European Italian Recipes

Spaghetti Bolognese

Frugal Spaghetti Bolognese

Bolognese is one of those dishes that food bloggers rarely write about, probably because everyone already has their own recipe, as though it is an integral part of inherited human knowledge. However, the public at large still seem to buy jars of the damn stuff or develop poor imitations of what this classic dish should be – this recipe cometh to set the record straight. A good Bolognese recipe, frugal or otherwise, is just as important as any other… Oh look, here’s one now!

The most important consideration when making Bolognese, other than flavour, is consistency. In my opinion, which may or may not be valid, its texture needs to be almost like that of a sauce. The best way of achieving such a thing is to cook the meat separately to begin with, allowing you to break it down a little. Being able to finely dice vegetables also helps – no one wants to be gnawing on a lump of celery whilst eating an otherwise scrumptious Bolognese.

Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe

In terms of flavour, your Bolognese, whether you follow this recipe or not, simply must pack considerable punch. Carrots, celery and onion provide the dish with an awe-inspiring base on which the garlic, rosemary and other mouth-watering constituents are able to build. Of course, the addition of red wine is optional, though highly recommended if you happen to have some close at hand and a flavoursome homemade beef stock will always be better than an equivalent cube. Don’t skimp on the olive oil either, it adds a devastating richness and a velvety quality to the proceedings and is almost as important to the recipe as the meat itself. Basically, hurl everything you have at this recipe, excepting the kitchen sink, it’s worth it!

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Serves 4


• 300g minced beef

• 1 onion, finely chopped

• 1 carrot, finely chopped

• 1 stick of celery, finely chopped

• 1 red pepper, finely sliced

• 3 cloves of garlic, mashed

• 2 x 400g peeled plum tomatoes

• 2 tbsp tomato puree

• 1 branch of rosemary, tied up

• 2 bay leaves

• 2 tsp balsamic vinegar

• 200ml strong beef stock or 1 cube of beef stock

• 250ml red wine (optional)

• 1 handful red lentils

• Olive oil (and plenty of it)

• Salt

• Pepper


1. Heat a slosh of olive oil up in a frying pan, break the mince into it with your fingers and cook through. Meanwhile, fry off the onion, carrot, celery and pepper, until translucent, in a generous amount of olive oil. Add the meat and garlic to the vegetables, stir until fully incorporated.

Cooked Minced Beef

2. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée  rosemary, bay leaves, vinegar, beef stock, wine and lentils – stir thoroughly. Add some more olive oil for good measure and cook for at least an hour, two is preferable. Make sure the sauce is reduced until thick and rich, season and serve with spaghetti and garlic bread.

Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe

Cost: As my tips section will tell you, the best way to conserve money when making a dish like this is to bulk it out a little with ingredients other than meat. I can guarantee you that if you ate some of this you’d never be able to tell it contains lentils, yet they do give it a little more body and help it go that little bit further. 300g of beef mince really is enough for four people, I assure you. As such, this entire Bolognese sauce should set one back no more than £3.70 without the wine and a little more if one includes it.


138 replies on “Spaghetti Bolognese”

LOVE THIS!!! Any chance you could come cook dinner for me? I’m always happy to do dishes! And with such savings there’ll be plenty left over for more wine (though I suppose the cost of the plane ticket would have to be factored in…)

Spag Bog is very polite – we call it Spag Bollocks – I hope the kids don’t repeat it at school! I never cook mine quite so long, but will give it a whirl. Cook double and make up a lasagne at the same time or freeze for emergencies – Yum

Spag Bol, certainly is a classic, and my recipe is almost exactly the same as yours(minus the lentils), but I add a couple of tbsps cream or whole milk just before serving, it just rounds off the flavours really nicely.
One of the most important things I think is to make sure the mince browns and not boils.

My husband and I took a cooking class on our recent trip to Italy in Bologna where one of the things we cooked was “ragu” which is what people in Bologna call Bolognese. I was sort of disappointed that it wasn’t what most of the rest of the world thinks of as Bolognese with only pancetta, ground beef, onions, carrots, celery, wine. No garlic, no tomatoes. Needless to say I am not a convert to this “classic” preparation and will continue to add garlic and tomatoes and next time lentils, too!

Great reminder of a staple meal! Bolognese is probably one of the first hearty meals most of us learn to make and it can be made just about anywhere in the world! I love it and you’ve inspired me to get it back into my meal rotation.

Love the idea of adding lentils. I like to use a combo of pork and veal mince, which has a milder taste than beef, but sometimes I like to use beef just to change it up a bit. Great post, and lovely pics! 🙂

Bravo Frugal!! You’re right, most food bloggers wouldn’t post a Bolognese. But this is why you are not “most food bloggers”. 🙂 A true Bolognese… Frugal style. Love the addition of the lentils too. Delicious!

thanks for inspiring me to make spaghetti bolognese for dinner tonight. Although I did not make your version this time because I’m due to go shopping and didn’t have all the ingredients on hand (But next time I will). This bowl of spaghetti totally hit the spot! 🙂

As a 100% Italian American, I have to say that I love seeing recipes like this one! Makes me think of a recipe for “peanut butter and jelly”, you know? Each is the same, but each is a bit different. I grew up with this dish as “meat sauce”, and I make it now all the time. I have never included celery in it, though, or rosemary. Mine has basil and crushed red pepper, and probably more wine! As my Italian born Nanna would say, “Abbondanza!”

I’d say it’s time for me to break out some of those tomatoes I froze in September! Your recipe makes me yearn for wintry meals of pasta and meat sauce. The tip about adding red lentils is genius!

Your blog is fantastic. My partner is at school and I’m usually the one making dinner, so I’m always on the lookout for new ways to stretch the grocery budget. :•)

Seriously now… when will you be composing a cookbook? Between your fantasticly budgeted meals, and your outstanding photography, I see you as a shoe-in! I always look forward to your blogs’ arrival in my email each time.

Completely agree that the stuff in a jar should be banned! A properly made bolognese is one of the most comforting and delicious meals to me. Mine has lots of rosemary!

This looks lovely and warming, and I like the addition of lentils. I am a spag bol traditionalist — I use pork mince as well as beef and if I can get veal mince I add that too.

I love to see how everyone makes their sauce … the lentils, rosemary, homemade beef stock … really says a lot about the cook. Great stuff, man!

Great recipe! Here in Japan beef is really expensive so i rarely get a chance to enjoy a nice meat sauce. I never considered adding lentils to help out with the heartiness that skimping on beef can leave behind..will definitely try it! Thanks!

I use half beef and half pork, if you haven’t tried it already you should. Pork gives it that needed fat, imo. Other than that, damn you! I was planning on putting this on my blog as well and my recipe is basically the same as yours. : )

Hi, I find that adding chopped chicken liver, fried seperately untill almost crispy, then added to the bolognese, adds an extra dimension to the flavour. 🙂 . And as liver is relatively economic it shouldn’t increase the price too much, thus ensuring this dish remains frugal!

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