Cozy Short Rib Bolognese Sauce

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This short rib bolognese sauce is my favorite winter-time comfort food. Rich shredded beef short ribs slow cooking in a robust red wine tomato sauce full of aromatics, fresh herbs, and bold flavors all day long. It's the perfect recipe for this time of year. Serve it up with pappardelle pasta for date night or family style during the holiday season!

I am such a comfort food girl once I feel just a hint of cool weather.

I'm putting down the caprese salad, picking up the beef bourguignon. Hearty bowls of savory chicken and fluffy herbed dumplings will be devoured. Mashed potatoes? In abundance.

a close up of the parmesan and parsley garnish over a bowl of short rib ragu sauce

Braising meat for a long time (or in the case of my instant pot short rib ragu recipe, a short time) is my fall-and-winter-time jam, honey. The smells of hearty herbs and rich stew warms my entire home and heart up and keeps the cold at the door.

Not that I mind the cold, it gives me an excuse to wear all the cozy sweaters and boots.

This bolognese sauce is just as comforting as the bolognese from most prestigious 5 star Italian restaurant...I'm talking about a nonna's kitchen, y'all!

We have super tender, meaty beef short ribs that slow braise in that flavorful tomato sauce seasoned with fresh herbs and aromatics balanced by the richness of the red wine and heavy cream, which adds so much depth and complexity. She's a saucy, creamy, cozy girl, y'all.

This short rib bolognese is perfect for chilly nights when you want something hearty and satisfying. It's also a great way to use up those leftover short ribs from Sunday dinner.

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What is Bolognese?

Bolognese sauce, or ragù alla bolognese, is a meat-based sauce that originated in Bologna, Italy. It is believed to have been made for centuries prior to the first recorded recipe in the late 18th century.

The traditional recipe includes ground beef, pancetta, onions, celery, and carrots, slow-cooked in a flavorful tomato sauce with a touch of milk or cream. Variations of the recipe use different meats, such as pork or veal, as well as additional vegetables like mushrooms or zucchini.

Other regions of Italy have their own variations. Outside of Italy, bolognese sauce has been adapted to local ingredients and tastes. In the United States, for example, bolognese sauce typically includes ground beef, tomato sauce, and garlic and is served over spaghetti or other pasta.

Bolognese vs Ragu

Ragu is the broad term for this Italian meat sauce. A ragu sauce often times does not include dairy in it, and it refers to any ragu that wasn't made in Bologna or in the Bolognese-style.

a bowl of bolognese sauce over pasta in front of a bowl of tomatoes

Equipment

Wooden spoon - stir up your bolognese sauce in the dutch oven with a wooden spoon. Metal utensils are actually terrible for coated cast iron.

Sharp Knife - prep those veggies with ease; a sharp chef's knife is safer than a dull one!

Large Dutch Oven - A Dutch oven provides even heat distribution, making it perfect for slow-cooking bolognese sauce. The heavy lid helps trap in moisture, which helps to tenderize the meat as it cooks and keeps the sauce from drying out.

Key Ingredients

Full ingredients, measurements, and printable instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

Short Ribs - I love using short ribs instead of ground beef for this recipe. When the connective tissue breaks down in this tough cut of beef, you're left with a buttery soft, tender, juicy, shreddable piece of meat. So good for a recipe like this. 

Simple Veggies - using a large onion, celery, and sweet carrots (aka, a mirepoix) with garlic to really boost up the bold flavors.

Heavy Cream - Traditional bolognese uses milk or heavy cream in the dish. Let it sit out for about 20-30 minutes to get close to room temperature before you add it in, otherwise it could curdle.

Dried or Fresh Herbs - these really give so much depth to our sauce, but we're keeping them pretty classic and simple here.

Beef Stock - actually really enjoy using the Better than Bouillon base. I can add some extra beefy flavor into my stews and sauces with just a spoonful or two.

Wine - using a bold red wine boosts the flavor of our sauce. White wine also works, but it does give a different flavor.

Tomatoes - in the fall and winter, canned tomatoes are king. Use a brand that you trust, and make sure you get canned tomatoes or tomato puree, not tomato sauce. I like crushed tomatoes, but if you can't find them it's alright since a blitz with the immersion blender can smooth things out.

Instructions

short ribs being seared in a dutch oven pot

Step 1 | Drizzle some olive oil into your dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, then pat the short ribs dry with paper towels.

Season them with kosher salt and black pepper and Sear them on all sides over medium-high heat until they are deeply golden brown. We really want that maillard reaction to happen as much as possible, because brown food equals more flavor!

mirepoix and garlic sautéing in a dutch oven pot

Step 2 | Remove the browned short ribs from the pot and sauté the veggies in the pot over medium heat until they get a little golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Then add the garlic and thyme and cook until they're very fragrant, don't brown them.

vegetables, tomato paste, and red wine in a dutch oven pot

Step 3 | Stir in some tomato paste and pour in your wine to help deglaze the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

a pot of short ribs braising in ragu sauce with dried and fresh herbs

Step 4 | pour in the beef broth, tomatoes, bay leaves and herbs, and add the short ribs into the braising liquid. Put on the lid and simmer over low heat for 2-3 hours.

a pot of ragu that has reduced down and finished braising

Step 5 | After about 3 hours, you'll see the braising liquid has reduced down a lot. Remove the short ribs for shredding and remove the bones, the meat has probably fallen off of them by now!

a pot of bolognese sauce with the cream added

Step 6 | Add the cream and mix in. I turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves, and give the sauce a blend to emulsify the fat into the sauce and also smooth it out when I use whole tomatoes.

shredded short rib mixed into creamy bolognese sauce

Step 7 | Add the shredded meat back into the sauce. It's all done!

a bowl of shredded beef bolognese sauce with penne pasta

Step 8 | To serve with pasta, boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta according to package directions.

