians never use spaghetti. This authentic rigatoni bolognese recipe includes the classic slow-cooked meat sauce and the dish’s signature elements: pancetta and milk. And in true Italian style, we use a large pasta – rigatoni – to complete the dish.

While the ingredient list is not extensive, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. It requires a good bit of prep work (chopping and dicing) and a lot of patience. You’ll want to cook this dish long and slow (about two hours), to allow the sauce to achieve that ideal texture and flavor.

This recipe is inspired by the queen of Italian cooking — Marcella Hazan’s classic bolognese recipe. Of course, we’ve made a few tweaks over the years to make it our own including the addition of garlic and pancetta. It’s absolutely to die for and my always “go-to” for lazy Sundays with the family.

How to perfect your authentic rigatoni bolognese recipe

The Base

For our base, we use a mirepoix. This long-standing French cooking technique is 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot and celery, and is usually sautéed in an olive oil or butter (we used olive oil). This base is the key to your bolognese sauce, so don’t skip on anything here. Be sure not to sauté for too long! The goal here is to add sweetness and flavor to the dish, not to caramelize.

The Flavor

Once you’ve got your base going, the next step is adding flavor, starting with some chopped pancetta (bacon works too). Next comes the garlic. Many traditional Italian Bolognese recipes call for no garlic at all, but I find that by adding just one clove of garlic, it enhances the other flavors of the dish without overpowering. Next, you’ll add the tangy tomato paste for a nice punch, followed by deglazing your base with a dry, white wine (you can use red if you prefer).

The Simmer

Once you’ve added all your flavor components, you’ll top the sauce with a bit of whole milk to help thicken the consistency. The milk will work to tenderize the ground beef, creating a crumbly, soft texture that blends perfectly into the sauce. Now all that’s left is to sit back and allow the sauce to cook on low heat for a minimum of 2 hours, stirring from time to time and adding liquid as needed. Marcella Hazan refers to this step as allowing the sauce to cook at “the laziest of simmers.” I love that. Use up the rest of that wine, go ahead and drink it!

Tips for making authentic rigatoni bolognese recipe

  • If you don’t have pancetta on hand, you can easily substitute bacon.
  • Don’t use spaghetti with this dish if you want to stay “authentic.” Ragù alla Bolognese is served with rigatoni, tagliatello, tortellini or gnocchi, never spaghetti. We love rigatoni.
  • Don’t spoil this dish by getting the pasta wrong. Boil the pasta in a large pot of water (4 quarts) with at least one tablespoon of salt, stirring frequently. Don’t overcook–you want your pasta to be al dente.
  • Do not put oil in the boiling water. It does not keep the pasta from sticking and will prevent the sauce from adhering. Stir the pasta while it’s boiling to keep it from sticking. Don’t rinse the pasta when it’s done. Drain it, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid to use in the sauce.
  • Add as much of the cooking water as is necessary to get the consistency you want.

Rigatoni Bolognese

June 19, 2019
: 6
: 20 min
: 2 hr
: 2 hr 20 min
: Medium


  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium sized carrot, dced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ½ cup pancetta, diced
  • 1 ½ lb lean ground beef
  • Salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup pureed tomatoes (not in Marcella Hazan’s recipe but I love this addition)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • Reserved pasta water (as needed)
  • 1 box Rigtaoni
  • Step 1 Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large non-stick pan.
  • Step 2 Add onion, celery & carrot base to olive oil, and sauté until soft, stirring to coat well with oil.
  • Step 3 Next, add the pancetta, and continue to saute until browned.
  • Step 4 Add the ground beef and coat with a generous portion of salt & pepper. Crumble meat with a chopper (linked here) or a wooden spoon.
  • Step 5 Deglaze pan with white wine, and cook until half of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Step 6 Add tomato paste & pureed tomatoes, and stir well, ensuring that meat is evenly covered with the tomato paste.
  • Step 7 Sprinkle in salt, pepper & crushed red pepper flakes and continue to stir.
  • Step 8 Pour in the milk, bringing the flame down to low and let simmer until it has completely evaporated into the sauce.
  • Step 9 Leaving the heat on low, let sauce cook for a minimum of 2 hours (3 at most), stirring from time to time.
  • Step 10 While the sauce is cooking, you will likely find that the liquid cooks down, as the fat from the meat separates & rises to the top of the pan.
  • Step 11 Continue adding liquid when you see this, keeping the pasta sauce from drying out (I use reserve pasta liquid, but you can use water or stock).
  • Step 12 Once the sauce has reached the desired consistency, taste and adjust for seasoning as needed.
  • Step 13 Combine sauce with hot rigatoni (or pasta of your choosing) and toss together.
  • Step 14 Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.