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Our best bolognaise sauce recipe

spaghettii bolognaiseI love pasta. Danny was so so for years.

When we visit Italy I am keen to sample as many of their sauces and starters as possible – looking for secrets and hints for the ultimate pasta sauce recipe. Danny sticks to steaks and puds.
“They’re the same price and I love steak.”
Danny is Chief Taster back home so he leaves the R and D to me when we are on holiday.

We haven’t eaten spaghetti bolognaise for ages.  So yesterday I thought I’d try and make a sauce with less meat. Cheaper? Yes. But I was aiming to create something that was much better than the average UK bolognaise sauce. We’ve discovered that cutting back drastically on the weekly spend does not mean we have to eat cardboard. In fact, we’re eating better, tastier meals that just cost less. This has been a revelation.

I’ve also twigged that if you are going to play with a recipe it’s better to create it the night before. There have been too many evenings that I’ve had to wake Danny to sample my recipe. Always when he’s brushed his teeth and gone to bed with a slice of bread and a hottie.

Sally left a comment on my blog that has haunted me. She writes the superb Casalba blog, lives in Italy and clearly loves to cook and eat. So the combination of vegetables must be good.
”You can make a pasta sauce: chopped onions, courgettes, carrots and celery fried until soft in olive oil. Add chopped tomatoes (tinned ones are fine also) and a good vegetable stock. Simmer for much longer than you think. I make this in very large batches then freeze in portions.”

I dilly dallied. This sauce would have to be very tasty for Danny’s approval. So I decided to add a little meat – 20% meat to 80% vegetables. I also left out the carrots as we had none. As D was on a motorway somewhere between Reading and Cheveley he wouldn’t know what was in the sauce. On his return he buzzed around the casserole, snacking and stirring. In the end I came clean and he was amazed that the dish contained so little meat.

There are a few secrets here. The mushroom ketchup, anchovy essence and balsamic vinegar all add a meaty depth. But the key ingredient is the humble courgette.

Scorned by us for years as insipid, we discovered that it transmogrifies into something much racier than its virgin self when added to shepherd’s pie, cottage pie and this spaghetti sauce.

The tomatoes, celery and peppers add a delicate sweetness because they were sweated for at least 30 minutes to enhance their individual joie de vivre. The result was a delicate sauce to die for, with a rich spectrum of flavours. This is a supper dish that I’d happily serve at a dinner party.

After supper tonight Danny announced.
“I’d happily eat this once a week and look forward to it.”
He crossed the sitting room and suddenly headed back. His head appeared in the door frame.
“In fact I’d happily eat pasta twice a week, with this sauce.”
Thank you Sally. You are a star.

Best bolognaise sauce recipe for eight hungry people with seconds


  • 2 tblsp of virgin olive oil
  • 250g of sliced onions
  • 20g of garlic crushed and chopped
  • 1 kilo of courgette, peeled and cored of seeds
  • 400g of tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 4 sticks of celery sliced very fine
  • 250g of red Romano peppers chopped (if you can only find bell peppers double the amount
  • 2 ts of mixed Italian herbs
  • 2 tsp of vegetable stock powder
  • 700g  jar of passatta
  • 2 tblsp of mushroom ketchup
  • 1 tsp of anchovy paste
  • Lashings of ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar (this takes away the tinny taste of the tomatoes)
  • 450g of minced beef
  • Heel of parmesan (it doesn’t matter how old this is, it adds exceptional flavour)


  1. Prepare all your vegetables.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed  saucepan or casserole. Add the onions and sweat for 10 minutes until they turn opaque. Add the garlic and stir well. Add the celery, courgette, peppers, tomatoes and stir well.
  3. Add the passatta and herbs, stock powder, anchovy paste, garlic, brown sugar and parmesan heel.
  4. Simmer very gently (lid on) until the vegetables are soft (this could take an hour).
  5. When the vegetables are soft add the mince. You can brown it in a frying pan – I did this last night but reckon this isn’t important (I wanted to pour off the fat). Our mince had more meat juices than fat so I tossed everything into the mix. Bring back to a very low simmering point and leave for at least another hour. Definitely worth the wait.
  6. Serve with a little fresh basil and grated parmesan.

