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Lighter Beef Bolognese

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Who doesn’t have fond memories of eating Spaghetti Bolognese as a kid!

This is my healthier take on Giada De Laurentiis’ Simple Bolognese—chock full of veggies, and with tips I learned from making Anne Burrell’s more complex and time-consuming, traditional Bolognese.

Lighter Beef Bolognese - OrnaBakes


I love that you can make this the day before, but be warned that the house will smell so incredible that it will be hard to wait until the next day!


I learned from Chef Anne Burrell to add the pasta to the sauce in the pot, with a little pasta water (if necessary) and “marry the two together.”

Marry Pasta and Sauce

If I’m not using all of it, I just add an equal amount of sauce to the amount of pasta I’m using.

Add a little more sauce on top of each plate, drizzle a little high-quality olive oil over the top and sprinkle some parm to finish.

Yumm! Who needs Maria’s!


His and Hers


His and Hers


I don’t usually make two different types of pasta, but I thought this would be a good way to illustrate this gorgeous sauce.

Barilla Plus Spaghetti is my fav because it has extra protein and fiber; even little Aja loves it.

Barilla Plus Box.front

Barilla Plus Box.back

Sam prefers Trader Joe’s Corn Pasta because it’s easier on his stomach.

Trader Joe's Corn Pasta

Click here for Orna’s Trader Joe’s Shopping List >>


I like Trader Joe’s Parmesan which has a coarser texture. Please do not use parmesan from a green can!

Trader Joe's Grated Parmesan


I found Laura’s Lean Beef (92% lean, 8% fat) at Ralph’s Market, and it was delicious. Check their website for a market near you that carries it.


Laura's Lean Ground Beef

I used Menage a Trois wine—because that’s my favorite wine to drink. See Trader Joe’s and Costco Shopping Lists.

Make sure your knife cuts are even and the veggies are chopped small.

chopped veggies

It might sound as if you’re using a lot of salt, but you have to season every single layer, or the end product will taste bland; I learned this from Anne Burrell. Make sure to use kosher salt – it really makes a difference. I copied Alton Brown’s trick of keeping it in a sugar bowl; makes it easy to pinch. Remember that the parmesan cheese will add some salt at the end, so don’t over-salt.

How to Coarsely Chop Mushrooms

To coarsely chop the mushrooms; slice them with a sharp knife, and then working in batches, run your knife through them in different directions to get them chopped approximately the same size.

Coarsely chopped mushrooms

Cool Tools

Lighter Beef Bolognese

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings 4


  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced (very finely chopped)
  • 1 large celery stalk finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and finely chopped
  • 8 oz crimini baby portabella or white button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef chuck recommended: 92% lean, 8% fat
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (recommended: San Marzano)
  • ½ cup hearty red wine optional
  • 8 medium size fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (roll up and slice thinly with a very sharp knife)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • sugar to taste
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano plus extra for serving


  • Coat a 6-quart dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with olive oil (about 1/8 cup) and heat over medium heat. When almost smoking, add the onion and garlic and season with kosher salt; sauté until the onions become very soft, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add the celery and carrots and more salt, and sauté for 6 - 8 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up any brown bits that develop on the bottom.
  • Add the mushrooms, season with salt; cook for an additional 6 - 8 minutes until softened, stirring frequently. The veggies will be tender and fragrant and the water will all have evaporated.
  • Raise heat to high and add the ground beef; season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Sauté, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps. Reduce heat to medium-high and brown the meat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently—until no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, wine, basil, salt and pepper, and simmer (uncovered) over low heat until the sauce thickens and the flavors develop, 40 - 50 minutes. Stir occasionally and check for seasoning; add a little sugar if it tastes acidic; add a little water if the sauce is getting too thick.
  • Stir in the cheese to finish and check for final seasoning. (The cheese will add saltiness too, so don't over-salt.)
  • Serve over Pasta or Polenta.


The sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. When reheating add a little water and heat slowly, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring often.
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis on

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4 Responses

  1. Mmmm light beef bolognese sauce over fresh cooked pasta. Sounds and looks great! I usually do mine with red wine and find that it just enhances the bolognese sauce 🙂 If there is any left over I’ll eat it with a piece of toasted Italian bread.

    1. Thanks Jerry – you’re making me want to make some today! Giada’s recipe doesn’t have red wine, but I added it because I also find that it gives that extra depth of flavor. I didn’t use 3 cups, like Anne Burrell, though! Although her recipe is pretty darn great too. But more labor intensive and less “light.”

  2. Have you seen the Veggie Barilla they have out now? They have a thin spaghetti version that is greenish in color. It is SO good. Going to try this recipe with it this week! thank you!

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