Rich and hearty, this Bolognese Sauce recipe made in the Instant Pot brings the flavors of an all-day simmer to your table in less than half the time. Serve Bolognese over pasta, or layer with Béchamel in lasagna.
Being of half Italian heritage, I’ve been making (and eating) Bolognese sauce for as long as I can remember. Whether it’s a classic, meaty recipe, or a lighter mushroom variation, Bolognese is a stick-to-your-ribs type of sauce that warms and comforts.
To be honest, I can be picky about dishes like Bolognese, and I was skeptical about making it in the Instant Pot.
I wondered if I’d be able to come anywhere near close to the flavor (or aroma) that you get when you simmer a sauce slowly on the stove.
With a few tweaks to my family’s recipe, the sauce that emerged from the Instant Pot pleasantly surprised me. While I know that Bolognese sauce made with pressure cooking won’t always replace a slow simmer in my kitchen, the Instant Pot sauce was rich and full-flavored, and ready in a fraction of the time.
Delicious Bolognese sauce in about an hour and a half? Don’t mind if I do!
What is Bolognese Sauce?
Bolognese (or Ragu alla Bolognese) is, traditionally, a slow-cooked meat sauce. Its origins are believed to be traced to the area of Bologna, Italy in the 1700s.
I couch that statement with “believed,” because Bolognese sauce, its history, and what belongs in an “authentic” recipe are all topics that have been subject to debate and interpretation.
Interesting Read: Why You Won’t Find Spaghetti Bolognese in Italy
While individual ingredients vary across Bolognese recipes, the common thread between them is that the meat is the star of the show. Ragu Bolognese is not a thin, delicate sauce. It’s hearty, meaty, and only moderately “saucy”.
What are the Ingredients for a Bolognese Sauce?
Bolognese is most often made with minced and sautéed ground beef, pork, and pancetta (cured, unsmoked pork belly). Some recipes add veal, and less commonly, offal.
Most Bolognese recipes, including my family’s, start with a soffritto of carrots, celery, and onions (with or without garlic), cooked in olive oil.
Many go light on the tomatoes, some only calling for a bit of tomato paste added to the browned meat. We’ve always made our Bolognese sauce with our favorite San Marzano tomatoes.
A touch of dairy is added to almost all Bolognese, either by way of milk or cream. To be clear, though, this is not a creamy, dairy-heavy sauce. The splash of dairy serves to soften the acidity of the wine and tomatoes.
Adapting Our Bolognese Sauce Recipe For the Instant Pot
The most obvious difference in preparation of classic stovetop Ragu Bolognese and one made in the Instant Pot is a drastically shortened cook time.
After sautéing the soffritto and meats, classic Bolognese is simmered for 3-4 hours. Using the pressure cooker setting on the Instant Pot after the sauté, the sauce cooks for only 20 minutes on high pressure. This shortened cook time also necessitates a smaller overall quantity of liquid in the recipe.
In adapting my family’s Bolognese sauce recipe for pressure cooking, I made a few ingredient adjustments to make sure that the sauce would still have a rich flavor without a slow simmer.
White wine is most commonly used to deglaze the pan after browning the vegetables and meats. Here, I decided to go with a dry red wine to give the sauce an extra depth of flavor that pressure cooked foods can sometimes lack.
I also added a bit of tomato paste in addition to the San Marzano tomatoes. I don’t find that I need the rich flavor of tomato paste with a classic preparation, as the crushed tomatoes concentrate so beautifully on their own over 3 hours.
To make the best bolognese recipe in the Instant pot, the deep tomato flavor of the paste helped to give the sauce that all-day-cooked taste.
How to Use Bolognese Sauce
Since it’s a hearty sauce, Bolognese is best served with a pasta that can stand up to its weight. Tagliatelle (pictured) is the classic pairing, as are wide pappardelle noodles.
I’ve also served Ragu Bolognese with penne, campanelle, bucatini, and gnocchi. Very thin pastas, like angel hair, aren’t the best choice here.
Want to brush up on your pasta shapes? Check out this Pasta Shapes Dictionary from the National Pasta Association.
You can also use this sauce to make an incredible Lasagna Bolognese. Typically prepared without ricotta cheese, the dish is composed of layers of pasta, Bolognese, and creamy Béchamel. It is, hands down, my favorite type of lasagna.
Watching your carbs? This Bolognese sauce recipe is also delicious served with spaghetti squash.
Bolognese Sauce Recipe (Instant Pot)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1-1/2 cups diced yellow onion
- 1/2 cup diced carrots
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 4 ounces diced pancetta
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 28 ounces crushed San Marzano tomatoes , in purée
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup Italian parsley , divided
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- pinch ground nutmeg (to taste, optional)
- kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- cooked tagliatelle, pappardelle, or your favorite pasta , for serving
- Heat olive oil in the Instant Pot insert on the hottest sauté setting. Add onions, carrots, and celery, and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add ground beef, pork, and pancetta to the Instant Pot with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper. Sauté, breaking up meats with a spoon, until browned and most of the juices have evaporated.
- Add garlic and tomato paste to the Instant Pot, and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Deglaze the insert with red wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, until most of the wine has evaporated.
- Stir in crushed tomatoes in purée, water, and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Bring to a simmer. Place lid on Instant pot, seal, and set the unit to HIGH pressure for 20 minutes.
- Quick release pressure and carefully lift lid when the float drops. Switch the Instant Pot to the lowest heat sauté setting and bring to a bubble. Simmer, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce is thickened to your desired consistency.
- Stir in heavy cream, remaining 1/4 cup chopped parsley, and ground nutmeg (if using). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Toss with cooked pasta, adding a splash of pasta water to help the sauce coat, and serve with freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the top.