Authentic Bolognese Sauce

4.72 from 14 votes
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Authentic bolognese recipe over pasta
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Have you ever had a real, authentic Bolognese sauce recipe? I mean an actual, honest-to-goodness Bolognese? It’s just different from a typical meat sauce for pasta: smoother, meatier, mellower and a lot richer than a typical ragu or sugo. A little goes a long way.

There is a reason that the guardians of this sauce are so strict about what is and is not an authentic Bolognese.

Much of what makes Italian cuisine so special is its skill with poverty foods. Puglians or Sardinians or the people of the Italian Alps must deal with a limited set of ingredients, and they do so with uncanny ability.

But there is no need for this in Emilia-Romagna, where Bologna lies. This region has everything. And it flaunts it. A Bolognese sauce is a crowning expression of the wealth of Italy’s breadbasket, and some version of it has been made since the 1700s.

This is a sauce with rules. It is built on a base of onion, carrot and celery. No garlic. Nor does it have lots of herbs in it. I love lots of herbs in a meat sauce, but that’s not a Bolognese. The sauce contains dairy products. Tomato, while present, is not the star of the sauce. Meat is. And to make a real Bolognese, it must cook a long, long time.

An authentic Bolognese sauce recipe is all about the meat. Emilia-Romagna is a rich region, and this is a rich sauce. Beef is king here, and the sauce is usually a celebration of the cow: beef, veal, milk and butter. But pork is often used, too. And that’s where we start getting into the endless Bolognese Debate — what is, and is not, a “true” Bolognese sauce?

Every cook has a personal version. The few constants I’ve just mentioned above. Some have only beef. Some a mix of meats. Some pork. A few, like this one, wild boar. Some Bolognese recipes use a little pancetta, prosciutto or chicken liver, too.

sugo di piccione

Pigeon, Dove or Duck Ragu

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One point of contention is tomato. I use just a little, but most American versions make this a tomato sauce with meat. That may taste nice, but it’s not a Bolognese. I suspect Americans do this because we were first exposed to a sauce sorta-kinda like this by Italians from Southern Italy, where tomato-heavy meat sauces are more common.

Mushrooms, usually porcini, do have a place in an authentic Bolognese sauce. I use dried ones here. Broth is yet another debating point. Many recipes use beef broth, some use water. I used wild boar broth to go with the meat.

Wine? Yes, or no. Your choice. White or red both work.

What pasta you serve it on is also hotly debated. By far the most common is homemade tagliatelle, which is a little like linguine. But other pasta shapes are seen, too.

Curiously, spaghetti — the most common pasta used with Bolognese in America — is almost never used with this sauce in Italy. Again, I think using spaghetti is an influence from Italian-Americans from the south, where dried pasta is more commonly used.

Do you need to follow all these rules when you make your own Bolognese? I hope you do, because the result is unlike anything else you’ve ever tasted. Even if you use other meats, such as venison or hare or duck, following these guidelines will make an unforgettable pasta sauce.

But the Italian Food Police will not come breaking down your door if you add a little of this or a little of that to your liking. Improvisation is, after all, very Italian.

A bowl of venison ragu
4.72 from 14 votes

Venison Ragu

This is a classic bolognese sauce geared toward venison. It takes a while to come together, but it will keep in the fridge a week, freezes well and can be pressure canned.
Course: Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 cup minced carrot
  • 1 cup minced celery
  • 2 pounds ground venison, or other meat
  • 1 ounce dried porcini, reconstituted in 1 cup hot water and chopped
  • 1 six- ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 cup venison stock, beef broth or water
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 nutmeg, grated or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Pasta (tagliatelle, penne, etc)
  • Grated cheese for garnish


  • Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy pot like a Dutch oven. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook gently for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Do not brown them. Sprinkle a little salt over the veggies as they cook.
  • When the vegetables are soft, stir in the chopped porcini and tomato paste and allow everything to cook for 3 or 4 minutes, again, stirring often. When the tomato paste begins to turn the color of brick, add the ground venison, the porcini soaking water and the broth. Bring to a simmer.
  • Allow this to cook down over medium-low heat. Take your time here and resist the urge to do this over higher heat. Stir from time to time. When the liquid has mostly evaporated, add the wine and repeat the process. When that has mostly evaporated, add the milk, nutmeg and black pepper and stir well. Bring back to a simmer and add salt to taste. Let this cook until it is the consistency you want.
  • When you add the milk to the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. Once the ragu has thickened, add the pasta to the salty water and cook until its al dente.
  • To serve, put the pasta in a large bowl and add a healthy ladle of sauce. Toss to combine. Give everyone their portion, then top with a small ladle's worth of sauce. Grate the cheese over the top and serve.



