(Almost) Traditional Bolognese Ragù


“Wine is Sunlight, held together by Water.” -Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) – from the American Pi Cookbook: Recipes from Atlanta’s Paideia School

The Italian word, Ragù, means “to stimulate the appetite.” As a general rule, my appetite needs no stimulation. Wine, of course, also helps one enjoy food (often, more of it!). Perhaps the reason my family and I enjoy this particular dish so much is the name itself? Or is it the tasty red wine married with rich tomato sauce and hearty meat?


I often make Bolognese after a long or stressful day. There is something oddly therapeutic about tending a pot of gorgeous meat sauce, provided classical (or classical jazz, or opera, depending on how difficult the day) music is playing and the munchkins are in bed.

Over the last few months, I have experimented with quite a few different Ragù recipes. A front-runner, Kiyo’s recipe at My Lilikoi Kitchen, is excellent. Her recipe demonstrates that the ground meat in the dish shouldn’t be browned, but just cooked through. This creates a luscious, tender result in the overall texture of the sauce. Have you visited her fun, fabulous blog? If you like Hawaii and love to eat fantastic food, head to My Lilikoi Kitchen. You won’t be disappointed. Kiyo suggests that you pair leftover Bolognese Ragù, homemade spinach noodles, and all of the other “usual suspects” to create a delectable, impressive lasagna.


The first traditional Bolognese Ragù I made, circa 2004, was from the American Pi Cookbook: Recipes from Atlanta’s Paideia School. This is the cookbook that taught me to cook, or at least began the process. Over the years, I have ordered this cookbook for many friends to encourage them in their own culinary journeys.

The cookbook is filled not only with international, well-tested recipes but also witty prose and funny, poignant quotes. One of the writers of the book is the legendary, Atlanta-based food writer and food critic – and Paideia School dad – John Kessler. The Paideia School itself is an intown school that provides not only great education, but opportunities for self-expression and exploration, creativity, thought and original thinking.

pasta duo.jpg

As any recipe does, this one has evolved over the years. Making Bolognese Ragù requires a feeling of connection with the recipe, ingredients and the pot itself. My particular pot is a red, Le Creuset dutch oven knock-off, found at a discount store years ago. It heats evenly and serves me well… though the knob on top of the lid is a bit loose. Once you obtain a level of comfort, small amounts of “recipe alterations” occur. I attempt to remain true to the traditional dish, to a point.

My version uses garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil, piles of colorful, bright vegetables; self-ground buffalo and thick slabs of lean turkey bacon. The sauce is finished off with creamy, organic, lactose-free milk. Later, it ladled over a mound of hot spaghetti pasta. For me, it must be spaghetti; like the scene in the movie Lady and the Tramp, slurping a long, thin noodle is imperative. The finishing touch is a hefty sprinkling of formaggio: an extra-aged, Italian, sheep’s milk Pecorino Romano. I never fail to grate my own cheese; this entitles me to eat that last, scrumptious end piece that cannot be broken-down by the microplane.


My hubby, Abba, is travelling often this Spring. There is no competition for that last piece of cheese. He is interviewing all over the country for fellowships in head and neck reconstructive surgery. Our ten-plus year journey in his pursuit of a surgical career is winding down. Now, tonight dinner is not ready until after 9:00 PM. Abba would be a hungry guy by this hour. Fortunately, he is two time zones away and ate at a reasonable time. When he accepts a fellowship, this will be the perfect celebratory meal; it combines our shared love of pasta and fond memories of making this dish in our intown Atlanta basement apartment, many years ago, when we were just beginning our life together.


This meal is rounded of with my favorite salad; a fresh, artisanal crusty bread and (of course) some of the remaining red wine used to enhance sauce during cooking.

Also, many thanks to Massi at Massi Kitchen! He gave Curls and Carrots a wonderful gift: the fun, beautiful new site logo. Thank you to Massi for lending his talents in graphic design. If you enjoy Italian food and beautiful photos, I encourage you to visit his scrumptious and gorgeous blog.

