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Rigatoni Bolognese, Easy Delicious Pasta Recipe

Riga­toni Bolog­nese is ten­der riga­toni pas­ta stirred into a hearty home­made Bolog­nese sauce and gar­nished with fresh herbs & fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­san cheese. It’s com­pa­ny-wor­thy deli­cious, easy to make and the aro­ma of Riga­toni Bolog­nese waft­ing through your home will quick­ly bring ador­ing fans to the kitchen.

Rigatoni Bolognese served in a white stoneware bowl with low sides. A blue print fabric napkin is in the background and a bite is being lifted out of the bowl on a fork.
Post may con­tain affil­i­ate links. See my Affil­i­ate Disclosure.

My Riga­toni Bolog­nese recipe, begins with a lus­cious and meaty home­made Bolog­nese Sauce. Add in per­fect­ly al dente riga­toni, grat­ed Parme­san cheese and a fresh basil and/or pars­ley gar­nish and you’ll have a meal that would rival your favorite Ital­ian restaurant.

Two things you need to know from the outset. 

  1. This is not my usu­al quick recipe to get on the table in 30 min­utes. The recipe is VERY easy to make, but the Bolog­nese Sauce needs time to cook down and let the fla­vor bloom (2 to 3 hours). I often max­i­mize that time by mak­ing a dou­ble batch of the deli­cious meat sauce, so half can be frozen for a future meal.
  2. I am a grand­ma. But, I am not an Ital­ian grand­ma. I don’t have any claim to authen­tic or clas­sic Bolog­nese, here. It’s my per­son­al inter­pre­ta­tion of a deli­cious clas­sic that uses ingre­di­ents and tools avail­able specif­i­cal­ly to me. And, my Riga­toni Bolog­nese is based on the tastes and fla­vors I know my fam­i­ly enjoys. 

I also hap­pen to think it’s a delec­table inter­pre­ta­tion that you are gonna love! You guys! I’m crazy excit­ed! This Riga­toni Bolog­nese is SOOO good! 

I can’t wait for you to smell it bub­bling away in your own kitchen. 

The ingredients for Bolognese Sauce on a concrete countertop. A turquoise ceramic vase with a sunflower is in the background and a blue and white print napkin is off to the right side of all the ingredients.

The Ingredients

For the Bolognese Sauce:

  • Ground Beef
  • Ital­ian Sausage
  • Car­rots, minced
  • Cel­ery Stalks, minced
  • Onion, minced (any color)
  • Bell Pep­per, minced (any col­or)
  • Toma­to Paste
  • Minced Gar­lic
  • Ital­ian Seasoning
  • Whole Milk
  • Water (or home­made Veg­etable Stock)
  • White Wine Vinegar
  • Whole Peeled Toma­toes (canned), with juice
  • Bay Leaves
  • Salt and Pep­per, to taste

For the Rigatoni Bolognese (Pasta with Bolognese Sauce):

  • Home­made Bolog­nese Sauce (recipe above)
  • 16 oz. Riga­toni Pas­ta (or your pre­ferred tubu­lar pasta)
  • 1/2 cup fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­san cheese
  • fresh Basil and/or Pars­ley, for gar­nish
Homemade Bolognese Sause in a Stainless Steel Pot. A spoonful is being lifted out of the pot on a wooden spoon.

What is Bolognese?

Back when I showed you how to make easy Home­made Mari­nara Sauce, (pic­tured below) we talked about the way we, in Amer­i­ca, have sort of mixed up and merged all the kinds and types of toma­to sauce, spaghet­ti sauce, mari­nara sauce and bolog­nese sauce recipes. 

There is less dis­tinc­tion between these delec­table sauces, in our minds, than in the minds of their orig­i­nal cre­ators. And, we often use the name spaghet­ti sauce or pas­ta sauce to mean any one of these deli­cious toma­to-based sauces. We are rarely 100% true to the authen­tic or tra­di­tion­al Ital­ian versions.