If you want to pressure can this, you'll have to leave the milk out until you want to eat the sauce. But you can pressure can this at 10 PSI for up to 1000 feet of elevation for 1 hour. Follow your canner's directions. 

Keys to Success

  • Time. A real deal ragu takes time to make. You can rush things, but you will notice the difference. 
  • I make my own venison stock for this recipe, but you could use store bought, low-sodium beef broth. 
  • Use a food processor to finely mince the carrot, onion and celery. Way easier than by hand. 
  • If you can't find the porcini, skip it or use other dried mushrooms. I will often just use porcini powder


Calories: 441kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 31g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 100mg | Sodium: 403mg | Potassium: 808mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 3340IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 78mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Fantastic! I only have 5 pounds of venison left until next hunting season, so I used twice ground brisket to give this a a whirl. WOW, loved it. Venison Will be used in the next round.

  2. I made this about a month ago using some ground bison, elk and some puff ball mushrooms. It was outstanding.

    This weekend I was at a “fancy”restaurant and had their Bolognese. This recipe is every bit as good, if not better than as what I was served.

  3. I used ground wild boar (from frozen), red wine, and dried shiitake mushrooms. Started at 3pm and finished at 6:30pm. The best fresh noodles I could find were linguine, but everything worked out okay. Very tasty!

  4. This was so good! I used the wild boar but I unfortunately was missing the mushrooms. I had everything else and it was wonderful! Thank you for this recipe..

  5. Haha! I see it now. Why mind smashed 1 and 6 together I have no idea. Thank you for answering a dumb question, you are great!

  6. 16 ounce can tomato paste. Just wanted to double check the amount. It may just be me but I’ve never seen a 16 oz can of paste. Thank you for all your awesome recipes!

      1. I thought 16oz as well… I thought it was wayyy too much but I couldn’t find my dad’s recipe and have not made this in over 6 years … oh well we shall see how it turns out ? as it’s already cooking and I’m thinking ? how is this meat going to brown. ? I always try to follow a recipe it as written on first attempt before I put my join twist on it. Don’t worry I won’t rate it until I properly follow the recipe

  7. First of all thank you for the explanation on Bolognese I was in that group of Americans that thought it was tomato sauce with meat. This recipe is fantastic results are phenomenal. I made it with ground black bear and let me tell you it was as good as any bolognese I’ve had in a quality Italian restaurant. I avoided the temptation to try to make this happen too quickly. Started prep at 11:30am and had dinner at 5:00pm. Patience is key, the part that stands out to me is the nutmeg. Initially it did not make sense however as the recipe progressed it became logical. Follow the directions on this one and you’ll be rewarded. I would not hesitate to use any ground red meat. Thanks again Hank spot on as usual.

  8. Excellent! Have made this twice. The second time I added 1.5 ounces of pancetta to the initial sauté, which added some violas to the string section. Polenta is another good base.

  9. what quantity of sauce would this recipe make? Since it is so time consuming could you double, triple, or multiply by even more to make enough to can to have for the future.

  10. Hey team we had this in Tuscany one night near Greve and it was so unbelievably good that I found another nearby restaurant wnd did a repeat. Wild boar, wild Porcini, those sweet Italian onions and everything else you mentioned, no garlic. I dream of going back one day for a second repeat of the two nights dinners.

    1. Coert: I agree, but not in this particular recipe, where I am trying to stay close to the Italian original.

  11. Hank,

    Just made this dish with javelina that I shot on a trip to Marfa, Texas. Outstanding recipe! Javelina isn’t as bad as its reputation, but it definitely takes a little bit of work to make it taste good, and this was an excellent use for it.


  12. I just had a craving for bolognese sauce, sadly don’t have any boar meat, but am de-frosting some minced pork instead. Will follow your recipe which looks very authentic to me tomorrow!

  13. I use Cocoa Powder in place of nutmeg. To get the fat back use Pancetta, lots of it. My Wild Boar Bolognese rocks