Salute! -Shanna



(Almost) Traditional Bolognese Ragù

Adapted from the American Pi Cookbook: Recipes from Atlanta’s Paideia School


3-4 Tablespoons garlic-infused extra-virgin olive oil

1 small white onion, minced

4 large carrots, peeled and diced

4 large celery stalks, diced

3 ounces thickly sliced, lean turkey bacon, cut into small cubes

1 pound organic, grass-fed buffalo/bison or extra lean meat, ground*

1/2 cup good-quality, light-bodied red wine, preferably Italian

5 Tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste*

5 cups low-sodium, organic beef broth

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

1 tsp. dried or fresh oregano, rubbed together between your palms

fine salt and cracked, black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup organic, lactose-free cow milk or goat milk (1-2% milk fat)

hot, cooked pasta, such as spaghetti or fettuccine

extra-aged pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated

fresh basil or parsley, finely chopped (optional)

*Lacking a meat grinder, I cubed the meat and used my food processor to grind it. Sacrebleu!

*I have made my own, but the taste difference was minimal.


  • Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. At the turkey bacon, celery, carrots and onions. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables and turkey have gold color. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the ground buffalo or lean beef. Break up the meat with a spatula. Cook just until the meat is well-incorporated, broken into small pieces and mostly cooked through. Do not brown the meat. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in the wine. Cook for a few minutes, just until the liquid is reduced by three-fourths.
  • Stir in the tomato paste and beef broth. Mix until the sauce is uniform.
  • Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and lightly simmer for two hours. Stir the sauce every fifteen to thirty minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
  • The sauce should be thick, but a slight amount of liquid should remain. Add more broth if the sauce dries out.
  • Add the milk, partially cover, and simmer for fifteen minutes more. Taste and season as necessary.
  • Serve hot atop a thick, freshly cooked pasta. Top with freshly grated pecorino romano and chopped, fresh basil or parsley, if using.


©Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, shannaward.com (2013-2014), unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author, Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, and/or owner is strictly and completely prohibited.


69 thoughts on “(Almost) Traditional Bolognese Ragù

  1. Shanne,great presentation,I really love ragu,great That you did your own Way but THE pecorino cheese……..
    Wow THE new logo,are you good in THE grafica???:-)

    1. Thanks for the wonderful comment, Massi. And, thank you very much for the wonderful, new logo, which you kindly made for Curls and Carrots. I love it and have received many compliments (which I direct to your work). Is the pecorino cheese a good thing? 🙂

      1. No thank you!!you are Always good with you r great analyse with my dish.
        About the cheese i prefer on ragu parmesan cheese or regular grated cheese,but not pecorino…..
        Can you put THE logo more bigger

      2. Hmmmm…. How do I do that? Make the logo bigger?
        I chose the pecorino because it is made from a sheep’s milk, which is easier for me to digest. However, parmigiano reggiano would be MUCH tastier, especially if it is well-aged. Yes, I agree. 🙂

  2. Looks and sounds delicious! And something I read here made think. Not browning the meat makes for a more luscious texture… you know, I think I’ve encountered that as well. If you brown too much, the texture of the ragu will be a bit brittle almost, and the browning that happens at the bottom of the pot over the course of hours of cooking probably makes up for any browning that could be done by browning the meat in the beginning so next time i make this, i won’t brown the meat and see how it goes! 🙂 thank you so much for this wonderful post!

    1. Wow, Paul, thank you so much for your very thoughtful comments – and the compliments. It means a lot that you took the time to read and leave a lovely note. Yes, I swear not browning the meat; a revelation. 🙂

      1. of course Shanna! you’re passionate and so knowledgeable about food how would I not stop and read! 🙂 thank you again for the beautiful post! No more browning of ragu sauces for me, you know how much hassle you just saved me??? 🙂

  3. Great pics! One of the comforting things about making ragu I think is knowing that it will be hearty and comforting to eat, and so full of uplifting wholesome veggies.

  4. Darling Shanna, This is a classic ragù recipe and I love that you made the recipe your own. I can have it with or without cheese as the sauce includes so many healthy elements. I noticed some changes happening on your blog. I love how you have utilized the photo gallery to present. Very Nice! Hugs,

    1. Hi, Fae. Thank you for your lovely compliments! Oh, I have looked for this photo gallery, but it is not on my dashboard. Where do I find it? Maybe it is not present because I do not pay for WordPress? The collages are created using the free “pic monkey” site. The photos on the blog (individual ones) are now “full-sized.” There was a glitch that made them small before. I am slowly going through and changing my photos to the correct magnification. The new theme is free – just a change from the old one. Greg will be out to California a few times this Spring for interviews… fingers crossed. I appreciate your visit, dear friend.