A Bolog­nese, pro­nounced (bow-luh-nez) sauce, is still toma­to-based, though toma­toes are only one of many ingre­di­ents. It’s essen­tial­ly a red meat sauce. In it’s authen­tic form, bolog­nese con­tains ground meat, a sofrito of onion, car­rot and cel­ery and tra­di­tion­al­ly, whole milk to make it creami­er. Clas­sic Bolog­nese also relies heav­i­ly on stock and white wine to thin and fla­vor the sauce. Here’s a link to my favorite Ital­ian chef’s clas­sic Bolog­nese.

Some say that Bolog­nese sauce is named for the region of Italy where it orig­i­nat­ed, Bologna. Although, oth­er Ital­ians dis­agree and claim the delec­table Bolog­nese sauce as a cre­ation from their own region.

Rigatoni Bolognese served in a white stoneware bowl with low sides. A blue print fabric napkin and a fork are to the right of the bowl.

Authentically Me

My Bolog­nese, hon­ors the tra­di­tion­al fla­vors of the orig­i­nal, I think. But, it’s made in a way that makes sense for where I live and uses afford­able ingre­di­ents avail­able to me. Plus, it’s based on fla­vors I know my own fam­i­ly enjoys.

We love a hearty red sauce and I build fla­vor in slight­ly dif­fer­ent ways than the authen­tic recipe for Bolog­nese. But, I think you’ll find my bolog­nese recipe vari­a­tions to be as lus­cious and hearty as the original.

You’re going to be amazed at how scrump­tious this non-tra­di­tion­al Bolog­nese sauce is. The recipe makes around 3 quarts of sauce. That’s enough to serve 8 or 10 and per­fect­ly por­tioned for this Riga­toni Bolog­nese recipe.

Rigatoni Bolognese served in a white stoneware bowl with low sides. A blue print fabric napkin and a fork are to the right of the bowl.

How to Identify Different Tomato-Based Sauces

Marinara

What is Mari­nara Sauce?

Mari­nara is a much lighter, quick-cooked toma­to based sauce. It can actu­al­ly be made in about 30 min­utes and has very few ingre­di­ents com­pared to oth­er Ital­ian toma­to sauces. Typ­i­cal­ly, it con­tains only toma­toes, gar­lic and one or two herbs. Mari­nara isn’t real­ly hearty enough for a dish like Riga­toni Bolog­nese. Get the full details about home­made mari­nara sauce, here.

homemade marinara recipe in jars on concrete counter top with fresh tomatoes and a blue and white gingham napkin

Tomato Sauce (Sugo di Pomodoro)

What is Toma­to Sauce?

Toma­to sauce is a much thick­er toma­to-based sauce than mari­nara sauce. Typ­i­cal­ly, the toma­toes have not only been peeled, but also had the seeds removed. Canned toma­toes don’t work as well in this instance. Toma­to sauce has more ingre­di­ents than home­made mari­nara sauce, along with a deep­er, rich­er and more com­plex fla­vor. 

And, believe it or not, tra­di­tion­al­ly, toma­to sauce was not veg­e­tar­i­an. It was based on the French “moth­er sauce”, Sauce Tomat, and start­ed with a roux made with pork fat. It’s almost like a gravy. In some areas of the Unit­ed States, one ver­sion is actu­al­ly called Toma­to Gravy.

In mod­ern Italy, toma­to sauce is called Sugo di Pomodoro. It uses few ingre­di­ents, but is more fla­vor­ful and com­plex than the canned toma­to sauce we buy in the Unit­ed States. Pomodoro is deli­cious, all on its own, and often tossed with pas­ta or used on piz­za or even gnoc­chi.

Again, this toma­to-based sauce, on it’s own, still lacks the hearti­ness and creami­ness of the bolog­nese sauce used in Riga­toni Bolognese.

Rigatoni Bolognese in a stainless steel pot. The pasta is garnished with fresh shredded Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley and basil.A blue print fabric napkin is in the background.

Spaghetti Sauce

Then what is Spaghet­ti Sauce?

If you polled peo­ple on the street, in the U.S., my guess is that many of them would say that clas­sic Mari­nara Sauce and Spaghet­ti Sauce are inter­change­able and oth­er than the addi­tion of some sort of meat, basi­cal­ly the same thing. 

