Weeknight Cooking

Shortcut Bolognese Cuts Time but Not Flavor

With a few shortcut techniques, your bolognese can taste big and savory in half the time.

Published Oct. 13, 2022.

Bolognese is a rich, velvety, Italian meat sauce that traditionally gently simmers for hours.

That time works to meld the flavors of multiple meats, sautéed vegetables, broth, wine, often milk, and a touch of tomato paste into a silky, savory sauce. 

It is considered a “project meal”—and while we never shy away from a cooking project, there isn’t always time for one. 

With this in mind, Cook’s Illustrated Senior Editor Annie Petito aimed to create a weeknight-friendly, shortcut bolognese that didn't come up short on flavor.  

And did it in half the time.

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Annie wanted to avoid the pitfalls of many quick bolognese recipes that reduce the types of meats and then lean too much on acidic, tomatoey flavors. These can make the sauce taste more like marinara.  

She opted for just one meatground beef (and a small secret helping of pancetta). Then she figured out how to amp up meatiness everywhere else to give this sauce the richness and ultrasavory depth it’s famous for.  

Here’s how she did itand how you can do it, too.

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Brown everything but the beef

Browning ground beef can enhance its savory flavor, but it can also dry out the meat. Instead, Annie browned the vegetables (carrot, onion, and celery), along with a little salty-savory pancetta. She also browned the tomato paste, which is full of umami. 

Process the vegetables and pancetta

Finely chopping the vegetables and pancetta in a food processor before browning them maximized surface area. And that meant they browned even more. Plus, it helped the pancetta blend seamlessly into the sauce.

Add concentrated beef broth

Annie boiled 4 cups of beef broth until it was reduced by half, then used this meaty-tasting liquid to deglaze the pan. (Along with the wine, of course.)

Add (a lot of) Parmesan 

Though grated Parmesan is classic and expected for serving at the table, Annie stirred ½ cup straight into the sauce. The Parmesan seasoned the bolognese with extra salty notes and cheesy-umami richness, making it seriously savory. 

Watch Annie cook through the recipe step-by-step.


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