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Spaghetti Bolognese

December 12, 2012

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.


137 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2012 5:03 pm

    This looks delicious and I really like the addition of red lentils!

  2. December 12, 2012 5:09 pm

    That looks incredible. I’ll confess I’m guilty of using store purchased sauce out of sheer lack of time. You’ve inspired me to find time. Wish me luck. 🙂

  3. December 12, 2012 5:09 pm

    Different and interesting.

    • December 12, 2012 5:20 pm

      How so, Rosemary? I think you mean delicious and interesting 😀

      • December 12, 2012 5:22 pm


      • December 12, 2012 9:31 pm

        I thought the rosemary and some of the other ingredients were different from classic bolognese and was interested in how the flavor would change. Sounds like it was delicious.

      • December 16, 2012 11:04 am

        No, I know it is a little different! I think they contribute a lot though!

  4. December 12, 2012 5:10 pm

    I would love a bowl of this right now 🙂

  5. December 12, 2012 5:15 pm

    Fantastic post, bolognese sauce is my freezer staple. I mix my mince beef with Quorn to make the the dish stretch a bit further and all the carnivores I have fed never noticed.

    • December 28, 2012 11:20 pm

      Thanks so much! It’s so hard to discern things like quorn and lentils. Give the latter a go, much cheaper than quorn!

  6. December 12, 2012 5:23 pm

    I was going to say that this is a beautiful classic! Nick, this was one of my all time favorite meals before you know what 🙂 I love your take on it.

    • December 16, 2012 11:11 am

      Hehe, thanks, Somer! Indeed! We’ll have to come up with a version free of a few things 😀

  7. December 12, 2012 5:32 pm

    Presentation is very good and it look delicious .

  8. December 12, 2012 5:36 pm

    I absolutely enjoy reading your posts. Your prose is captivating. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  9. December 12, 2012 5:43 pm

    One of my cooking goals is to try to make more Italian dishes. I am going to print this out right now to try soon. Thank you for sharing it!

  10. December 12, 2012 5:43 pm

    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…)

    • December 28, 2012 11:18 pm

      Thanks! I’m afraid the logistics might be a little tricky :D. Pay for the ticket!

  11. My French Heaven permalink
    December 12, 2012 5:47 pm

    One of my favorites!

  12. December 12, 2012 6:18 pm

    We quite rudely call that Spag Bog in our family and yours looks perfect, i do agree that the sauce must be saucy. It loves to have a good long cook.. c

    • December 12, 2012 7:20 pm

      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

      • December 28, 2012 11:16 pm

        Lovely term 😀 – I hope they don’t! The cooking time is essential 😀

    • December 16, 2012 11:08 am

      Haha – we called it spag bol/bog too! I’m glad you agree!

  13. December 12, 2012 6:32 pm

    It’s just not the same without the red wine! If all else fails…marmite! mmm I like the idea of using lentils, balsamic vinegar and rosemary!

    • December 16, 2012 11:06 am

      Exactly… marmite… hmm… I’ll stick to the beef stock 😀 – I prefer my marmite on toast 😀

  14. December 12, 2012 7:05 pm

    I wish I could dive into a bowl of that right now…

  15. December 12, 2012 7:30 pm

    You are killing me. I’m trying to hold off for another 30 minutes before I have lunch. Now I can’t hold back! haha I can’t wait to make this for dinner next week. Thanks for sharing!

  16. December 12, 2012 7:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Chef Regent's and commented:
    Student staple, nuff said!

  17. December 12, 2012 7:46 pm

    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.

    • December 16, 2012 11:05 am

      Indeed! Oh great, someone else who does it right :D. That sounds nice, perhaps I’ll give it a go.

  18. poppytump permalink
    December 12, 2012 7:48 pm

    Tummy Rumbling … your fault … 😉

    Have never put in lentils before but will do next time !

  19. December 12, 2012 8:16 pm

    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!

    • December 16, 2012 11:05 am

      Indeed, I’m not such a fan of the traditional version – it’s delicious, but not as satisfying as this!

  20. December 12, 2012 8:21 pm

    Lovely pics!

  21. December 12, 2012 8:21 pm

    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.

  22. December 12, 2012 8:32 pm

    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! 🙂

  23. December 12, 2012 8:42 pm

    I’ve never added Rosemary – your Bolognese looks awesome!

  24. December 12, 2012 9:14 pm

    I miss this dish a lot, I used to make it often too!
    Thanks for the inspiration 🙂
    Your post are always fancy with wonderful pictures.

  25. December 12, 2012 9:44 pm

    Hello! I love your blog so I decided to nominate you for the blog of the year 2012 award!
    See all details on my page! 😉

  26. December 12, 2012 10:00 pm

    This looks delicious, and adding the lentils is brilliant. May be making that adjustment the next time I make bolognese…

  27. December 12, 2012 11:16 pm

    Look delicious. I’ll definitely try your recipe. Thank you!