  Leave a reply


  1. That’s one great looking recipe for bolognaise style sauce. My secret is to use really good quality sausages instead of the mince. I just get rid of the sausage skins and use the sausage meat. As it is already seasoned it adds so much extra depth and of course you can try out all different kinds of sausages.

  2. I make the meat go further by using my stick blender and the blades in the bowl. It chops the carrot into tiny pieces that once fried with the onions and cooked into the sauce.. I think you would be hard pressed to notice that there is very little meat in there at all.

    I’m just reading your posts for the past 3 weeks! No internet for 3 weeks…?!?!?!

  3. Im really glad to find a recipe with so much zucchini (courgette) in it & so little meat.

    I grow zucchini every year, and am always swamped by them.
    This sauce looks like it will freeze well, looks like it mught be the star of batch cooking this summer.

    I am already planning to use it in a lasagna.

  4. samantha winter

    It sounds yummy, I’ll add it to my list of things to try for next week – oh, does that sound orgnaised? 🙂

  5. Oh my! I logged on for a chicken update and found I was centre stage! Thank you for the link. I think your additions of balsamic vinegar and anchovy paste are excellent ideas.

  6. I only have 2 raised beds for growing veg, but come the summer months I always have far too many courgettes to be eaten day on day ( they become a bit boring more than a couple of times a week) and a glut of tomatoes when all the grow bags scattered round the garden start yeilding their bumper crops.
    I use all/ most of my courgettes and tomatoes to make a pasta sauce very similar to this and freeze it.
    I use fresh tomatoes ( skinned and chopped) courgettes ( even the ones i have missed and got to near marrow sized) diced, loads of onion, olive oil, black pepper, red wine, some finely chopped smoked bacon ( this actually dissolves in the sauce), stock made from chicken or vegetable knorr stock powder, garlic and fresh herbs out of the garden, and a tube of tomato puree,
    basically just chucked together in a pot and simmered for about 2 hours.
    I then divide this up into ‘portion’ size pots and in the freezer.
    Its a good base ( as it is or blitzd) for all italian sauces, soups, ratatoue, even shephards pies or casserole.
    Also whilst i remeber theres a brilliant recipe for your end of season ‘green’ tomatoes, which is for xmas mincemeat, I made a huge batch of this 2 yrs ago laced with loads of brandy and I still have a kilner jar full that is fine to use now.
    Just it makes a change from the ‘green tomato chutney’ everyone tells you to make with all those stubborn green ones at the end of the season.

  7. My husband sounds exactly like Danny – every main course must have meat or fish somewhere. As we are trying to buy organic meat wherever possible, this is becoming rather an expensive business, so your recipe will definitely be featuring in our house over the next few days. I wonder if my picky children will notice all the veggies though?!

  8. Sharon J

    I’m forever tweaking my recipes so I shall try adding courgettes and balsamic vinegar to my spag bol next time I make it. I usually add some oats too just for a bit of extra padding and fibre.

  9. Made by Cara

    What a gorgeous recipe 😀 I’ve always cooked Spag Bol with little meat – a trick I learnt from my dad years ago. No one has ever commented on how little meat there is, particularly if there is a wonderful sprinkling of Grand Padano on top (cheaper than Parmigiano-Reggiano). I only found your blog a short while ago, but I’m loving it.

  10. Jo Corless

    This is very similar to the way I’ve cooked Spag Bol sauce for years – It also makes a fantastic sauce to go with meatballs – leave the meat out of the sauce and blitz it when its finished cooking

    To make the meatballs use 1/2 beef/ 1/2 pork mince with some breadcrumbs, few italian herbs (I tend to use a basic shop bought mix with some extra Oregano), an egg to bind and an onion chopped finely and softened in a little oil first – form into meatballs, roll in seasoned flour and then fry off to seal – place in a ovenproof dish – a flat lasagne one is good and pour over the sauce – bake in the oven for about an hour until the meatballs are cooked through – serve with whatever pasta you fancy – we usually go for tagliatelle or its even good with mashed potatoes

    A veggie alternative to meatballs is to make sage and onion stuffing balls or use sosmix and bulk it out as before – Actually I’ve a veggie friend coming tomorrow night – think I’ll do that for tea

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