Lamb bolognese is a wonderfully flavorful twist on this classic Italian recipe. Simmered stove-top with carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, red wine and fresh herbs, nothing could be cozier than tangles of tagliatelle nestled in the meat sauce.
Some of my best family memories involve bolognese. It’s the recipe we make in our family for most celebrations, especially those in the winter months when nothing sounds better than a cozy bowl of pasta smothered in a hearty meat sauce.
I’ve recreated it almost every which way on here from a plant based lentil bolognese to even making it in the Instant Pot (a recipe that surprised me in its ability to mimic the stove-top simmered traditional approach).
But today, I’m taking lamb, one of my favorite red meats, and swapping it out for the beef (or beef/pork mixture) that a traditional bolognese recipe calls for.
The result is a wonderfully robust meal with a bit more depth of flavor (thanks to the wild gamey notes of lamb).
The outcome was so delicious in fact, that it might become my new go-to rather than a variation to play with from time to time.
LAMB BOLOGNESE INGREDIENTS
- olive oil
- yellow onion
- ground lamb
- tomato paste
- anchovy paste (optional but recommended!)
- red wine (swap out with beef broth if necessary)
- crushed tomatoes + water
- salt & pepper
- bay leaf
- fresh rosemary
- fresh oregano
- splash of cream or milk (also optional)
BEST WAY TO PREP VEGETABLES FOR BOLOGNESE
While my mom always minced the vegetables by hand (and so have I many times), I really advocate for using the food processor for this task.
It will uniformly mince the carrots, celery, onion and garlic in about 5 pulses whereas doing this by hand could easily take 10+ minutes.
I don’t often find using the food processor worth the clean up effort but bolognese is one of those times I do.
Plus, the fine mince allows the vegetables to sort of “melt” into the sauce as it cooks without any big chunks hiding out, putting the focus emphatically on the lamb.
USING ANCHOVY PASTE & HEAVY CREAM IN LAMB BOLOGNESE
Both of these ingredients are optional but I highly recommend using them.
The anchovy paste is a wonderful umami element to the sauce. Don’t worry, nothing tastes fishy at all, it just adds a nice depth of flavor. I use it in this pasta checca recipe (a wonderful end of summer pasta dish bursting with tomatoes and burrata) for the same reason.
A splash of milk or cream is not something my family typically does when it comes to making bolognese but I’ve seen the method on other bolognese recipes and after giving it a try myself, I must say it’s something worth incorporating into the dish.
You don’t have to use dairy milk, I actually used almond milk this time around and it still works well for a slightly creamy component. That said, heavy cream or whole milk are an even more decadent addition.
HOW TO MAKE GROUND LAMB BOLOGNESE
Start by heating the olive oil in a large Dutch oven pot on the stove over medium heat.
While that heats, pulse the vegetables in the food processor until finely minced. Transfer to the pot and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes.
Add the ground lamb to the pot and cook until browned, breaking it up with a wooden spatula as it cooks.
Next, add the tomato and anchovy paste along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until everything is combined.
Deglaze the pot with the red wine scraping up any browned bits on the bottom with the spatula. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes along with the water. Add the fresh herbs, bay leaf and a pinch of sugar. Stir until well combined then lower the heat to a simmer and place a lid on the pot, slightly askew.
Cook for 30-45 minutes stirring frequently so the sauce doesn’t stick.
Adjust seasonings to taste, add the splash of milk and turn off the heat. Cover the pot with the lid to keep warm while you make the pasta.
To make the pasta to serve with the bolognese, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add desired pasta, I used tagliatelle here, and cook until al dente (usually 1 minute under recommended cooking time).
Use a hand held strainer to transfer the cooked pasta into the pot with the lamb bolognese.
A bit of pasta water will help loosen the sauce a little so the pasta can be a bit “drippy” as you transfer from the cooking liquid to the bolognese.
Toss the pasta and bolognese together in the pot then transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with extra fresh herbs and grated pecorino romano (or parmesan).
LAMB VS. BEEF BOLOGNESE
One of the reasons I like this lamb bolognese so much is the more extensive flavor it offers. Because lamb has a slight gamey taste to it compared to beef, herbs like oregano and rosemary become more fitting in this dish.
Compared with the usual basil or parsley used in a traditional beef bolognese, these herbs make the entire dish so cozy and hearty.
MEAL PREPPING THIS RECIPE
If you like batch cooking, this lamb bolognese is perfect for that.
You can easily double the recipe using two pounds of ground lamb and then freeze half for use at a later date.
I love recipes like this where it’s really no extra work to make double. You won’t regret pulling this meat sauce out of the freezer down the road!
FREEZING AND STORING BOLOGNESE
To freeze an extra batch or leftovers, let the sauce come to room temperature then transfer to a freezer safe bag or container and freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw under refrigeration then reheat on the stovetop. You can add a splash of broth or pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce up if needed while reheating.
Store leftovers in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to a week.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEAT SAUCE AND BOLOGNESE?
Bolognese originated in Bologna, Italy hence the name. Its meaning basically boils down to a “meat sauce from Bologna”.
Americans typically think of meat sauce accompanying spaghetti whereas Italian bolognese was originally created with tagliatelle, the thicker flat shaped noodle seen here.
Bolognese also often includes the addition of milk or cream whereas American meat sauce does not.
The differences are pretty subtle but I’m firmly in the bolognese camp when it comes to overall flavor.
THE BEST PASTA FOR BOLOGNESE
There’s nothing that says you must serve bolognese over pasta (zoodles are a great lower-carb option if desired) but that’s usually the norm.
Tagliatelle or pappardelle are my favorite shapes to pair with the decadent meat sauce but fettuccine will also do.
The wide, flat shape holds the sauce really well and offers a certain unexplainable comfort while twirling around your fork.
To be fair though, bolognese can be paired with any pasta shape you like, wide noodles are just more traditional.
And if you’re looking for a good green side dish pairing, Utica greens are the perfect recipe.
MORE RECIPES LIKE THIS TO TRY:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 carrots peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 celery stalks roughly chopped
- 5 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon anchovy paste optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup red wine
- 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes + 4 ounces water
- pinch of sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves removed and chopped
- 4 sprigs fresh oregano leaves removed
- splash of any kind of milk or cream optional but adds a nice decadence
- 1 pound tagliatelle or other desired pasta noodle, GF is necessary
- grated pecorino romano for serving
- Add the olive oil to a large Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat.
- Place the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Alternatively, you can chop everything by hand to a mince.
- Transfer the finely chopped vegetables to the hot pot and sauté until softened, stirring frequently, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add the ground lamb and cook with the vegetables until browned, breaking up with a spatula as it cooks.
- Next, add the tomato paste, anchovy paste if using along with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Stir until incorporated.
- Pour in the wine and deglaze any browned up bits on the bottom of the pan by scraping with a wooden spatula.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, water, sugar, bay leaf, rosemary and oregano and stir until everything is well combined.
- Lower the heat to a simmer and cook with a lid on but slightly askew for 30-45 minutes, stirring often. Sauce will thicken and reduce a bit by the end.
- Season to taste with additional salt and pepper towards the end of the cooking time as well as the splash of milk or cream. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (about 1 minute less than package directions).
- Using a hand-held strainer, transfer the cooked pasta to the pot with the bolognese. It's ok if a bit of pasta water transfers along with the pasta as it helps loosen the bolognese sauce.
- Toss to combine the pasta with the bolognese, transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh herbs and grated pecorino romano.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.