My Weeknight Bolognese Sauce (a.k.a. spaghetti with meat sauce) is quick, easy, made with healthy ingredients, and absolutely delicious! It’s equally good on spaghetti squash noodles or regular pasta noodles.
I love this dish because it’s an example of how to turn a comforting classic into a healthy meal. This version skips the milk, and we often serve it on spaghetti squash noodles to make it even healthier. It’s also great on any fresh or dried pasta, too.
This recipe is flexible to meet your nutritional needs:
Serve it on spaghetti squash noodles to make it low-carb, gluten-free, grain-free and Paleo-friendly
Skip the garnish of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to keep it dairy-free (though, Parmigiano Reggiano is naturally lactose-free)
Bolognese Sauce is a long-cooked Italian meat sauce that’s traditionally served on fresh, long-cut pasta. This simplified weeknight version is crazy-delicious and comes together in about 30 minutes, so you can enjoy it any night of the week.
My mom used to call this “spaghetti with meat sauce” and we’d gobble it down every time she made it.
Weeknight Bolognese Sauce Ingredient Tips
Great food starts with great ingredients. Luckily, you can make this sauce with common ingredients that you may already have.
Onion, Carrot, Celery & Garlic
Weeknight Bolognese Sauce sauce starts like many other sauces start: with onion, carrot, and celery sautéed in extra virgin olive oil (called mirepoix in French or sofrito in Italian).
The key trick to this step is to take time to mince (finely chop) the onion, carrot, and celery so that they blend into the meat sauce seamlessly. They also add a lot of veggies to the sauce that don’t even seem to be there! I wait to add the garlic until after the beef is cooked because garlic burns easily.
This is the quick (admittedly Americanized) version of Bolognese that’s easiest to make with ground beef. Traditional Bolognese Sauce is made with beef chuck and pork shoulder that’s braised for 10 or more hours and we’re making a big substitution here with ground beef—and it’s still amazing!
Grass-fed beef is the healthiest, and it’s best to avoid conventional beef because the cows are fed mostly GMO corn. When the grass-fed 90/10 goes on sale at my store I grab a pound at the butcher counter and make this sauce. I prefer the organic 90/10 ground beef here because I don’t drain the sauce, but 80/20 will also work. As always, use what works best for you.
The tomatoes are the key ingredient here. If possible, use a large can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes, which are an Italian variety and a little less acidic than most tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes elevate your Weeknight Bolognese Sauce from pretty great to “OMG-this-is-incredible.” They cost a little more, but it’s totally worth it!
If you can’t find crushed tomatoes, you can use whole, peeled tomatoes and crush them with a potato masher or give them a few pulses in a food processor first. Or, if in a pinch, you can even just use two (15-ounce) cans of tomato sauce. Again, do what works best for you.
Italian seasoning is typically a blend of dried thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano, and marjoram. This is another quick and easy ingredient that makes Weeknight Bolognese Sauce a breeze.
Since this recipe is the quick and easy version, using a dry spice blend helps you make it fast. But, if you happen to have fresh herbs on hand, feel free to throw a few tablespoons of chopped thyme, rosemary, or basil in along with the dried seasoning.
Also, check your spices often! They do expire and lose flavor over time. I prefer spices and blends that don’t contain fillers, preservatives, or anti-caking agents (Savory Spice Shop and Thrive Market both have great versions).
Here’s where you can customize your Weeknight Bolognese Sauce. A few grates of fresh nutmeg after you add the tomatoes adds a traditional, elevated flavor to the sauce if you happen to have it. And, if you happen to have some wine open, a 1/2 cup of dry white or red wine added right before the tomatoes to deglaze the pan adds another layer of flavor (add it before the tomatoes and let it cook down 3-4 minutes if using).
Weeknight Bolognese Sauce Garnish
This sauce is perfect as-is! If you have some fresh basil or parsley, chop it up and sprinkle it on top. Also, did you know that real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is lactose-free and healthy?! Read all about it here. I mostly avoid dairy but love having some real Parmigiano Reggiano on top of Weeknight Bolognese Sauce.
Choosing Your Noodles
As I mentioned above, we love to serve this on spaghetti squash, especially as a mid-week meal. (Click here for my spaghetti squash noodles tutorial—it’s easy!). If you choose the spaghetti squash noodles, you’ll want to think ahead a bit because the squash needs to roast about 40 minutes. You can also do this a day ahead, store it covered in the fridge, and use a fork to pull the “noodles” out of the squash the next day.
If I make it on the weekends or for friends I like to choose a long-cut pasta such as pappardelle or spaghetti, but honestly, it’s great on short-cut pasta like penne or fusilli, too.
Weeknight Bolognese Sauce is a family favorite and comes together in about half an hour. If using this with spaghetti squash noodles, think ahead a bit as the squash needs to roast for about 40 minutes. Start your squash or pasta water before you begin making the sauce if you plan to eat right away. If you love it, please leave a star rating in the comments below to help other readers in our community.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small (or 1/2 large) onion, minced
1 medium to large carrot, minced
1 large stalk of celery, minced
1 pound ground beef (preferably 90/10 and grass-fed)
2 cloves garlic, minced, grated, or pressed
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 (28-ounce) can or box of crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 small can of tomato sauce (5-ounce can, or use a 14-ounce can if desired)
Sea salt: about 1 tablespoon, divided, more or less to taste
freshly ground black pepper, about 8 spins (1/4 teaspoon)
optional: 2 tablespoons high-quality red wine, if you have some open
optional: a few grates of fresh nutmeg, if you happen to have some
Optional Garnish: freshly grated (real) Parmigiano Reggiano and/or chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley
Note: The sauce takes about 30 minutes total. If using right away, boil a large pot of water when you start making the sauce for the pasta, or prepare your spaghetti squash noodles (or anything you plan to eat with this) in advance. Always salt the water with 2 tablespoons of salt before adding pasta to boiling water.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the minced onion, celery, carrot, and a big pinch of salt and saute over medium heat until very soft but not brown, about 7-8 minutes. Push the veggies to the side of the pan and move that side of the pan off slightly off your burner (or remove to a plate if you think they’ll burn or if they start to brown too much).
Turn the heat to high and wait a minute, then add the ground beef, not moving it for a few minutes so it starts to brown on the bottom. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon into very small pieces as it cooks, and cook until it’s no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
Turn the heat down to medium, stir the veggies into the meat, then add the garlic, Italian seasoning, 2 teaspoons of sea salt, and a few spins of freshly ground black pepper (and a bay leaf if you have one). Cook 3-4 minutes until the garlic is very fragrant.
Add the crushed tomatoes and can of tomato sauce and continue to cook over medium-low heat for another 10 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. It should lightly simmer but not boil. If you have time, simmer up to 30 minutes. If using, add a few grates of nutmeg when you add the tomatoes. Serve over any pasta you love, or on top of spaghetti squash noodles. Add a few grates of real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and/or chopped basil, if desired.
Note: this sauce is awesome right out of the pan, and is one of those dishes that gets even better overnight in the fridge. To make ahead: use a 6-quart Dutch oven or pot, allow to come to room temperature, cover with a lid and set in the fridge. Heat the next day and serve. Keeps in an airtight glass container in the fridge 3-4 days. Freezes well up to 3 months.
Keywords: Bolognese Sauce, spaghetti with meat sauce, red meat sauce