Spaghetti Bolognese

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In Switzerland, the Pasta Plausch is a favourite menu item for many. In my last job, Thursdays in the canteen was (and still is) known simply as Pasta Plausch, a day where the lunchtime menu would feature a large pasta buffet to the delight of the employees. On offer were usually a few different types of pasta with a selection of sauces including bolognese, carbonara, Napolitana and pesto.

I, too, was always excited when Thursdays rolled around, and not just because the weekend was then only two days away. Swiss canteen fare is typically quite good but it can also be quite rich and heavy. A typical menu would feature the likes of roast beef with potato gratin and a mustard sauce, or marinated chicken breasts served with gnocchi and peas, or delicious pan-fried pork medallions served with a Cognac cream sauce and Spätzli. So a simple pasta dish was always a welcome option, and which somehow had a knack for bringing out the child in many grown men who would enthusiastically march towards the pasta buffet every Thursday. Pasta Plausch was so popular with some of my male colleagues that some even took care not to wear a white shirt on Thursdays, lest they splatter their Hugo Boss with an irreversible ragu sauce.

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Growing up, my mother never really cooked Italian food. I think our closest encounter with Italian cuisine was Pizza Hut, and I loved it! When she did attempt any Italian food, it was likely to have been tainted with some coriander (cilantro) and eaten with chopsticks.

This might go some length in explaining why, for many years, I failed miserably in attempting to recreate a decent bolognese sauce at home. No matter how many different recipes I tried, how expensive the red wine or for how long I simmered the sauce, a bottle of ready-made bolognese sauce from the supermarket was always going to taste better. And I accepted this defeat on the grounds that, well, I wasn’t Italian; that certain dishes were out of my realm because of my gene pool.

But this particular recipe for bolognese sauce caught my eye because it contains neither red wine, stock nor bacon, ingredients which are so commonly found in a traditional ragu. I attempted this recipe out of curiosity and I have never looked back since. For me, this is the bolognese sauce which I have been trying to recreate at home for so many years and I happen to think the defining ingredient is freshly-ground beef.

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Those who know me will know that I have a thing about minced meat. I find it spooky, especially the ones sold in plastic tubs in the supermarket. What exactly is minced meat? From which part (or parts) of the animal (or animals??) does it come from? Whenever a recipe calls for minced meat, I always go out of my way to make my own, and I have been doing this for as long as I can remember. In fact, my mother never bought minced meat either. I have vivid recollections of her mincing her own meat with a menacing Chinese meat cleaver in both hands, rapidly hacking away with such aggression that you wouldn’t want to disturb her on such occasions.

I used to mince meat in my food processor; it does a decent job but the meat is likely to be very finely chopped in this method, almost paste-like if you process it for too long. The better approach is to use a proper meat grinder, and KitchenAid owners will rejoice in knowing that the meat grinder attachment does a fabulous job in grinding meat in coarse or fine textures. The simplest approach, of course, is to ask your butcher to grind the meat for you.

{Freshly grinding (or mincing) your own meat is much superior to ready-made mince meat from the supermarket}

{Freshly grinding (or mincing) your own meat is much superior to ready-made mince meat from the supermarket}

And the reason why I think freshly-ground mince tastes best is because you can choose the cut of meat yourself; selecting a good-quality cut of meat means that you can control both the flavour (some cuts of meat taste better than others) and know exactly what it is that you are eating. For this recipe, I like to use a cut of beef which the French and Swiss call entrecôte, which is termed as rib-eye or sirloin in other parts of the world. It is a flavourful cut of beef with a good amount of marbling, making it a good choice for a bolognese sauce which needs a robust, meaty base. The original recipe calls for topside steak, so you can also try this particular cut if it is available where you live.

I find that this recipe yields more or less enough for 4 adult serves, but it’s a good idea to double the quantities and freeze some sauce in portions to squirrel away in the freezer for those nights when only a big bowl of pasta will do.

