Italian cuisine is known for its richness, variety, and of course, sauces!
Since Italian cuisine and pasta go hand in hand, it is almost impossible to not mention Bolognese and Ragu sauce in one breath.
This Italian gem has been a fan favorite for centuries and is the cornerstone of many popular Italian recipes.
But what is the difference between Ragu and Bolognese? Bolognese is a type of ragu sauce. Both have a lot of similarities but vary in how they are prepared and used. They also have different key ingredients. For example, Ragu is made using red wine while Bolognese uses dry white wine.
Read below to learn more about the differences between the two, how they are prepared, how to use them, and some storage tips!
Bolognese sauce comes from Bologna, Italy. It was invented in the 15th century and has since seen numerous tweaks and enhancements—all of which have been for the better!
Unlike tomato-based sauces, Bolognese sauce is primarily a meat-based sauce. Yes, you read that right!
This is a common misconception among many. Bolognese sauce is primarily made using meat and has very little tomato sauce in it.
The sauce itself is made with a combination of meat, vegetables, herbs, spices, wine, broth, and much more.
It is the perfect example of how Italian cuisine can bring discrete ingredients together in a way that creates something greater than the individual parts!
Bolognese sauce is extremely versatile and pairs well with carb-laden ingredients like pasta—and we wouldn’t judge you if you wanted to have it with aromatic rice either!
Also, there are many ways to make Bolognese sauce. Some people claim to make this sauce differently every time, and it still turns out great!
The reason for this is that Bolognese sauce relies heavily on meat and seasonings. So, you can change up the secondary ingredients any way you like without affecting the quality or flavor of the core recipe!
So where does Ragu fit into all of this?
Remember when we said that Bolognese has multiple variations? Well, Bolognese itself is a variation of Ragu!
By definition, Ragu is any Italian meat sauce cooked using meat, herbs, spices, wine, and of course, a bit of tomato.
The sauce is not to be confused with the American brand, “Ragù”, which sells authentic Italian sauces. If anything, this is a great testament to how popular and important ragu is in Italian and international cuisine!
Again, ragu isn’t a tomato-based sauce as is erroneously believed by many. It is first and foremost a meat sauce that comes in many, many variations and even sub-variations.
Perhaps, the best example of its most popular variation is, you guessed it, Bolognese!
But it is important to note that while Bolognese is a Ragu sauce, it is still different in subtle ways.
Of course, both bear many similarities and, in many cases, either one can be used interchangeably. However, a few small differences are what make Ragu and Bolognese so different and unique.
Here is a breakdown of the differences in both sauces:
|Sauce||Bolognese Sauce||Ragu Sauce|
|Flavor||Meaty, and rich flavor with the tanginess from tomatoes and umami flavorings.||Meaty, creamy, rich, and savory flavor with umami undertones.|
|Ingredients||Meat, vegetables, broth, pureed tomatoes, herbs, and spices with white wine.||Meat, vegetables, broth, heavy cream, pureed tomatoes, herbs, and spices with red wine.
|Uses||Wider shaped pasta, lasagna||Spaghetti or any pasta.|
|Texture||Thick Sauce.||Slightly thicker than Bolognese.|
|Popularity||Known world-wide.||Equally famous but made more popular by the “Ragù” brand.|
|Origin||Bologna, Italy.||Emilia-Romagna, Italy.|
|Method of Cooking||Slow-cooked and simmered for 4-6 hours.||Slow-cooked and simmered for 4-6 hours.|
|Color||Light brown, light red.||Light brown, light red.|
Ragu contains almost all of the ingredients used in making Bolognese and vice versa. However, there are a few differences.
First, Bolognese sauces use dry white wine to deglaze the pot and to help flavor the meat and sauce. On the other hand, ragu uses dry red wine that similarly adds a distinct flavor to the sauce as well.
Additionally, ragu sauce is known to be a generic meat sauce that has a thicker consistency while Bolognese sauce is the go-to for lasagna, as it is not too thick nor too thin. It perfectly sits over the pasta without creating a messy puddle.
Realistically speaking, these differences don’t mean much, especially when we talk about the flavor of the sauce.
As mentioned, there are many regional differences between the two sauces which further blur the line between the two.
For example, you can freely add heavy cream or whole milk to both Bolognese sauce and ragu sauce. The key to understanding both sauces is to consider them as one type of sauce but with variations!
There is no hard and fast rule about using either a certain way. Both sauces can either be tweaked or used as is in a range of recipes without adding much difference.
People with highly trained palettes may be able to discern the subtle variations in both sauces, but when it comes to the masses, both sauces taste just about the same!
How To Make Ragu Sauce
To further help you understand how both are different and the same, we must delve a bit deeper and look at how each sauce is made.
We’ll start with a classic Ragu sauce recipe that will knock the socks off anyone!
This recipe perfectly encapsulates what Ragu sauce is all about and is also a great example of how simple variations in the sauce can make all the difference!
Don’t be dissuaded by the number of ingredients! Once you get the hang of it, this will be the only Ragu sauce recipe you will ever need!
- 34 oz homemade or store-bought chicken stock
- 1-1 1/2 ounces powdered gelatin
- 1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
- 1/2 pound finely minced chicken livers
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef chuck (about 20% fat)
- 1 pound ground pork shoulder (about 20% fat)
- 1 pound ground lamb shoulder (about 20% fat)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 pound finely diced pancetta
- 1 large onion, finely minced
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 4 stalks of celery, finely chopped
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup minced fresh sage leaves
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
- Preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Add gelatin to chicken stock and set aside.