  28. A Dog With Fleas permalink
    December 13, 2012 12:23 am

    This sounds like a great recipe. And I love how you added in the tips about the lentils. They make a worthy ingredient to any recipe. Love this.

  29. December 13, 2012 12:52 am

    Nick since I don’t eat beef I can’t comment much except to say that your photos look really delicious!

    • December 16, 2012 11:02 am

      Ah, well – thanks and I appreciate the comment and your clicking on it even though you don’t eat beef!

  30. December 13, 2012 12:57 am

    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!

    • December 16, 2012 11:01 am

      Thanks, Karista! Haha – I do try to be different :D. The lentils are probably my favourite addition actually.

  31. December 13, 2012 1:00 am

    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! 🙂

  32. December 13, 2012 1:12 am

    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!”

    • December 28, 2012 11:14 pm

      Fantastic! Great stuff – give the rosemary a try, adds a little fragrance.

  33. December 13, 2012 2:04 am

    Looks delicious! Love the addition of lentils.

  34. December 13, 2012 3:16 am

    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!

  35. December 13, 2012 4:34 am

    Yes, everyone has their own Bolognese, thank you very much 🙂

    But yours looks awesome. Love the addition of the peppers.

  36. December 13, 2012 5:20 am

    Love your take on this. There is nothing worse than a jar of too sweet Bolognese. I”ll try the lentils next time too.

  37. December 13, 2012 8:44 am

    A creative twist to a classic recipe : )

  38. December 13, 2012 9:17 am

    very cool. Never thought of using the lentils for this recipe, sounds great.

  39. December 13, 2012 12:48 pm

    I am a lentil fiend! This is a fantastic recipe for me, love it!

  40. December 13, 2012 2:30 pm

    This looks delicious!!! I wanna try it this weekend!

  41. December 13, 2012 2:37 pm

    I never tire of bolognese. I’ll have to try this with the red lentils.

    Beautiful photos.

  42. December 13, 2012 4:11 pm

    Looks delicious 🙂

  43. December 13, 2012 5:23 pm

    I didn’t really get far down your page (basically the bowl of bolognese stopped me in my tracks) before I decided to follow you! I can tell I’m going to get fat reading your site! Challenge, accepted.

    Beautiful composition on this! I can’t wait to try the dinner!


  44. December 13, 2012 5:40 pm

    We shall try this! I love fresh foods- no jars of goop for me…

  45. December 13, 2012 5:45 pm

    Very interesting to have added lentils to a classic dish.. what a great idea!

  46. December 13, 2012 6:17 pm

    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. :•)

  47. December 13, 2012 6:54 pm

    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.

    • December 16, 2012 10:57 am

      I have no idea… I actually really would like to! Haha – well, more to come this evening!

  48. December 13, 2012 7:27 pm

    I would never have thought of putting in lentils. I think I may just have to try that.

  49. December 13, 2012 9:10 pm

    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!

  50. December 13, 2012 9:40 pm

    Mmm that looks good and perfect for this cold weather.

  51. petit4chocolatier permalink
    December 14, 2012 1:40 am

    Absolutely delicious!

  52. December 14, 2012 4:01 am

    ciao! brilliant to use lentils.

  53. December 14, 2012 5:17 am

    This looks wonderful…I love the addition of the lentils! Your photos are more and more gorgeous every time you blog! Makes me so hungry…

  54. alan palmer permalink
    December 14, 2012 8:46 am

    Thats just made me very hungry and its only 8.30am!

  55. Big Al permalink
    December 14, 2012 8:47 am

    Thats just made me very hungry and its only 8.30am!

  56. December 14, 2012 1:19 pm

    This looks absolutely wonderful!

  57. December 14, 2012 8:41 pm

    I cook Blognese once a week, everybody in my house love it. Nice one!

  58. December 15, 2012 9:57 am

    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.

    • December 16, 2012 10:43 am

      It was – we have some more in the freezer for us to eat tonight too :D. I like the traditional method, but prefer a really rich tomato based sauce as opposed to simply red wine…

  59. December 16, 2012 9:32 pm

    This looks fabulous! I cannot wait to try it!

  60. egg me on permalink
    December 16, 2012 11:05 pm

    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!

  61. December 18, 2012 4:59 am

    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!

  62. December 19, 2012 8:12 am

    Thanks for liking my appetizer post. I’ve got to try that Bolognese dish…looks great!

  63. December 19, 2012 9:53 pm

    Yum yum yum! Wanted a bowl right this moment.

  64. January 31, 2013 11:09 pm

    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. : )


  1. The Bolognese Recipe You Must Try | Suburban Foodie

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