Tomato and Meat Sauce, Bologna Style

Here is one of the many versions of the complex, fragrant, delicate meat sauce that is a classic of the region of Emilia-Romagna, the home of homemade egg pasta. Tomato is not the focus of this winey, creamy ragù rather, it is a supporting ingredient. While I have listed ground beef in this recipe, a combination of veal, pork, and beef can be used for an even more refined sauce. Salsa alia bolognese is typically used between layers in homemade lasagne, a signature dish of that region, and it is the classic sauce for another mythic Emilian food, fresh homemade tagliatelle. Pappardelle and fettuccine are also suitable matches. Among its other uses is as a finishing sauce for costolette alia bolognese, veal cutlets that are first breaded and sautéed in butter, and then covered with cheese, prosciutto crudo, and the ragù and baked. The creaminess of this luscious sauce also makes it well suited to some macaroni cuts, both because they are sturdy enough to support its creamy texture (a result of the very slow evaporation during lengthy cooking and the addition of milk to the sauce), and because the meat is cradled within the curves of the pasta. The most compatible macaroni cuts are fusilli corti (short twists), gnocchetti, and rigatoni. Pass freshly grated parmigiano at the table.

NotesAHEAD-OF-TIME NOTE: This sauce can be made 3 or 4 days in advance of using and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator or it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Whether storing it in the refrigerator, or freezer, leave out the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the pepper. Stir them in after reheating the sauce.


Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseappetizer, hors d'oeuvre

Dietary Considerationegg-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free


Taste and Texturebuttery, creamy, meaty, rich, savory, spiced, umami, winey

Type of Dishpasta, pasta sauce, sauces


  • 2½ cups canned, peeled plum tomatoes in juice
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small celery stalk, including leaves, finely chopped
  • ½ small carrot, scraped and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ¾ pound good-quality lean ground beef, preferably chuck
  • 2 ounces prosciutto crudo, including fat, thinly sliced and then cut into julienne strips
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ½ cup good-quality dry white wine
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • Freshly milled white or black pepper to taste


  1. Drain the tomatoes, reserving their juice. Strain the captured juice to hold back the seeds. Using your fingers, push out the excess seeds from each tomato. Chop the tomatoes and set the tomatoes and juice aside.

  2. In a large, wide Dutch oven or large, deep skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter with the olive oil over low heat. Stir in the onion, celery, carrot, and parsley and saute over low heat until the vegetables are quite soft but not at all browned, about 12 minutes. Keeping the heat very low, add the ground meat and prosciutto. The meat must heat very gently, only enough to color it lightly on the outside; preventing it from hardening allows it to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients and to become delicate and creamy. Stir in the salt and wine. Simmer very gently for several minutes until the alcohol evaporates and the liquid begins to be absorbed by the meat and vegetables.

  3. Now add the milk and nutmeg. (It is important to add the milk before adding the tomatoes so that it will be absorbed by the meat.) Simmer gently for 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and juice. As soon as the sauce begins to simmer, turn the heat down as low as possible; if your burner cannot be regulated to a setting that is low enough, insert a flame tamer between the burner and the pan. Cover partially and continue to simmer, always over the lowest possible heat and stirring occasionally, for about 4 hours. When the sauce is finished, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the pepper. Check and adjust for salt.


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