This rich Bolognese is slow cooked in the oven & served with al dente spaghetti. A simple but impressive midweek meal!

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slow cooked bolognese

What Is Spaghetti Bolognese?

Bolognese consists of beef mince, pancetta, tomatoes, fresh veg, red wine & herbs. This classic, rich Italian sauce is cooked gently over several hours, to give it a deep, complex flavour. To serve, Bolognese is tossed in spaghetti which has been cooked al dente.

Slow Cooked Bolognese

In my opinion, this is the best way to cook Bolognese!

Slow cooking Bolognese in the oven isn’t just easier & less hands-on (it only needs stirring every 45 minutes whilst it’s in the oven!) but it also gives the sauce a deeper, more complex flavour. Meaty, rich & tender, this one’s a real winner. Perfect for a get-ahead midweek meal!

What You’ll Need

Slow Cooked Bolognese

  • Beef Mince – Mince with 15-20% fat works best!
  • Pancetta – You’ll need 100 grams of diced pancetta. Streaky bacon can also be used.
  • Veg – We’re using finely diced carrot, onion & celery and grated garlic in our Bolognese.
  • Herbs – For extra flavour we’re using fresh thyme & bay leaves (fresh or dried). A couple of rosemary sprigs would also work as well.
  • Red Wine – Don’t worry about using an expensive wine! A Merlot or Malbec will work well. If you’d prefer to not use wine, use beef stock instead.
  • Beef Stock Cube – I’d recommend using a Knorr rich beef stock pot but any beef stock cube will work.
  • Tinned Tomatoes – A good tin of tomatoes makes all the difference! I’d recommend a tin of Mutti plum tomatoes.
  • Milk – Whole milk is best for Bolognese but semi skimmed will work as well.
  • Worcestershire Sauce – This adds even more flavour to our sauce! You’ll only need a tablespoon. Henderson’s relish can also be used.

To Serve

  • Spaghetti – I like to use dried spaghetti with Bolognese but any pasta shape will work!
  • Parmesan – A classic pasta topping. Feel free to use a different cheese if you’d prefer. Cheddar isn’t traditional but works well!
spaghetti bolognese topped with parmesab

How To Make Slow Cooked Spaghetti Bolognese

The full, printable recipe card for this spaghetti Bolognese can be found at the bottom of this post!

Bolognese Sauce

  1. Brown Meat – We do this in a large saucepan, in batches. First the pancetta then the beef mince. Make sure to get plenty of colour on the meat as this is where all the flavour is! Once browned, the meat is removed from the pan but the fat is left in.
  2. Cook Diced Veg – Once the meat is cooked, we add in our diced veg (onion, carrot & celery) then cook until soft. This will take around 5 minutes. We then add in grated garlic & chopped thyme and cook for another minute.
  3. Caramelise Tomato Paste – Next, we stir tomato paste into the veg then cook for 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Cooking the tomato paste for longer, caramelises it which adds more flavour to our sauce. Once the tomato paste has been cooked, the beef mine & pancetta are stirred back in.
  4. Deglaze The Pan – Now to deglaze. To do this, pour red wine into the pan then give the bottom a scrape with a spoon/spatula to release any stuck on browned bits. Let the wine reduce almost completely then add in a tin of tomatoes, a beef stock cube, bay leaves, 400ml of water (an empty tomato tin worth) & milk.
  5. Slow Cook – Next, we bring the sauce to a gentle simmer then transfer the pan to a 140°c/284°f oven. The Bolognese is then slow cooked for 2½ – 3 hours until the meat is tender & the sauce has thickened.
  6. To Finish – To finish the sauce, we place it back on the stove over a low heat then stir in the Worcestershire sauce & season with salt & pepper, to taste.
  7. Overnight Chill – Once the Bolognese is cooked, we let it cool down then refrigerate it overnight. This allows the sauce to mature & infuse which improves the flavour!

