An easy Bolognese sauce with flavor-building hacks that make it taste as though the sauce has been cooking for hours—not under an hour.
Easy Bolognese sauce: not authentic…but packed with flavor
I have to come clean about something. This easy Bolognese sauce is not your Italian grandmother’s sauce, made lovingly (and laboriously) with an all-day slow cook. THIS is Flipped-Out Food, where you need to make really good food really fast. So, I’ve sleuthed out a way to make a sauce that is every bit as flavorful as a slow-cooked Bolognese sauce—in a fraction of the time. You’ll need some flavor-building hacks.
Fish sauce: yes, really.
My magic bullet for building flavor into a sauce in short order is Asian fish sauce. That’s really, really not Italian—I know. Let me explain. Italian recipes call for anchovies, which cook down slowly in olive oil, frequently with garlic, until they melt down completely. In the final sauce, you won’t detect the “anchovy” flavor per se, but you DO get a ton of umami flavor, which is what we’re after.
I’ll let you guess what the primary ingredient in fish sauce is. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Did you guess fish? You’re almost completely right! More specifically, it’s anchovy extract. That’s right: the work of coaxing all of that wonderful umami flavor out of the anchovies has already been done for us. I add this “awesome sauce” to a LOT of things that aren’t even close to Asian cuisine.
Phil wrinkled his nose the first time he sniffed the air after I added fish sauce to a dish. But he LOVED the end result. Now he’ll laugh and say, “I know what you just did! Put in MORE!” If you just can’t wrap your brain around using Asian fish sauce in an Italian dish, you could use anchovy paste as another fast alternative to actual anchovy fillets.
Easy Bolognese Sauce: another quick flavor-building hack
My other magic bullet for quickly building fantastic flavor into tomato-based sauces is tomato paste. Add a couple of tablespoons of this stuff and let it caramelize slightly. Then, add in the wine to deglaze. This packs in even more complex flavors so your sauce tastes as though it was cooked all day.
Chunky or non-chunky?
I’ve learned that our kids do not like chunks of ANYTHING in their sauce, including tomato, onion, or even sausage. So, to avoid the spectacle of children industriously picking out every SINGLE chunk on their plate, I buzz an immersion blender through my easy Bolognese sauce before serving it to the kids. The resulting texture is actually quite nice. I save chunkier sauces for those nights when Phil and I are dining alone.
You definitely want leftovers of this easy Bolognese sauce because you will want to use it in Lasagna Bolognese or my Baked Lasagna Bowls. If you don’t have time to do it right away, simply freeze your sauce. Then, pull it out on a weekend or other time when you can spend an hour or so putting together the lasagna. If you don’t like the idea of arduously layering pasta, sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella cheese, there IS an easier way. You can always make a baked pasta casserole with whatever pasta shape you have on hand. All you do? Mix cooked pasta with the meat sauce and ricotta (and an egg to hold it all together), sprinkle on your mozzarella cheese, and bake.
If you enjoy this spin on an Italian classic, be sure to try some of my other Italian-inspired dishes, like Lasagna Bolognese (using your leftover Bolognese Sauce, obvo!), Baked Lasagna Bowls, Pantry Linguine with Clam Sauce, Baked Pasta Casserole, and Pork Scaloppine with Mushroom-Caper Sauce. For vegan options, try my Vegan Pantry Marinara Sauce and Vegan Pantry Tomato Soup with Homemade Croutons!
Without further ado, I leave you with my easy Bolognese sauce recipe. I hope it’s as big a hit with your family as it is with mine!
- 1 1/2 lb. Italian Sausage (hot or mild)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, washed and chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 pinch crushed pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 tbsp Asian Fish Sauce (I like Three Crabs)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup full-bodied red wine
- 56 oz crushed tomatoes (2 28-oz cans)
- 2 tsp dried Italian herbs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 14 oz plain tomato sauce (optional, see Note)
Sauté the Italian sausage over medium heat until it’s lightly brown and the fat is rendered, 7–8 minutes. Drain off the fat and reserve the meat. Add the olive oil, the pepper flakes, onions, carrots, and celery to the pan over medium heat. Sauté until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic; sauté another minute. Add the tomato paste and stir well until slightly darkened, about 1 minute. Add the meat back to the pan.
Raise heat to medium high and add the fish sauce; stir until reduced almost completely. Raise heat to high and add the wine. Reduce almost completely, then add the crushed tomatoes and herbs. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil a pot of well-salted water for your pasta of choice, and cook according to directions.
Taste your sauce and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper (the amounts stated are a suggested starting point).
When your pasta is cooked, reserve a couple of ladlefuls of the pasta water and then drain. Dress your pasta by tossing it with a ladleful of sauce (or enough to coat it lightly) and a couple of splashes of the pasta water. Top with additional sauce and serve with Parmesan cheese.
If you like a "saucier" sauce, you can adjust by adding tomato sauce until you reach the consistency you want. A 14-oz. can should be more than enough.