Before I start­ed look­ing into the ori­gins of these deli­cious sauces, I would have agreed with them. But, in truth we seem to pic­ture thick­er, cooked down, toma­to sauces with meat and even cheese, when we think of sauce for spaghet­ti.

Some might con­sid­er the sauce in my riga­toni Bolog­nese to be “spaghet­ti sauce”. But, I don’t typ­i­cal­ly think of spaghet­ti sauce as includ­ing whole milk. Who’s to say?

Rigatoni Bolognese served in a white stoneware bowl with low sides. A blue print fabric napkin is in the background and a bite is being lifted out of the bowl on a fork.

What’s Authentic YOU?

I think the biggest take-away, here, is that pas­ta sauce is a very per­son­al tradition. 

And, whether yours is authen­tic Ital­ian or authen­tic you, the com­mon denom­i­na­tor is usu­al­ly, but not always, a toma­to base that is cooked using avail­able ingre­di­ents for peo­ple you love. 

That can only be a good thing. Right? So, what­ev­er you decide to call spaghet­ti sauce or pas­ta sauce, you do you. Use the ingre­di­ents that your fam­i­ly loves and that are afford­able and read­i­ly avail­able where you live.

Now, let’s make some Riga­toni Bolog­nese! It’s 100% authen­tic me!

What to Serve with Rigatoni Bolognese

Here are some dish­es that are great served along­side Riga­toni Bolognese.

Pro Tip for Making Tomato-Based Sauce

box of baking soda.  Box is gold with blue accents.

How to Reduce Acidity in Tomato Sauce

Where they were grown and when they were har­vest­ed, cli­mate and oth­er envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors can affect how acidic toma­toes are. Some­times, you can make a toma­to-based sauce like the bolog­nese for Riga­toni Bolog­nese and the sauce is per­fect, just as it is. Oth­er times your sauce will taste unpleas­ant­ly acidic.

We often turn to sug­ar to reduce the acid in toma­to sauce. Your bolog­nese, how­ev­er, already con­tains car­rots which add sweet­ness. You don’t want the sauce to be over­whelmed by sweet­ness. If it’s all that you have you can add sug­ar, 1/4 tea­spoon at a time, to help with acid­i­ty. Stir it in and taste before each new addi­tion, so you don’t over­whelm the sauce.

granulated sugar measured out nto a teaspoon and a quarter teaspoon on a concrete counter

I rec­om­mend adding a pinch of bak­ing soda, though. And by pinch I mean less than 1/8 of a tea­spoon. The small amount you can pinch between your fin­ger and thumb. Bak­ing soda reduces the acid with­out adding sweet­ness. It only requires a small amount and you won’t need to add refined sug­ar. Add more a pinch at a time until you bal­ance out the acid­i­ty to your liking.

If you feel like you have added too much sug­ar or bak­ing soda and the sauce is tast­ing one note and flat or over­ly sweet, you can cor­rect that by bring­ing back some of the bright­ness and zip with a lit­tle lemon juice or even apple cider vinegar.

Rigatoni Bolognese served in a white stoneware bowl with low sides. A blue print fabric napkin is in the background and a bite is being lifted out of the bowl on a fork.

Whole, Diced or Crushed Tomatoes?

Can I just used diced toma­toes or crushed toma­toes instead of whole peeled toma­toes?

Sure. If that’s what you have on hand and your fam­i­ly loves, then use those. Just use the num­ber of ounces called for in the recipe.

When we reach for canned toma­toes, the rea­son we choose whole peeled toma­toes is because the qual­i­ty and ripeness is so much bet­ter than diced toma­toes or canned crushed toma­toes. Com­mer­cial can­ners choose the ripest, high­est qual­i­ty toma­toes for the whole canned vari­ety. End pieces and toma­toes that are not high enough qual­i­ty to be canned whole are used to make diced and crushed vari­eties. Whole peeled toma­toes usu­al­ly have more vibrant col­or and bet­ter fla­vor. And, it’s not much work to break them down for a recipe.

whole peeled tomatoes in juice in a white bowl

Why Caramelize the Tomato Paste with the Veggies?