To Serve

  1. Cook Spaghetti – To cook the spaghetti, bring a large pan of water to the boil then add in a good pinch of salt. We then add in the dried spaghetti & cook until it is cooked slightly less than al dente (the best way to do this is to cook for a minute less than specified on the packet).
  2. Reheat Bolognese – Whilst the pasta is cooking, we place our Bolognese into a pan then set it over a low heat, to warm through. If you only want to reheat a couple of portions, allow 2 tbsp of sauce & 75 grams of dried pasta per portion.
  3. Toss Spaghetti In Sauce – When the spaghetti is cooked, we add it to the sauce (with a pair of tongs) then add in a ladle full of pasta water. We then give the pasta & sauce a good stir, to bring everything together.
  4. Plate & Top With Parmesan – Now to plate. Simply add the spaghetti into bowls then grate over a generous amount of parmesan.

Spaghetti Bolognese Tips & Tricks

  • Refrigerate Bolognese overnight before using – This lets the flavours mature & infuse together.
  • Use good tinned tomatoes – A good tin of tomatoes makes all the difference! I’d recommend using Mutti plum tomatoes.
  • Use beef mince with plenty of fat in – Beef mince with a fat content of 15-20% works best. This adds richness & extra flavour to the sauce.
  • Add milk – This might sound strange but milk adds richness to the Bolognese & helps tenderise the meat.
  • Caramelise the tomato paste – After adding tomato paste to our sauce’s base, we cook it for around 5 minutes. This caramelises it, adding extra flavour & depth to the sauce. You’ll know when the tomato is caramelised as it will darken in colour.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does Bolognese take to slow cook?

We’re cooking our Bolognese in the oven, which means that it will take a bit longer than on the stove. In total, the Bolognese will take around 3-3½ hours to cook. Half an hour on the stove (to brown the meat/cook the veg) & 2½-3 hours in the oven.

What meat is best for Bolognese?

Beef mince with 15-20% fat works best for this Bolognese. You’ll be able to buy this in most supermarkets/butchers.

Why is there milk in Bolognese?

Adding milk to a Bolognese sauce adds richness & helps tenderise the meat. It’s important that the sauce doesn’t get too hot after the milk is added, as it won’t emulsify properly.

Why does Bolognese taste better the next day?

Refrigerating Bolognese overnight once it has been cooked, allows the flavours to mature & infuse together (this is the same with most meat based sauces). This is entirely optional though, the Bolognese will still taste great if eaten straight away!

Do I have to use spaghetti?

Spaghetti is a classic pasta pairing for Bolognese but it isn’t compulsory. In fact, you can use pretty much any type of paste, including penne, rigatoni & pappardelle.

Can Bolognese be made without alcohol?

If you’d prefer to make Bolognese without red wine, use beef stock instead. Make sure to use a stock cube that doesn’t contain alcohol, as well.

bolognese sauce

Cooking Bolognese In An Aga

With all of my recipes, I include cooking instructions for conventional ovens, fan ovens & also Agas. Here’s how to cook this recipe in an Aga…

Brown the meat & cook the veg, using the boiling plate. If the pan gets too hot at any point, move over to the simmering plate. To cook the Bolognese, place the pan of sauce onto the floor of the simmering oven & cook for 3 hours. If the sauce needs thickening up, cook on the boiling plate before stirring in the Worcestershire sauce.

Equipment Used

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More Dinner Recipes To Try!

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Slow Cooked Spaghetti Bolognese

This rich Bolognese is slow cooked in the oven & served with al dente spaghetti. A simple but impressive midweek meal!
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time3 hours
Total Time3 hours 15 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 6 People
Author: Ben Racey

Equipment

  • Large Saucepans
  • Microplane/Grater

Ingredients

Bolognese

  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 100 g Pancetta Diced
  • 500 g Beef Mince See Notes
  • 1 Large White Onion Peeled & Finely Diced
  • 2 Carrots Peeled & Finely Diced
  • 2 Sticks Of Celery Finely Diced
  • 4 Cloves Garlic Grated
  • 1 tsp Thyme Leaves Finely Chopped
  • 2 tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 200 ml Red Wine See Notes
  • 400 g Tinned Plum Tomatoes
  • 1 Beef Stock Cube
  • 400 ml Milk
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