  5. Shanna, my PRCCSS, what can I say. I love Italian food and this looks really appetizing. Looking at the photos makes you want to dig right in. It looks delicious! Thanks for the tip about not browning the meat. I wish for Abba to have a safe trip. Also, I love what you’ve done on your blog. Great job, Shanna. Enjoy your evening. 🙂

  6. Delicious and cheesy. It looks really appetizing if only we could serve right out of the screen. Enjoy your Sunday, Best…. Liz

      1. We are on March Break, yesterday was fabulous, today is another matter, snowing the whole day long. I have to go out there sometime and shovel….how annoying!

  7. Hi Shanna, great post! I also like the new ‘circles’ on the front page that show off your scrumptious food.
    Since you call this ‘traditional’, I feel obliged to comment that in Bologna this would be served on tagliatelle rather than spaghetti, and would not include garlic, oregano or parsley. You’re excused for using turkey bacon, but I would everyone who eats pork encourage to use pancetta instead. Ragù alla Bolognese is one of the few dishes that actually has an official recipe that has been deposited at the chamber of commerce in Bologna in 1982 (http://www.accademiaitalianacucina.it/it/content/rag%C3%B9-alla-bolognese). I would love to try your Ragù alla Shanna, though 🙂
    Although the traditional recipe does call for browning the meat (until it ‘sizzles’, the recipe says), I have been curious about trying an un-browned version myself. I tend to simmer my ragù for 4 hours, and perhaps that takes away the brittle texture that Paul mentioned.
    What is top notch about your recipe is that you use milk (to mellow the acidity of the tomatoes), beef stock (which enriches the beef flavor), and only a bit of tomato. Many people think of Ragù alla Bolognese as tomato sauce with meat in it, but you make it right: meat sauce with tomato in it. Well done!
    P.S. I’ve just had a very traditional delicious plate of tagliatelle alla bolognese at a very unlikely place: Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. The chef at “Il Bolognese” is from Bologna, and it was a relief to find his restaurant among the tourist traps.

    1. Stefan, I was expecting a lesson in traditional Bolognese Ragù from the well-schooled chef of Italian cuisine at Stefan Gourmet! Thank you for all of the great information; the bit about the official recipe being deposited in Bologna is fascinating. Yes, you are SO right. The original recipe did not call for the garlic oil, oregano or thyme. Over the years of making the recipe, they somehow snuck into the pot! The turkey bacon, on the other hand… I guess it makes it Jewish bolognese? The deposited recipe probably contains a mixture of ground meats, as well, if I had to guess. 🙂 I will have to try a truly traditional tagliatelle alla bolognese in the near future. Your plate in Miami looked great. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment, Stefan. I think I will update the name of the post to “Almost” Traditional Bolognese Ragù. 🙂

      1. Hope you don’t mind. I can be a bit of a smarty pants. (This is where some of my friends and Kees will roll their eyes and say: “a BIT?!”) It is perfectly fine to make your own version of dishes. Calling it “almost traditional” would be more correct. You did get the milk right, which most don’t.

      2. I like your personality. I certainly respect that your are forthright with your knowledge – yet still polite and complimentary. It takes a subtle touch to pull off being a well-liked smarty pants. 😉 I really lucked out with the milk… we ran out that day, and the kids demanded I pick up more *pronto*. 😉 It is the crowning glory, right?

        “A BIT?!” I will have to use this line. 🙂

      3. I noticed you update the title, I like that 🙂

        Very different question: I notice you provide printable recipes on your blog. Is that easy to do?

  8. What a lovely saying to begin the post! I didn’t know that Ragu meant that… though my appetite needs no stimulation either. Garlic olive oil sounds lovely. And I would love to have this for dinner with you! Best of luck for Abba, what excitement for your family! Have a lovely Sunday Shanna! xx

    1. Thank you for your sweet words, Sofia. I would have you over for Bolognese Ragù any night. For you, I would buy the tagliatelle, which I have recently learned is the most traditional pasta. Have a wonderful Sunday! xx

  9. Hi dear, wow, you tried really hard (and the result seems really good) – I have read also Stephan’s comment, and I must say that he’s really prepared and a very great “conneisseur” of Italian Cuisine. As you surely know, my region is where you find the classic traditional ragù, and I can say that: in our ragù the vegetables pieces are so thin that you even can see it (maybe only some pieces of carrots, we chop them really finely) and we don’t use garlic, maybe onion.And then … our special touch is grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.. no other cheeses admitted! Good job, however! You’ll learn quickly! Hugs – Cris 😉

