Spaghetti with pork bolognese has to be one of the all time most comforting foods. It reminds me of Sunday suppers growing up in a large Italian family where everyone would gather at my grandmother's house for dinner. It has wonderful memories and tastes so good.
What is the difference between a bolognese and a meat sauce?
A traditional bolognese is less of a meat sauce and more a meat ragu (ragu alla bolognese) with finely diced carrots, celery, garlic, meat and just a touch of tomatoes (or tomato paste) to hold it all together. It is also cooked with milk and wine giving it a beautiful rich background note.
A meat sauce is going to be a larger amount of tomato sauce and not necessarily with carrots and celery (although some people make their meat sauce this way.)
Over the years, after many Italian families arrived here in the U.S., this changed to more of a meat sauce (marinara and meat). This pork bolognese sauce recipe is inspired by the traditional version not the Italian American one. It is just so delicious!
Now, I am not a big fan of celery so I have left it out of my recipe. I promise you this bolognese will be every bit as amazing as one you would get at a restaurant and this sauce does not need that celery!
What type of meat are you supposed to use in a bolognese sauce?
A bolognese sauce can be made with so many different types of meat and you will usually see it made with ground beef. This pork bolognese sauce recipe is one of my favorite ways to cook a bolognese sauce. Once you try a bolognese with pork, you will know why I love it so much.
With a pork bolognese sauce, there is a more delicate and rich flavor that the pork imparts. To me it tastes more like the all day Sunday sauces so many Italian mothers and grandmothers would make.
The only difference is this recipe will not take all day, only about 30 minutes and it achieves the same great flavor as an all day sauce.
Now don't get me wrong, I do love beef with marinara as well. That is why one of my favorite dishes is pasta with homemade Italian meatballs which is made with beef. It is just for this dish, pork is definitely my favorite.
The ingredients for this pork bolognese sauce recipe are very simple:
- Whole canned tomatoes (San Marzano preferably). If you cannot find San Marzano tomatoes then look for canned Italian Peeled Tomatoes.
- Garlic- very finely chopped.
- Carrots- this actually adds a bit of sweetness to the sauce. Italians add carrots to many sauces.
- Meat- We use ground pork in this recipe.
- Olive oil- Try to use extra virgin olive oil.
- Red pepper flakes- this adds a little body to the sauce but no heat.
- Nutmeg- this is a classic ingredient in a traditional bolognese sauce.
- Cream- The cream helps add richness to the recipe.
- Milk- Helps again with creaminess.
- Salt and pepper- This one is per the recipe and then tasting at the end to see if you want to add more.
- Red wine- Traditional bolognese sauces use white wine but since we are working with a leaner meat, ground pork, we are adding in a bit more flavor with red wine.
- Spaghetti- Try to find a good brand of pasta. Cheap pasta is never worth it.
You can even add your own touches to the ingredients like I did here with the addition of some zoodles (zucchini spiral noodles). It is a great way to add some nutrients to your pasta.
The Best Tomatoes For This Bolognese Sauce:
One of the ingredients that is preferable in making this sauce is San Marzano tomatoes. You have probably already heard of these or at least seen them in the grocery store.
True San Marzano tomatoes are those that are imported from Italy. The tomatoes are grown in the San Marzano region of Italy and they do have a much better flavor than many tomatoes that are grown elsewhere. It is my favorite tomato to use for my tomato soup as well!
Some people say this is because of the soil makeup of the San Marzano region. That region is very fertile and located near Mt. Vesuvius where the volcanic activity has helped give a different makeup to the land. These tomatoes have a much sweeter and less bitter flavor.
You will sometimes see people add sugar to their tomatoes and sometimes that may be necessary, especially if you find that your tomatoes are not sweet and too acidic in flavor. Ideally, you want to avoid adding sugar to the sauce and make sure you invest a few extra cents in a better quality tomato!
Preparing your tomatoes ready for the sauce:
One of the great ways to make sure you have a smoother sauce is to pour your tomatoes into a large bowl and with your clean hand, reach in to the bowl and gently squeeze each tomato until it falls apart.
Once you have done this, go ahead and reach your hand into the bowl again and take fist fulls of the tomatoes and squeeze them until the tomatoes are completely broken up and there are no large pieces left.