To Serve

  • 450 g Dried Spaghetti
  • Parmesan

Instructions

Bolognese

  • Preheat an oven to 140°c/120°c fan (284°f/248°f)
  • Place the veg oil into a large saucepan then set it over a medium-high heat.
  • Let the oil heat up for a minute or so then add in the pancetta. Fry until crispy, stirring regularly then transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon (leave any fat in the pan!).
  • Next, add half of the beef mince into the pan then season with a pinch of salt. Fry until well browned, breaking the mince up with a spatula/spoon as you do so.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the browned mince from the pan & transfer to the pancetta bowl, leaving any fat in the pan. Repeat with the remaining mince.
  • Turn the heat down to medium then add in the diced onion, carrot & celery. Season with a pinch of salt then cook for 4-5 minutes, until soft, stirring frequently. Stir in the grated garlic & chopped thyme then cook for another minute.
  • Add in the tomato paste then cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring almost constantly then stir the mince & pancetta back in.
    Cook the tomato paste until it darkens in colour. This caramelises it, adding extra flavour to our sauce.
  • Pour in the red wine, deglaze the pan then cook for 3-4 minutes, until almost completely reduced.
    To deglaze the pan, scrape the bottom with a spatula/wooden spoon to release any browned bits that are stuck on.
  • Next, add in the tin of tomatoes & the stock cube. Break the tomatoes up with a spoon then fill the empty tin up with cold water & pour into the sauce.
  • Stir in the milk & add in the bay leaves, bring the sauce up to a gentle simmer then season with salt & pepper. Transfer the pan to the oven & cook uncovered, for 2½ – 3 hours until the meat is tender & the sauce has thickened.
    Don't let the sauce boil as the sauce won't emulsify properly. Make sure to give the sauce a stir every 30-45 minutes whilst it's in the oven.
  • Once the sauce is cooked, place it back on the stove over a low heat then stir in the Worcestershire sauce. Give the sauce a taste, to check the seasoning then add more salt & pepper if needed.
  • Take the bolognese off the heat & leave to cool. Transfer to an airtight container then refrigerate overnight before using.

To Serve

  • Bring a large of pan of water to a rolling boil & add in a large pinch of salt. Add in the spaghetti, stir then cook until slightly less than al dente. The best way to do this is to cook for 1 minute less than specified on the packet.
  • Whilst the spaghetti is cooking, place the Bolognese into another large pan & set over a low heat.
    If you only want to reheat a couple of portions, allow 2 tbsp of Bolognese & 75g of dried pasta per portion.
  • Once the spaghetti is cooked, use a pair of tongs to transfer it into the Bolognese. Add a ladle full of pasta water into the sauce then stir, to coat the spaghetti.
  • Leave on the stove for another minute then transfer the pasta into bowls, using a pair of tongs. Top each portion with a generous amount of grated parmesan then serve!

Notes

1. Cooking In An Aga – Brown the meat & cook the veg, using the boiling plate. If the pan gets too hot at any point, move over to the simmering plate. To cook the Bolognese, place the pan of sauce onto the floor of the simmering oven & cook for 3 hours. If the sauce needs thickening up, cook on the boiling plate before stirring in the Worcestershire sauce.
2. Beef – To keep things simple, we’re only using beef mince for our Bolognese. I’d recommend using mince that contains 15-20% fat.
3. Stock Cube – I like to use a Knorr rich beef stock pot but any beef stock cube will work.
4. Tinned Tomatoes – You’ll need one 400g tin of tomatoes for this recipe. I’d recommend using plum tomatoes but chopped will work as well.
5. Chilling Overnight – Letting the Bolognese sit in the fridge overnight before using, massively improves the flavour. Although, if you’re short on time, you can serve the sauce immediately.
6. Red Wine – Don’t worry about using an expensive red wine! A Merlot or Malbec would be a good choice. If you’d prefer to make your Bolognese without red wine, use beef stock instead.

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