Serve the bolognese sauce tossed with the pasta with covered with a mountain of parmesan cheese!

Variations and Substitutions

  • Add pancetta: Adding diced pancetta to the sauce gives it a smoky and salty flavor that compliments the meat and other ingredients.
  • Swap the meat: Try using ground beef, pork, or veal in place of the short ribs for a different flavor and texture.
  • Use different pasta: Instead of classic pappardelle, try using rigatoni, penne, or another even veggie pasta like zoodles to change up the texture of the dish.
  • Add more veggies: Add some veggies like mushrooms or bell peppers to the sauce for extra flavor and nutrition.
  • Make it spicy: Add some red pepper flakes or diced jalapenos to the sauce for a spicy kick that adds a new dimension of flavor.

Serving Suggestions

  • Over mashed potatoes - Short rib bolognese can be served over creamy mashed potatoes for a comfort food classic. The potatoes provide a soft and velvety base for the rich and meaty sauce, creating a satisfying and filling meal.
  • With roasted vegetables - Roasted vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini, or Brussels sprouts, make a great side dish for short rib bolognese. The sweetness of the vegetables contrasts with the richness of the sauce, creating a balanced and flavorful meal.
  • As a topping for pizza - For a unique twist, use short rib bolognese as a pizza topping! Spread the sauce over a pizza crust, add some mozzarella cheese and other toppings of your choice, and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly. The result is a delicious and indulgent pizza that is perfect for a cozy night in.
a bowl of shredded beef bolognese sauce with penne pasta

Pro Tips

  • Use bone-in short ribs. Using bone-in short ribs adds more flavor to the sauce because the bones release collagen, which adds richness and body to the dish. You won't get that with boneless short ribs!
  • Cook low and slow. Slow-cooking the sauce for several hours allows the flavors to meld together and the meat to become tender and succulent. Don't try to rush it!
  • You can cook the sauce in the oven at around 325ºF. Once the braising liquid is added to the pot, put it right in the oven and simmer until the short ribs are fork tender.
  • Taste the sauce after you've added the cream and adjust the seasoning as needed. Adding a pinch of salt or a splash of red wine can make all the difference in the final flavor.
  • After cooking, let the sauce rest for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. This allows the flavors to settle and intensify.
  • The sauce is done when your short ribs are fall apart tender! The timing can really depend on factors like your heating element or how big the short ribs are.

Storage and Reheating

Storing

Keep your leftover bolognese sauce, by itself and not with the pasta, in the fridge in an airtight glass or ceramic container (it stains plastic) for up to 5 days.

Reheating

stovetop: Pour your sauce into a saucepan over medium heat until warmed through, stirring occasionally. To thin the bolognese sauce, stir in a splash of broth.

microwave: Put the sauce in a microwave-safe dish with a hearty splash of broth. Microwave on high for 90-seconds and stir at 30 second intervals, as needed.

Freezing and Thawing

  1. Yes, you can freeze the bolognese with cream!
  2. Let sauce cool to room temperature then put it into freezer-safe zip top bags and press out the excess air or put into vacuum sealing bags and use the vacuum sealer.
  3. Don't forget to label the bags! You can keep the sauce in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  4. When ready to eat, thaw the sauce overnight in your refrigerator, then pour it into a saucepan over medium heat on the stove until warmed through.
a bowl of shredded beef bolognese sauce with penne pasta

FAQs

Why do you add milk or cream to Bolognese sauce?

The cream cuts through the acidity of the tomatoes and red wine in the sauce.

Should Bolognese sauce be thick? How can I reduce my braising liquid?

Bolognese sauce should have a thick and rich consistency. However, the thickness of the sauce can vary depending on personal preference.
Allow the sauce to simmer for a longer period of time with the pot uncovered to reduce the liquid for a thicker sauce.

What is the difference between Bolognese sauce and spaghetti sauce?

Bolognese sauce is a specific type of sauce with a distinct set of ingredients and cooking method, while spaghetti sauce is a more general term that can refer to a variety of sauces served with spaghetti.
Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce that is slow-cooked for several hours to develop deep, complex flavors.
Spaghetti sauce, on the other hand, can refer to any sauce that is served with spaghetti. It can be anything from a simple tomato sauce to a complex a meat sauce.