Bolognese Sauce
Recipe inspired by Bill and Toni’s Restaurant, 72-74 Stanley Street, Darlinghurts, NSW, Australia
As published in Real Living Magazine, June 2012, page 159


Cook’s Notes

Once you have made the Bolognese Sauce, you can serve it with any pasta of your choice.

The uses for Bolognese Sauce are endless. It’s lovely added to some béchamel sauce for a creamy pasta sauce, or you can go one step further and make a lasagne, substituting the tomato sauce for this Bolognese Sauce. I also sometimes use leftover Bolognese Sauce as a base for a Shepherd’s Pie, in which case I would add some mushrooms and frozen peas when reheating to make it a bit more substantial.


  1. Jennifer @ Delicieux 9 December 2013

    This looks fabulous Thanh. Definitely something my husband would eagerly gobble up. I’ve made him a few bolognese recipes over the years, none overly amazing, but I think your trick of using freshly ground beef is definitely a winner instead of the supermarket stuff. I’ll be making this next week :)

    • eat, little bird 9 December 2013

      Thanks, Jennifer! Hope your husband will enjoy this recipe. That’s so sweet of you to cook meat dishes for him :-) When I first tried this recipe, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and I have made it 5 or 6 times again since just to be sure that the first time wasn’t a fluke! It’s a recipe that has worked for me so I hope others will enjoy it too :-)

  2. Eileen 9 December 2013

    This gigantic plate of hearty pasta is exactly what I want when it gets chilly out! So warm and substantial and satisfying. :)

    • eat, little bird 10 December 2013

      I totally agree! There’s nothing more welcoming than a big plate of spaghetti when the weather is cold outside :-)

  3. Rachel @ Bakerita 10 December 2013

    The things I would give to have that plate in front of me right now…it’s so cold out, and a giant bowl of this is exactly what I need to warm me up! Pinned, and most definitely making before winter is up :)

    • eat, little bird 10 December 2013

      Hope you will enjoy this recipe! I’m looking forward to making it again later this week – I don’t think I could ever tire of this dish!

  4. thelittleloaf 10 December 2013

    Bolognese is one of our ultimate comfort dishes. If you want a really unctuous version, have you ever tried using white wine and a little milk? Sounds a bit mad but it’s actually a very classic italian method!

    • eat, little bird 10 December 2013

      Yes, I’ve tried recipes using white wine and milk, though not together. I do like the addition of milk but then I’m always tempted to go all out and make a béchamel sauce … I love anything that is covered with béchamel sauce and then baked in the oven.

  5. anita menon 10 December 2013

    Looks lovely! The pictures are fabulous

  6. Sarah O. 10 December 2013

    This looks delicious, and your description of your pasta enthusiast coworkers made me giggle.

  7. Rushi 11 December 2013

    Yum, that looks delicious. I’d love a big bowl of warm steaming spaghetti right now, think I might make a variation of this for dinner tonight.

  8. Cecilia 26 December 2013

    Hello, I have been reading your blog for sometime and have successfully cooked many of the recipes, so thanks to you! It was so funny to read that you ate spaghetti bolognese with chop sticks. Our family did as well, why, I don’t know, we are not Asian. All rice meals and spaghetti bolognese were eaten with chop sticks. I do enjoy your blog and I shall try your recipe as my children have not liked any of my previous attempts. Thanks again and happy holidays!

    • eat, little bird 26 December 2013

      Thank you for your lovely feedback! That’s so funny that your family ate spaghetti bolognese with chopsticks – I thought only Asian families did that 😉 But then, spaghetti is very much like Chinese noodles, and apparently the Italians got the idea for making spaghetti from the Chinese, so maybe it makes sense to eat spaghetti with chopsticks after all??

      I’m so happy to hear that you have enjoyed many recipes from my blog. I love sharing my favourite recipes and so it’s nice to hear from readers when a recipe has worked well for them. I hope your kids will like this bolognese recipe!