    1. Hi, Cris,
      Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a lovely note. Yes, I make the dish with my own style! I use the sheep’s milk cheese, as cow’s milk is difficult to digest. The turkey bacon is because we don’t eat pork. The garlic oil because I love the subtle flavor in pasta. I will chop the veggies more finely next time… though I like to see their beautiful colors and enjoy the texture. If I visit Italy, you must show me how to make the recipe in the proper way. I am sure it is the most delicious. Especially with the king of cheeses, parmigiano reggiano! Sounds delicious! xx

      1. Hi dear, but where are you??! It’s so much time form the last time we chatted a bit, are you ok? o_O
        Yes, extemporizing is the rule while cooking!You did well! I will cook you the real tagliatelle alla bolognese if you come to Italy!Hugs Cris

  10. Hi ya Shanna–Happy Spring is just around the corner. I just hit your front page for the first time in forever. Very nice.

    Your Bolognese looks fantastic. (NATCH!) Very glad you are using alternative cheeses. Hopefully everyone is savvy enough to make adjustments to suit their particular needs.

    If you get a chance, please see if a particular book is in your library. It’s David Downie’s COOKING THE ROMAN WAY. The author is one of my friends and I finally got around to looking at it. I highly recommend it. There was a large Jewish ghetto in Rome and David chose a ricotta cheesecake with sour cherry jam and/or chocolate to represent that bit of Roman heritage. The word chocolate made me think of you immediately.

    Have a superb Sunday.


    1. Hi ya, Janet,
      Thank you for leaving such a warm and lovely note. Your compliments are very much taken to heart.
      Ah, yes, cheese… you know me. Always buying new cheeses, particularly those made from a sheep or goat’s milk. 🙂
      I immediately went online to and ordered David Downie’s COOKING THE ROMAN WAY. The book sounds just outstanding. Also, I am intrigued by the Jewish ghetto and the types of foods they ate, being Jewish and Italian. I am sure the cheesecake is fantastic (ricotta, sour cherries AND chocolate – can this be true?!) and the other Roman recipes, as well. It is important to support great chefs and writers – and nothing better than snuggling on the couch with a good cookbook.
      Have a lovely weekend, Janet. Thank you for the well wishes! Hopefully you can find a great GF noodle if you feel inspired to make Bolognese Ragù in the near future.
      – Shanna

  11. As always, your food sounds and looks luscious. I will be craving spaghetti now all day! I love the mention of cookbooks and your own history, since that is what I’m working on today. 🙂 And I enjoyed the way you brought it full circle from your newlywed days to the present. Good luck to your husband on his fellowship search!
    (I will also have to look for the cookbook your friend Janet mentioned–Roman Jewish cheesecake with chocolate? Yum!)

    1. Thank you, Merril, for reading. It always means so much to me when someone digests my written words and leaves a thoughtful comment. What a treat. I just ordered the book Janet recommended; I can’t wait for it to arrive! Thank you for the good luck wishes; did I tell you that Abba’s educational career began in NJ, where you live now? Have a lovely Sunday! Your book looks excellent… It seems I might be ordering another book shortly! – Shanna

      1. Thank you again, Shanna. I hope you are also having a lovely Sunday. You did mention that your husband studied in NJ. I hope you like wherever it is you end up–but I’m sure wherever it is, there will be lots of cooking and eating–and it will be home. (Our younger daughter and her boyfriend are both job searching now, and they have no idea where they will be living after June. I hope not too far away. 🙂

      2. They were both in theatre, but our daughter also got a degree in English, secondary education. She’s teaching at my husband’s school right now, but it’s a maternity leave position. Her boyfriend is not sure–possible police work. He’s a veteran–deployed three times.

      3. Best of luck to them! I met my husband before he was a surgeon – when he was a university teacher. He is now a medical corps reservist in the military. There is a long history of military service in both of our blood lines; his dad is a retired brigadier general. English is a beautiful degree to have; your daughter must be a lovely writer (and teacher!), like her parents. Wishing only good things for the lovely couple.

