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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.
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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!

And, if you need a perfect Italian dessert after this Italian dinner, grab the recipe for Rebecca’s scrumptious Orange Olive Oil Cake over at Of Batter and Dough.

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


5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 29 reviews

  • 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

glenda embree

About Glenda

I believe cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be complicated and that YOU can do it. My simple recipes, tutorials, and cooking tips will help you get weeknight dinners on the table with less stress. Forget takeout or the drive-thru. Let me show you how to make homemade easy. Read more...

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

  1. This tasted so amazing! Thanks a lot for sharing this super easy to make recipe! Fam really loves it! Will surely have this again! Highly recommended!






    Reply
  2. I love this rigatoni bolognese. I needed something to make fast and since I had doubled the recipe the first time we made it, I just grabbed the extra bolognese out of the freezer. It was the perfect quick and easy meal. The whole family loved it.






    Reply
    • Thank you, Shelby! I love that bay leaves kind of sit in the background, but bring that added flavor boost that complements all the other stronger flavors. It’s an herb I’m never without.

      Reply

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