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📖 Recipe

a bowl of shredded beef bolognese sauce with penne pasta

Short Rib Bolognese Sauce

Eden Westbrook
This short rib bolognese sauce is my favorite winter-time comfort food. Rich shredded beef short ribs slow cooking in a robust red wine tomato sauce full of aromatics, fresh herbs, and bold flavors all day long. It's the perfect recipe for this time of year. Serve it up with pappardelle pasta for date night or family style during the holiday season!
4.58 from 21 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 10 minutes
Course Sauce
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 servings
Calories 851 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 tablespoon light olive oil
  • 2 ½ lbs bone-in short ribs English-cut
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 2 carrots peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 28 oz canned tomatoes not tomato sauce
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup heavy cream or whole milk
  • Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Pasta for serving
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Pat the short ribs dry with paper towels and drizzle with about 2 teaspoon of olive oil. Season generously with kosher salt and black pepper on all sides.
  • In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot over medium-high heat, pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil and sear the short ribs until golden brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the short ribs from the pot.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the chopped celery, onions, and carrots to the pot. Season them with about 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and sauté them, stirring occasionally, until they are turning golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add in the thyme leaves and garlic and cook for two minutes until they are fragrant.
  • Stir in the tomato paste, then pour in the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot. Add the beef stock, bay leaves and other dried herbs, canned tomatoes, and the browned short ribs into the pot.
  • Cover the pot with its lid slightly ajar, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally so the bottom of the pot doesn't burn, or until the meat is fork tender.
  • When the liquid has reduced down and the meat is fork tender, remove the bones, the meat, and the bay leaves. Stir in the heavy cream.
  • Optionally, turn the heat off and use an immersion blender to smooth out and emulsify the sauce.
  • Shred the meat with forks in a mixing bowl, then add the shredded meat back in. Stir well, then taste and season as needed.
  • Serve over pasta, and with freshly grated parmesan.

Notes

Pro Tips

  • Use bone-in short ribs. Using bone-in short ribs adds more flavor to the sauce because the bones release collagen, which adds richness and body to the dish. You won't get that with boneless short ribs!
  • Cook low and slow. Slow-cooking the sauce for several hours allows the flavors to meld together and the meat to become tender and succulent. Don't try to rush it!
  • You can cook the sauce in the oven at around 325ºF. Once the braising liquid is added to the pot, put it right in the oven and simmer until the short ribs are fork tender.
  • Taste the sauce after you've added the cream and adjust the seasoning as needed. Adding a pinch of salt or a splash of red wine can make all the difference in the final flavor.
  • After cooking, let the sauce rest for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. This allows the flavors to settle and intensify.
  • The sauce is done when your short ribs are fall apart tender! The timing can really depend on factors like your heating element or how big the short ribs are.

Storage and Reheating

Keep your leftover bolognese sauce, by itself and not with the pasta, in the fridge in an airtight glass or ceramic container (it stains plastic) for up to 5 days.

Reheating

stovetop: Pour your sauce into a saucepan over medium heat until warmed through, stirring occasionally. To thin the bolognese sauce, stir in a splash of broth.
microwave: Put the sauce in a microwave-safe dish with a hearty splash of broth. Microwave on high for 90 seconds and stir at 30 second intervals as needed.

Freezing and Thawing

Yes, you can freeze the bolognese with cream!
Let sauce cool to room temperature then put it into freezer-safe zip top bags and press out the excess air or put into vacuum sealing bags and use the vacuum sealer.
Don't forget to label the bags! You can keep the sauce in the freezer for up to 3 months.
When ready to eat, thaw the sauce overnight in your refrigerator, then pour it into a saucepan over medium heat on the stove until warmed through.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 851kcalCarbohydrates: 24gProtein: 57gFat: 57gSaturated Fat: 25gPolyunsaturated Fat: 30gTrans Fat: 3gCholesterol: 216mgSodium: 812mgFiber: 5gSugar: 10g
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14 Comments

  1. Interesting! I am not a beef-eater but I cook it for my husband and he would LOVE this recipe! It sounds so delicious to hear you describe it, I may have to even try it myself!

  2. Delicious and comfort food

  3. I love short ribs! This ragu looks so yummy! My typical comfort food.

  4. I love this technique, I get so tired of the typical ground beef with a marinara. I'll have to try this.!

    1. Britt Anne says:

      It's always great to switch things up!

  5. Short ribs! That sounds very special and it really sounds like you know your Bolognese. Great recipe.

    1. Britt Anne says:

      Thank you! I try to learn as much history about older recipes as I can; bolognese has such a rich history behind it!

  6. Looks delicious! I haven't made short ribs in a long time!

    1. Britt Anne says:

      Fall is slow cooking season, no better time to braise some!

  7. Christina Conte says:

    I'm biased, but authentic Italian dishes are always the best in my book!

    1. Britt Anne says:

      I feel the same way, like with bruschetta or caprese! The classics are always the best, but variety is the spice of life, in my opinion.

  8. Emily Rampton says:

    I haven't had short ribs in forever and now I'm craving this recipe! It looks so delicious and the perfect comfort food to enjoy with family!

    1. Britt Anne says:

      Thank you! I've had the fortune to learn so much from my local butcher, an older Italian gent, when he suggested to use short rib back in February, we loved it so much we haven't gone back to the original recipe!