Carameliz­ing the toma­to paste before adding the liq­uid ingre­di­ents, con­cen­trates the nat­ur­al sug­ars. Brown­ing it amps up the uma­mi “meaty” fla­vors that come from the glu­ta­mates in tomatoes. 

That extra two or three min­utes to caramelize the toma­to paste will pay huge div­i­dends in the fla­vor of your fin­ished Bolog­nese sauce.

Don’t pan­ic when it looks like it’s stick­ing to the bot­tom of the pan. You’ll notice dark brown carameliza­tion form­ing as you stir and cook it. 

You can turn the heat down a bit if you’re con­cerned about burn­ing it. But, that caramelized toma­to paste is FLAVOR. 

When you add the liq­uids to the pan, the pot will deglaze and noth­ing will be left stuck to the pan. Trust me. Brown­ing your toma­to paste is a great thing for all your pas­ta recipes!

Homemade Bolognese Sause in a Stainless Steel Pot. A spoonful is being lifted out of the pot on a wooden spoon.

Possible Variations for Rigatoni Bolognese

The Meat:

I used ground beef and Ital­ian sausage in my Riga­toni Bolog­nese and in the Bolog­nese Sauce if I make it on it’s own. But, you could choose oth­er ground meats or com­bi­na­tions of them. 

When I choose ground beef for this recipe I usu­al­ly select 80/20 or 85/15 for the best fla­vor and fat con­tent. So, when you are select­ing oth­er vari­eties of meat, you should keep that in mind. 

If you have one lean ground meat, then you could choose a fat­ti­er option like ground beef, ground pork or sausage to pair it with.

If you choose all pro­teins low in fat for your Riga­toni Bolog­nese, I would rec­om­mend brown­ing them with some olive oil or avo­ca­do oil. You will need the left­over fat to caramelize the toma­to paste and soft­en the veggies.

Some pos­si­ble ground meat vari­a­tions are: ground beef with ground turkey or ground pork, ground pork with ground chick­en, Ital­ian sausage with ground chick­en, ground beef and ground veal or ground beef, ground pork and ground lamb. 

raw ground beef on parchment paper sitting on a wooden cutting board

The Veggies:

Tra­di­tion­al Bolog­nese Sauce uses a sofrito of onion, car­rot and cel­ery to fla­vor the sauce. In my recipe, I add to that with some bell pep­per and garlic.

When I have an extra zuc­chi­ni in the fridge or left­over roast­ed sweet pota­toes or but­ter­nut squash, I don’t hes­i­tate to add those to the food proces­sor with the oth­er veg­eta­bles I use in the Bolog­nese sauce. 

The added nutri­tion is excel­lent and to be hon­est, no one ever knows they are in there. So clean out the fridge and amp up the nutri­tion in your Riga­toni Bolog­nese or oth­er pas­ta recipes, even further.

The Pasta:

There are many types of pas­ta that can work in this recipe. Tubu­lar shapes like riga­toni and ziti are the most com­mon. I like the ridges in riga­toni because they help to hold the sauce.

Mostac­ci­oli, roti­ni and large shell pas­ta would also work well in this Riga­toni Bolog­nese recipe.

dry rigatoni pasta in a pile on a white counter

Red Wine, White Wine and Chicken Stock:

It is com­mon in tra­di­tion­al Bolog­nese to add white wine or red wine and chick­en or beef stock to the meat sauce. I rarely have red wine or white wine on hand for cooking. 

To bring some of the same acid­i­ty and sweet­ness of white or red wine, I used a small amount of white wine vine­gar because that’s some­thing that always IS in my pantry. Red wine vine­gar would work, too.

I was out of home­made chick­en stock at the time and so used water when cre­at­ing this recipe. My Bolog­nese (meat sauce) was just as fla­vor­ful and delicious.

If you want to take this recipe in a more tra­di­tion­al direc­tion, you could elim­i­nate the water and white wine vine­gar and sub­sti­tute 1/2 cup chick­en stock and 1/4 cup white wine or 1/4 cup red wine. Add them to deglaze the pan once the toma­to paste and veg­gies have sauteed.