- Pour out the canned tomatoes in a bowl and puree them until smooth using an immersion blender.
- Clean the immersion blender and then use it to puree the chicken liver.
- Begin cooking by heating olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the ground beef, pork, and lamb. Add salt and pepper to the combination of meat and cook them over medium heat. Stir and break apart the meat using a spoon.
- Cook the meat for about 12 minutes or until all of the meat is gray and doesn’t have a pink hue. Once done, remove the cooked meat from the heat and then mix in the chicken liver. Give everything a good mixture and let the puree liver cook using the residual heat.
- In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat and immediately add the pancetta.
- Cook the pancetta for about 9 minutes or until the fat has been rendered. Now, add the chopped onions, celery, garlic, carrots, parsley, and sage. Mix everything and cook for 10 minutes.
- Move everything into the heavy-bottomed pot with the meat. Now turn on the heat and cook the mixture for about 10 more minutes using a high flame. Cook until almost all the water has been evaporated.
- Deglaze the pot using red wine (pour in red wine) and cook until the mixture has been reduced. Then add the stock along with the tomatoes, bay leaves, and milk. Add a bit of salt and pepper to season the mixture.
- Turn up the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 3-5 minutes. Then move the pot to the oven without the lid. Keep the pot in the middle rack so that it gets adequate heat without broiling.
- Cook the mixture for about 4 hours. Occasionally stir the pot after every 30-45 minutes.
- Once almost fully reduced, remove the pot from the oven and finish it off on the stove. Make sure that you reduce the mixture until you see a layer of fat on top, without water. You can either remove some of the fat using a ladle or keep most of it for that rich, heavy flavor and texture!
- Stir in heavy cream, finely shredded parmesan, and fish or oyster sauce.
- Garnish with leftover parsley and bring the mixture to a boil and stir it occasionally until everything is homogenous. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
If you want the best Bolognese sauce recipe. Then all you have to do is copy the above recipe and tweak a few things like using white wine or reducing the dairy altogether.
You can even make the Bolognese sauce to be dairy-free!
Here’s a great example of an extremely forgiving and easy Bolognese sauce that can be tweaked and adjusted in infinite ways.
This plain and basic version will provide you with a robust foundation that you can use to totally own the recipe as per your liking!
- 2 pork sausages
- olive oil
- 500 g lean beef mince
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 large carrot
- 1 stick of celery
- 1 courgette
- 2 tablespoons thick balsamic vinegar
- 2 x 400 g tins of plum tomatoes
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pan with olive oil and add the minced meat along with the squeezed pork sausage meat. Cook everything over medium heat until the meat starts to turn gray.
- On the side, prepare the vegetables by grating them using a box grater. Finely chop the garlic and onions and add everything into the pot. Cook for 3-5 minutes and then deglaze the pot using white wine.
- Cook everything for about 12-15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent. Do not overcook or burn the mixture!
- Add vinegar and stir. Now add the tomatoes by pureeing them in the tin using an immersion blender.
- Fill each tin halfway with clean water and swirl it around to get all of the pureed tomatoes and add it to the pot. Reduce everything over medium heat and cook for about 15 minutes.
- Season the mixture with salt and black pepper and cook the mixture for about 2-3 hours or until the water has almost evaporated.
- When the mixture has a thin layer of fat over it, turn off the heat and remove it from the stove! Mix with your favorite pasta along with a heap full of grated parmesan cheese and enjoy!
Both sauces can be enjoyed with parmesan and both of the recipes can be used interchangeably as well. We wanted a thorough and detailed recipe for ragu as it provides a strong foundation for every type of meat sauce.
This way, you can tweak the ingredients in the Ragu recipe and make your very own Bolognese sauce variation!
Both Bolognese and Ragu sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to 2-3 days at 40°F. You can also freeze the sauces by moving them into a freezer-safe, airtight bag or container (these ones are our favorite).
The sauce will remain edible for up to 2-3 months. Simply thaw in the refrigerator overnight!
A great tip to store the sauce is to flatten the bag once full to create stacks of sauce without taking up extra space!
Enjoy both these sauces with your favorite pasta and remember, Ragu and Bolognese may have similarities but they can become so much more if you use just a little bit of imagination!
Now that you know the differences between Ragu and Bolognese, here are some great related questions!
Is pesto sauce and ragu sauce the same?
No, Pesto sauce is great for pasta just like ragu sauce but their difference lies in the preparation and ingredients that go into making each type of sauce.
Ragu sauce is a meat-based sauce while pesto usually does not contain any meat and is traditionally made using basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, heavy cream, spices, and herbs.
Can Bolognese be made without meat or dairy?
While Bolognese is primarily a meat-based sauce, there are several vegetarian-based variations for this recipe too!
Bolognese can be made using simple ingredients but with the notable addition of meat-substituting vegetables.
Different types of vegetables like cauliflower and mushrooms can be added to cover the absence of meat in the recipe. There are several online recipes that you can follow to make dairy-free and meat-free Bolognese and ragu sauce too!
Is marinara sauce and Bolognese the same?
No, marinara sauce is a tomato-based sauce that is cooked using simple ingredients and does not contain meat.
While there are some varieties of marinara that contain ground meat, it is largely different from Bolognese which is a meat-based sauce with larger quantities of meat.
Marinara is also considered to be a very thin sauce when compared to the thicker classic Bolognese sauce.
If you’re interested in not only making your own Bolognese but also pasta from scratch, here’s a great video from the folks over at Babish Culinary Universe!