When that is done, you can pour your tomatoes into your pan.
If you are in a rush, you can certainly add your Whole San Marzano tomatoes into the sauce and mash them down while in the pan.
Another tip that I found over the years to make a much better homemade sauce is to slice your garlic really thin; as thin as absolutely possible. Cutting your garlic paper thin does two things.
First it actually helps release the juice in the garlic. The other thing it does is it will infuse into your sauce much easier this way, opposed to just mincing it.
Now, if you are looking to pull off the entire Italian restaurant style dinner, these recipes are great to serve with your bolognese:
- Olive oil and parmesan bread goes so well with the bolognese and it starts with store bought bread. Even our garlic and tomato rubbed crostini would be great! So easy and always impresses!
- A great side dish would be spinach with crispy pancetta! This is a classic that is always so delicious with a bolognese or as a side for other meals.
- For a quick Italian salad, this spinach and mushroom salad will be a hit. Very simple ingredients and very fresh. This one can act as a vegetable side and a salad.
Tips and ideas for this Pork Bolognese Recipe:
Freezing your bolognese sauce:
This bolognese sauce can be doubled to make leftovers or used as a freezer meal for a later time. If you want to freeze the sauce, just let the sauce come to room temperature and then place it in a freezer proof container or bag and place in the freezer for up to a month.
Thawing is as simple as placing it in the refrigerator the day before you need to use it and then gently reheat and add to some pasta.
Substituting the meat in this bolognese:
This recipe calls for ground pork and we love it that way but we also use this recipe to make a traditional bolognese with ground beef. If you want to use ground beef for this recipe just follow all the steps the same way.
It comes out just as amazing. We recommend using a leaner ground beef for the recipe like a 90/10 mix because this recipe is all about reducing liquids. Too much grease makes it hard to reduce the liquids down.
Whatever you decide, I hope you give this bolognese pasta a try and it becomes a favorite in your house like it is in mine!
Spaghetti with Pork Bolognese Sauce
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 lb dried spaghetti the best quality. I like to use DeCecco brand
- 1 28 oz can of whole San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 cup finely chopped carrots
- 1 cup good quality dry red wine optional
- ½ cup whole milk
- ¼ cup heavy cream (you can substitute whole milk if you do not have cream) if you do not have heavy cream you can substitute with ¼ cup of milk
- 5 cloves of garlic sliced as thin as possible Try for almost paper thin if you can making sure to cut the garlic slowly so you do not cut yourself.
- 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil best quality you can find
- 1 tbsp salt plus more to taste
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter optional
- ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp of crushed red pepper flakes
- In a large pot over medium heat, add your olive oil, red pepper flakes, carrots and garlic and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until the carrots begin to soften.
- Now add your ground pork and break up into small pieces and brown all the way through.
- Next add all of your wine and cook until the wine completely evaporates and gets absorbed into the meat.
- Once your wine is cooked out completely, add your milk and cream and nutmeg and cook until the cream mixture evaporates and is absorbed completely into the meat.
- With a fork, scoop out your tomatoes from the can and place them on a cutting board. Save the juice.
- Dice the tomatoes and add them to the pan.
- Now add the remaining juice from the can into the pan and mix well.
- Next, add 1 tbsp of salt and mix well.
- Cover with a tight fitting lid and turn down heat down to low and allow to gently simmer for at least 20 minutes, 30 is even better.
- Now go ahead and add your tbsp of butter and gently mix that into the sauce. This is optional
- Taste for seasoning and see if it needs any salt.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove.
- When the water is boiling salt it well and add your spaghetti. Follow the instructions on the box of spaghetti for cooking just to al dente.
- Once the pasta if cooked drain the pasta and place it back into the pot.
- Add 1 ladle of the red sauce to the pasta and mix well to prevent it from sticking to itself.
- You can plate this family style by placing your pasta in a large platter style bowl and scooping out 1-2 ladles of meat sauce over top of the pasta.
- Toss the pasta that you ladled and the pasta together so the pasta does not stick.
- Serve this with the remaining pasta sauce and freshly grated Parmesan on the side.