Homemade Chicken Broth on a concrete counter. The broth is in 2 quart jars and 2 pint jars sitting in front of an arrangement of sunflowers

The Cheese:

We love the fla­vor of fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­san cheese to gar­nish Riga­toni Bolog­nese. And while grat­ed Parme­san cheese is the tra­di­tion­al option, there are oth­er cheeses that would be deli­cious, as well.

If you don’t have Parme­san cheese on hand or just want to mix things up a bit, try grat­ing fresh Romano, Pecori­no Romano, Asi­a­go or Grana Padano cheeses on your pasta. 

Some have even subbed in Moz­zarel­la. I think that would be okay, but the fla­vor isn’t near­ly as bold as fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­san cheese. So, one of the pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned sub­sti­tu­tions might be a bet­ter choice.

wege of Parmesan cheese with grated Parmesan in a pile beside it

How to Make Rigatoni Bolognese

(How To Video in Recipe Card)

For the Bolognese Sauce:

  1. Mince onion, car­rot and cel­ery along with the bell pep­per in the food proces­sor or mince the veg­eta­bles by hand. Set aside.
  2. Use the food proces­sor to pulse the canned toma­toes and break them down a bit, as well. Set them aside. Like the oth­er veg­eta­bles, they can eas­i­ly be bro­ken down by hand, but I already have the food proces­sor out for the veg­eta­bles and so I use it.
  3. Brown the ground beef and Ital­ian sausage for the Bolog­nese sauce.
  4. Scoop the browned ground beef and sausage into a bowl and set aside, but leave the grease in the bot­tom of your pot.
  5. Add the minced veg­gies and toma­to paste to the pot and cook for 2 to 3 min­utes over medium/high heat to soft­en the veg­gies and caramelize the toma­to paste. Stir fre­quent­ly to pre­vent sticking.
  1. Add the Ital­ian sea­son­ing, minced gar­lic and white wine vine­gar to the veg­gies and con­tin­ue cook­ing over medium/high heat. The aro­mas will be get­ting wonderful.
  2. Add the whole milk and water and stir until every­thing is ful­ly combined.
  3. Now add the bay leaves and browned ground beef and sausage. 
  4. Stir in salt and pepper.
  5. Thor­ough­ly stir every­thing togeth­er and bring to a boil over med/high heat. 
  6. Reduce the heat to medi­um and cov­er the pot. Stir occa­sion­al­ly as the Bolog­nese cooks down over the next 1 1/2 hours.
  7. At the end of 1 1/2 hours, remove the bay leaves and stir. 
  8. Taste the sauce for sea­son­ing. Does it need salt and pep­per? Is it too acidic? If the acid lev­el is too high, add a pinch of bak­ing soda. Stir thor­ough­ly and taste again. Repeat until the fla­vor is where you want it.

For the Rigatoni Bolognese:

  1. Cook and drain the riga­toni accord­ing to pack­age directions.
  2. Pour the Bolog­nese sauce over the drained riga­toni and stir until every­thing is even­ly com­bined and all the pas­ta is well coated.
  3. Serve with fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­san cheese and chopped basil and/or parsley.
Rigatoni Bolognese served in a white stoneware bowl with low sides. A blue print fabric napkin and a fork are to the right of the bowl.

The Recipe

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Rigatoni Bolognese served in a white stoneware bowl with low sides. A blue print fabric napkin and a fork are to the right of the bowl.

Rigatoni Bolognese


  • Author: Glen­da Embree
  • Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: 8 serv­ings 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

Riga­toni Bolog­nese is ten­der riga­toni pas­ta stirred into a hearty home­made Bolog­nese sauce and gar­nished with fresh herbs & grat­ed Parme­san cheese. It’s com­pa­ny-wor­thy deli­cious, easy to make and the aro­ma waft­ing through your home will quick­ly bring ador­ing fans to the kitchen.


