Ragù Alla Bolognese, Ragù Alla Napoletana
(Bolognese and Neapolitan Pasta Sauces)

While "Bolognese" is undoubtedly the most popular ragù in America, it is also the most misunderstood. What is usually served under that name is a tomato sauce with pea-like bits of ground beef floating in it, bearing little resemblance to anything one would find in Bologna, and not a true ragù. True Ragù Alla Bolognese is not ground beef swimming it tomato sauce, but rather a thick, flavorful mixture of meat, onions, carrots, celery, meat broth, wine, Pancetta, prosciutto crudo, mortadella, mushrooms, and only a tiny amount of tomato paste or tomatoes. White wine is traditionally used, not red. The sauce takes its color primarily from the meat, not from tomatoes. In other words, do not look for a proper Bolognese sauce in a can of Campbell's or Boyardee, or at some Italian chain restaurant.

True Ragù Alla Bolognese contains little or no tomato sauce — just enough fresh or canned tomato to add a hint of sweetness and another layer of flavor to a subtle, complex mix. Like all ragùs, Bolognese is characterized by its long, slow cooking (4-8 hours of simmering).

Ragù Alla Bolognese and Ragù Alla Napoletana share a common foundation in that they are both made from soffritto (sautéed minced vegetables), meat, and some amount of tomatoes. The differences lie in the amount of tomatoes (Bolognese has little or none, while Napoletana has lots), and in how the meats are used (Bolognese uses very finely chopped meat, while Napoletana can use the whole meat). Ragù Alla Napoletana uses much more onion in the soffritto than Bolognese. Preferences for ingredients also differ: red wine, lard or olive oil, and lots of basil leaves in Ragù Alla Napoletana; white wine and little herbs in Ragù Alla Bolognese. Ragù Alla Napoletana can also contain raisins and pine nuts.

In Italy, Ragù Alla Bolognese is typically served not with spaghetti but with tagliatelle (Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese or simply Tagliatelle al Ragù). Spaghetti is typically served with tomato sauce (Spaghetti al Pomodoro) or with Ragù Alla Napoletana, which has tomato sauce and thus clings much better to slippery spaghetti than Bolognese would.

Neither one of these two sauces are are a last-minute recipe. The longer and slower the ragù cooks the better. One version of the Ragù Alla Napoletana is called "Ragù Guardaporta" (Doorman's Ragù) because only a doorman would have the time to sit and watch a sauce simmer for 6-8 hours!

icon Bolognese Meat Sauce
(Ragù Alla Bolognese)

from Pierluigi Corradini
  • 300 g (2/3 lb) ground beef
  • 150 g (1/3 lb) ground pancetta (cured and spiced Italian bacon)
    If not available use 1/2 lb pork and 1/2 lb beef
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 carrot, chopped fine
  • 1 celery rib, chopped fine
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 28-to-32 oz can whole tomatoes including juice
  • Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Prepare the soffritto: in large heavy saucepan heat oil and butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides and sauté onion, carrot, and celery, stirring 2 minutes.
  2. When the vegetables are wilted add the ground meat and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Add milk and nutmeg and cook, stirring, until most milk is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is evaporated, another 10 minutes.
  3. In a blender or food processor coarsely purée tomatoes with juice and stir into sauce.
  4. Cook sauce at a bare simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 4-6 hours hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve with tagliatelle (long, flat ribbons that are similar in shape to fettuccine but wider, originating in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy).

icon Neapolitan Meat Sauce
(Ragù Alla Napoletana)
  • 50 g (2 oz) pancetta or guanciale
  • 100 g (3 1/2 oz) prosciutto crudo
  • 50 g (2 oz) bacon
  • 800 g (1 3/4 lb) pork roast or ribs
  • 400 g (3/4 lb) double or triple tomato concentrate
  • 150 g (1/3 lb) onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup dry red wine (optionally sweet white wine)
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp raisins
  • 1 stick cinnamon, optional
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Grind very finely the prosciutto, bacon and pancetta. A very fine grind is needed; no chunk should exceed the size of a small green pea.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot with a thick bottom and add the ground meat. Brown the medium heat for about 10 minutes, then add the chopped onions, garlick and parsley.
  3. Tie some of the pancetta around the roast with a string. Once the onion is soft, add the pig roast. Brown the roast on all sides.
  4. Increase the heat to high. Add the wine gradually, making sure you don't cool down the sauce too much. Wait until the wine is almost completely evaporated before adding more. This first phase takes about 2 hours.
  5. Now starts the most important part of this recipe. Gradually add tomato concentrate 2 tbsp at a time, and let it become very dark under the high heat before adding any more. This operation gives the tomato a unique caramelized taste. The sauce should have a dark burgundy color.
  6. Add two cups water, pine nuts, raisins, basil mix well and let the ragù simmer on the lowest flame for at least an hour but up to 7 hours if you can. Make sure there is enough water to prevent sticking, and mix regularly. This process will make a smooth, magical mix out of all the ingredients, resulting in a tomato sauce unlike any you have ever tasted. Definitely worth doing right.
  7. In Naples, some people add a stick of cinammon, or replace the red wine by a sweet white wine.
  8. Serve typically with spaghetti. One interesting combination is serving it with Strangolapretti (Priest-chokers), small potato-and-flour gnocchi (dumplings). See our Dumpling Page for recipe.

icon Emeril's Bolognese Sauce
from Emeril Lagasse
Here is a Creole version of "Bolognese" sauce from New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse. It is good, but definitely not true to the traditional recipe from Bologna, and probably closer to the Neapolitan version.


  • 10 oz turkey bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 1/2 lb ground buffalo
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp creole seasoning
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups small onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 quart beef broth
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt


  1. In a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven, cook bacon until golden brown. Remove from pan, to a paper towel-lined plate. Add the buffalo, turkey and pork and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until brown.
  2. In the same pot, add olive oil, onions, carrot, celery and Creole seasoning. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and slightly caramelized.
  3. Add the minced garlic and white wine and cook until the wine has reduced. Add the tomato paste, cook for another 8 minutes then add the evaporated milk and cook briefly. Add the reserved bacon and browned meats and stir to combine.
  4. Add the tomatoes (with juices), beef broth, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook until sauce is thick and flavors have come together, about 45 minutes longer. Season with salt.

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Last updated: October 12, 2010
Photograph of Ragu alla Napoletana from Wikikedia Commons
used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.