  12. This is one of my husband’s favorite dishes too. I just made some last week with whole wheat spaghetti…not his favorite though. He insists on plain old spaghetti, I insist on whole wheat. We usually compromise on organic to get at least some fiber! Good luck while your husband travels, I know how stressful it can be staying home alone with young kiddos.

    1. Thank you, Gretchen. I am glad to hear that your husband enjoys this dish; mine goes GA GA for it, as well. 🙂 Last night, we had the leftovers. I cooked an organic, whole wheat pasta from Italy… it came in a brown paper bag from Whole Foods. Abba didn’t notice it was whole wheat. After it was cooked, the brown color was gone and there was no “wheat” taste. You are right, organic and pure semolina pasta is very rich in fiber and protein. I appreciate your empathetic words, as well.

  13. I think bolognese ragù, together with carbonara, is one of my favourite sauce for pasta dishes. Yours looks simply irresistible. After reading your post I’m ready could have my second dinner today 😉
    Have a lovely week, Shanna!

  14. Buffalo/bison ragù – that’s so different for me over here! Does it really sub well with beef? Actually, ragù (mince/ground meat) is something I would never eat. It’s only far more recently that I’ve eaten home-made meatballs and the like as I’ve made commercial sausage meat (years ago) – and I wish I didn’t remember what goes in ’em! Besides, I have this thing about animal fat. Which is why I would have to brown the meat to get rid of it. We all have our quirks. 🙂

  15. Shanna, what a fun and beautiful post 🙂 I love how you wind your food and personal stories together. That bolognese is stunning and I love that you used buffalo. Looks so warm and hearty–can see why making it would be therapeutic. Perfect opening quote, too.

    1. Thank you so much, Liz. I appreciate your warm words and your visit. Yes, though I cook full meals every night, and often for lunch, too, I only blog about those that I feel a connection to. It is easy to write about food when it feels relevant. Have a great night, Shanna

  16. This looks so wonderful…brings back memories of childhood suppers. We would have something of this sort nearly every week. Every once in a while I make it now for my children as well. Delicious!

  17. Isn’t a Bolognese wonderful Shanna? There’s really nothing quite like it. Yours sounds like a good one and I bet your family devours it. We always did when Mom set a platter of pasta alla Bolognese before us. Some things never change. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your friendly comment and visit, John. I have a feeling your mom’s pasta alla Bolognese was authentic, rich and absolutely delicious. I am happy to hear this post brought back warm memories of childhood, your heritage and your family. 🙂 Have a lovely week. Best, Shanna

  18. Buffalo, turkey bacon, all those fresh veggies, and yes, let’s not forget the red wine–so many winning ingredients in a recipe you have made all your own. It’s been many years since I’ve made a ragu and this is bringing back warm memories of comfort food at late night dinners with friends. I wish I could take a taste of this dish, Shanna. It looks like an amazing meal, and even better with your Abba by your side. Much luck to him on his interviews and may you all get to celebrate with this dish soon!

  19. Shanna your bolognese looks fantastic! I could eat a bowl of it right now (oops, it’s 6:30 a.m. in Hawaii). I too must have my bolognese with spaghetti pasta however John likes short pasta better. We switch the pasta out now and then to keep us both satisfied! Best, Kiyo

    1. Kiyo, Bolognese for breakfast. Now, THAT is an original thought! I like it. Greg also like this pasta with penne, which works well. The sauce fills up the crevices; delicious. I find something essential and comforting about the long pastas in this dish… it is a must for me, as well. The compromises we make for our marriages. 😉 Thank you for your nice note; it’s a pleasure that you stopped by. Best, Shanna

  20. Hi Shanna, how are you? And again another lovely recipe!!! This Traditional Bolognese Ragu looks really fantastic! We love the ingredients you use, must be very tasteful, full of flavours. Yummie..

  21. One of my favorite dishes is a good ragu, and I love how you’ve created a version that uses something unique like turkey bacon. I can tell by the recipe that this is another winner, Shanna. In fact, it looks so good that I would not hesitate to eat this for breakfast :). Thank you for sharing!
    ~ Melissa
    PS: LOVE the new logo too!!!

    1. Hi, Melissa. I appreciate your wonderful comment and your visit. Thank you so much. 🙂 Your Homemade for Friends recipe is seriously haunting my dreams! One of the most decadent (and evil!) icings in the history of all icings. I will trade you a bowl of that for a bowl of Bolognese Ragù (for breakfast, obviously!). My best, Shanna

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s