Ingredients

Units Scale

For the Homemade Bolognese Sauce:

  • 1 lb. Ground Beef
  • 1 lb. Ital­ian Sausage
  • 3 Car­rots, minced
  • 2 Cel­ery Stalks, minced
  • 1 lg. Onion, minced (any color)
  • 1 lg. Bell Pep­per, minced (any color)
  • 1 (6 oz.) can Toma­to Paste
  • 2 Table­spoons Minced Garlic
  • 1 Table­spoon Ital­ian Seasoning
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Table­spoons White Wine Vinegar
  • 2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled toma­toes with juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pep­per, to taste

For the Riga­toni Bolognese:

  • Home­made Bolog­nese Sauce (recipe above)
  • 16 oz. Riga­toni Pas­ta (or your pre­ferred tubu­lar pasta)
  • 1/2 cup fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­san cheese
  • fresh Basil and/or Pars­ley for garnish

Instructions

  1. Blitz the veg­gies in the food proces­sor or mince them by hand. Set them aside.
  2. I use the food proces­sor to pulse the canned toma­toes and break them down a bit, as well. Set the toma­toes aside, too.
  3. Brown the ground beef and Ital­ian sausage.
  4. Scoop the browned ground beef and sausage into a bowl and set aside, but leave the grease in the bot­tom of your pot.
  5. Add the minced veg­gies and toma­to paste to the pot and cook for 2 to 3 min­utes over medium/high heat to soft­en the veg­gies and caramelize the toma­to paste. Stir fre­quent­ly to pre­vent sticking.
  6. Add the Ital­ian sea­son­ing, minced gar­lic and white wine vine­gar to the veg­gies and con­tin­ue cook­ing over medium/high heat. The aro­mas will be get­ting wonderful.
  7. Add the whole milk and water and stir until every­thing is ful­ly combined.
  8. Now add the bay leaves and browned ground beef and sausage.
  9. Stir in salt and pepper.
  10. Thor­ough­ly stir every­thing togeth­er and bring to a boil over med/high heat.
  11. Reduce the heat to medi­um and cov­er the pot. Stir occa­sion­al­ly as the Bolog­nese cooks down over the next 1 1/2 hours.
  12. At the end of 1 1/2 hours, remove the bay leaves and stir.
  13. Taste the sauce for sea­son­ing.  Here’s where you add more salt and pep­per if it’s need­ed.   Is it too acidic? If the acid lev­el is too high, add a pinch of bak­ing soda. Stir thor­ough­ly and taste again. Repeat until the fla­vor is where you want it.
  14. Cook and drain the riga­toni accord­ing to pack­age directions.
  15. Pour the Bolog­nese sauce over the drained riga­toni and stir until every­thing is even­ly com­bined and all the pas­ta is well coated.
  16. Serve with fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­san cheese and chopped basil and/or parsley.

Notes

You can dou­ble the Bolog­nese por­tion of the recipe and freeze half of it for a quick fix meal, in the future.  Sauce will keep up to 4 months in the freezer.

  • Prep Time: 10 min­utes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours 30 min
  • Cat­e­go­ry: Sauces, Pas­ta, Main Dish
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cui­sine: Amer­i­can-Ital­ian

I hope you get a chance to make Riga­toni Bolog­nese for your next gath­er­ing. If you do get a chance to try the recipe and enjoy the results, please con­sid­er com­ing back to let me know. 

Just leave a com­ment at the bot­tom of the page to let me know you were able to make Riga­toni Bolog­nese and it would be so great if you could mark a 5 star rat­ing in your com­ment. 5 star rat­ings make it eas­i­er for oth­ers to find our recipe in a Google search. 

Thanks so much! You’re a rock star! Go forth and make deli­cious pas­ta, my friend!

More Delicious Pasta Recipes

36 thoughts on “Rigatoni Bolognese, Easy Delicious Pasta Recipe”

  1. This is a sat­is­fy­ing pas­ta recipe. It turned out so tasty, a per­fect addi­tion to our fam­i­ly menu.

    Reply
  2. Such a great post with so many help­ful direc­tions! I love it when I find a recipe, like this one, that my fam­i­ly will gob­ble up!

    Reply

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