Ragù Bolognese

James Beard

Author and Educator

One of Italy’s most famous dishes, Ragù Bolognese is the classic meat sauce from Bologna. “Ragù” is a corruption of the French word for stew (“ragout”) and arrived in Italy during the Renaissance, when the stews of each country shared the same ingredients and method of preparation. During subsequent centuries, they evolved separately, and the “ragù” of Bologna became the best known meat sauce of Italy, served with “maccheroni” and cheese. It differs from American-style spaghetti sauce by the addition of nutmeg (cinnamon is a traditional ingredient as well), and the omission of tomatoes.


  • 1/2 pound bacon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped or shredded
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped (optional)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound chicken livers, trimmed of membranes and chopped
  • 1/4 cup concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or beef broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped


Cut the bacon into very small pieces, and cook it gently in a large sauce pan with the butter until the bacon has rendered some of its fat. Add the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic and brown them lightly. Add the ground beef, breaking it up with a fork so it browns evenly. Then add the chicken livers and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until they lose their pinkish color. Mix in the tomato paste, wine, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the broth and cover the pan. Simmer very, very gently for 40 minutes.

Uncover, check the seasoning, and stir in heavy cream, if desired. Some people prefer the sauce as it is, others like the cream flavor. Heat through for a minute or so. A heavy tablespoon of chopped parsley can be added at this point.

Serve with any shape pasta you desire, accompanied by freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.


6 to 8 servings