  9. michelle 14 March 2015

    Thanks for the recipe , we went to Bill and Tonys last night so now ill try to replicate.
    Now I want the schnitzel recipe as well.

    • Eat, Little Bird 19 March 2015

      I would be curious to know how this recipe compares to the actual dish at Bill and Tonys. Thanks for popping by!

  10. Dotty 19 May 2015

    Instead of sugar I add a bit of red wine 😉

    • Eat, Little Bird 19 May 2015

      I think red wine would give a different taste, no? I always add sugar when using tinned tomatoes as they always seem to be need a bit of sweetness. But you are right that there are many red sauces out there that use red wine and for good reason :-)

  11. Ichsan 23 May 2015

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! Just a quick question before trying :) So, the minced beef is cooked in more than 2 hours, isn’t it? Can we reduce the time to prevent overcooking?

    • Eat, Little Bird 24 May 2015

      Hello, the mince is being slow-cooked over low heat in this recipe, so I don’t think you will be over-cooking the meat. In any event, you could cook the mince for less time and taste to see if the flavours have developed enough to your liking.

  12. Irmi 24 May 2015

    Dear Thanh,
    living in Switzerland I am sure you would understand my German as well – but as your blog language is English I’ll give it a try:
    I love Spaghetti Bolognese and I love your recipe above. It’s so well done with this veggi part and the extra long cooking time, which is essential to a Bolognese to mho… :-)
    I made them yesterday, ate the second part today – oh, it was even better today. I only used one can of tomatoes, added a little bit of red wine (not for children of course) and a bit cayenne pepper to my taste of being hot. It came out delicious.
    I wanted to pass your recipe to a friend who does not understand English, that’s why I translated it for her. But. There’s one question coming up:
    Is the given amount of tinned tomatoes right? Really right? – I doubt a bit, because 1,6 Kilo tomatoes to 400 g meat sound a bit too much for me. It is four times the amount of meat. Isn’t it getting a bit “soupy” or “tomatoey” then? To my opinion 1 can = 400 g should be enough. – What do you think about it? Maybe there’s a little mistake in the recipe? Thanks for your advice.
    Your site is great, it shows so much love.
    Many Regards
    Irmi from Munich

    • Eat, Little Bird 24 May 2015

      I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed this recipe :-)

      The recipe amount for tinned tomatoes is correct – there is 1.6 kg, or 4 tins of tomatoes (usually about 400 g per tin), in this recipe. It sounds like a lot of tomatoes, but a lot of it breaks down and evaporates during the long cooking process. So the end result is not too “soupy”, although the sauce is quite “tomatoey” as you would describe it. For me, I like my bolognese sauce to have more tomatoes than meat, which is why I like this recipe.

      But cooking is all about personal taste, so if you have tried this recipe using less tomatoes and it worked out well, then I would recommend that to your friend :-) It’s interesting to read that you used only one can of tomatoes in this recipe, but it sounds like you like your sauce to be more meat-heavy. Did you also cook the sauce for 2 hours? I understand that you added some wine to the sauce, so that would help with the liquid content for this sauce.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this recipe and made it with your own changes. I love the sound of adding cayenne pepper – I will try that next time too!

      • Irmi 24 May 2015

        Thank you very much, Thanh, for your quick response. –
        Yes, I did cook it for 2 hours, even more, it were two and a half. – I have to admit that there might have been my memory in that game and it seems that I did not read your recipe very carefully in making the dish: I added a couple of spoonfuls of tomato paste – that is what I am used to do – and I also use to add water (not broth) to my cooking. That might be the reason why I just needed one can of tomatoes. – So this might be equivalent to the amount of tomatoes given in your recipe. – I just got it right at my translation work…. that there are some differences to my way of having done it.
        Thank you again for this very good recipe – I still got some sauce left and I am sure I will be hungry later on this evening…

        Have a nice Holiday,


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