This 25-minute Pasta with Bolognese Sauce recipe uses only FIVE ingredients!
It has the most authentic, delicious Italian taste and texture, with sauce that clings to every bite of pasta thanks to a few easy tricks (which can be utilized in other pasta recipes, too).
It took me a long time, even as I became a good cook, to realize that the way to cook pasta at home is NOT to simply boil the noodles and throw some sauce on. Countless times I’ve ended up with a watered down sauce that slides away from the pasta, or mushy noodles, or flavorless pasta that tasted like cardboard.
Since moving to Texas, I’ve been hankering for some good Italian food. I’ve not found anything that compares to that in the Boston area (you can’t get much better than that!), so I’ve resolved to learn how to make Perfect Pasta at home.
I think I’ve finally figured it out, and can’t wait to share these tips and tricks with you in this pasta with bolognese sauce recipe!
First, let’s talk about the ingredients. There are only five, but they are mighty.
For this recipe, I used three main ingredients:
- Boxed pasta. I chose rigatoni so it would be easy for my toddler to eat, but you can use whatever shape you want. I also used white pasta rather than whole wheat- it’s starchier, which will help create that cling-to-every-bite consistency. In addition, the simple taste of white pasta pairs well with the hearty meat sauce.
- Jarred marinara sauce. I recommend spending some money on this one- this is such an inexpensive meal already, it makes it easy to splurge on the sauce. I like Rao’s the best.
- Ground beef. I recommend using lean ground beef for this recipe- the extra fat will make the sauce too greasy and you’ll have to drain a lot of it away. I used 90/10.
The other two ingredients elevate the taste to the next level:
- A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. This is added after making the whole recipe, when the pasta is off the heat. Heat changes the taste of olive oil, so I like finishing pasta off with it rather than cooking with it. Look for an olive oil that’s unfiltered and cold-pressed- my go to is California Olive Ranch.
- Pecorino Romano cheese. I recommend buying a nice wedge of this and grating it yourself. You can use parmesan cheese if you want, but I love the sharp, tangy flavor of pecorino with bolognese sauce. This is also added at the end, adding a salty flavor and creating a thicker texture to the sauce as it melts in.
There are three main parts to this pasta with bolognese sauce recipe- cooking the pasta, cooking the sauce, and combining the two.
Here are some tricks and tips for each part, which will make the taste and texture Italian-restaurant worthy.
When cooking the pasta, there are two things to keep in mind.
- HEAVILY salt the water. Use more than you think. It should be as salty as the ocean- you can taste it if you are unsure if you are using enough. There are two reasons for this. First, it will absorb into the pasta, flavoring each piece. Second, it flavors the water, which you will be using in the sauce later.
- Cook until just BEFORE it’s al dente. You want the pasta to finish cooking when you add it to the sauce- it will continue to absorb delicious flavors during those last few minutes. I cooked mine two minutes under the recommended cooking time on the package and it was perfect.
When cooking the bolognese sauce, you’ll first cook up the ground beef.
Make sure to break the beef up into very small pieces. I used a potato masher as it was cooking to ensure it was broken up. This will ensure it’s small enough to stick to the pasta pieces and be part of the sauce, rather than being in large chunks that have to be eaten separately.
After you finish cooking the beef, scoot it to one side of the skillet and tilt the pan so you can spoon any grease/liquid that has separated from the beef. This will ensure the sauce isn’t too greasy or watered down.
Finally, you’ll combine the sauce and the pasta together.
Before you drain the pasta, be sure to reserve 1-2 cups of the pasta water. It’s full of salty, starchy goodness that is vital in finishing off this recipe and ensuring the sauce thickens enough to stick to every bite of pasta.
You’ll mix the drained pasta with the meat sauce mixture and stir to coat, continuing to cook over medium-low heat, adding 1/4 cup of the pasta water as you do so. This pasta water will thicken the sauce slightly and enable the pasta to finish cooking, since it was drained before it reached al dente.
Keep stirring and adding the water 1/4 up at a time until the pasta fully cooks to al dente perfection and the sauce sticks to every bite. You’ll know when it’s time.
Then, drizzle in some extra-virgin olive oil and mix in the pecorino romano cheese to finish everything off. That’s it! 25 minutes, five ingredients, and the best pasta with bolognese sauce you can make at home EVER.
Here’s the printable recipe!
Five-Ingredient Pasta with Bolognese Sauce
- 16 oz. rigatoni or other pasta shape
- 24 oz. marinara sauce I used Rao's
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil I like California Olive Ranch
- 1/4 cup pecorino Romano cheese finely grated, plus more for serving
- kosher salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. It should be as salty as the ocean- taste it if you aren't sure.
- Cook pasta until just before it's al dente (about 2 minutes before the time designated on the package).
- Meanwhile, cook ground beef in a large deep skillet until fully cooked. As you are cooking it, break it into very small pieces. I used a potato masher to make sure it got broken up enough.
- Move the beef to one side of the skillet and tilt it in order to separate the grease/liquid. Remove the grease with a spoon and discard.
- Add the marinara sauce to the ground beef. Stir, cover, and simmer until heated through.
- When pasta is done just before it's al dente, reserve 1-2 cups of the pasta water and drain the rest. Don't drain too thoroughly- it's OK, and actually a good thing, if it has some of the water clinging to it.
- Add the drained pasta to the skillet with the sauce (you can also move it directly from the water using a slotted spoon). If the skillet is too small, you can add the pasta back into the pot in which it cooked, and add the sauce to it.
- Stir to coat the pasta in the sauce in the skillet or pot and keep heat on medium low. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, stirring to coat. Add more pasta water as necessary to help the pasta finish cooking to al dente- it will help the sauce thicken and stick to every piece of pasta (I used about 3/4 cup total).
- Turn off the heat. Stir in olive oil (2 tablespoons) and pecorino romano cheese (1/4 cup). Taste and add salt if necessary.
- Serve immediately with extra pecorino romano and garnished with fresh parsley, seasoned with fresh ground black pepper.
- You can use parmesan as a substitute for pecorino Romano, if you prefer.
- If you choose to use whole wheat pasta, be aware that because it is less starchy, it will be more difficult to get the sauce to cling to the pasta as well.
- The provided nutrition information does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. Feel free to calculate it yourself using this calculator or by adding the recipe to Yummly.