Recipe Review

Ina Garten’s Bolognese Is Ready in 30 Minutes. But Is It Too Good to Be True?

published Feb 2, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Headshot: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Our beloved Ina is back and ready to battle it out for Bolognese. This Kitchn showdown champion always has some clever hacks for creating ease for the home cook, and I couldn’t wait to see what her popular “weeknight Bolognese” entailed.

From the get-go, Ina strays from traditional Italian Bolognese by using lean sirloin (a less marbled meat) and omitting the classic aromatics: onion, carrot, and celery. Instead, she relies on garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes to carry the aromas. She also uses red wine instead of white. Would her shortcut version beat out longer-cooking versions? Or would the promise of weeknight Bolognese prove too good to be true? I tried it to find out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

How to Make Ina’s Weeknight Bolognese

You’ll start by browning the lean ground sirloin in a large skillet, then stir in minced garlic, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pour in 1 1/4 cups red wine and stir. Add a can of crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and black pepper and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

At this point, you’ll add nutmeg, chopped fresh basil leaves, and a splash of heavy cream, then simmer for 10 more minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the pan, finish with 1/4 cup more wine, and serve hot with Parmesan cheese.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of Ina’s Weeknight Bolognese

This was my least favorite Bolognese of the bunch, and let me tell you why. To begin, I’m not a huge fan of lean sirloin in sauces because I feel the beefy tallow of fattier cuts helps balance the deep wine and tomato flavors. Fat equals flavor, and when you’re trying to make an abbreviated Bolognese sauce, you need as much fat as you can get.

I also felt this recipe walked away from the idea of “Bolognese” when it omitted the base mirepoix (onion, carrot and celery) that Bolognese is known for. Ina’s chosen aromatics —  garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes — simply couldn’t stand up to what the rest of the sauce had in store. I felt like this was less a Bolognese and more a variant of an Italian-American red sauce.

The recipe says to simmer the wine-tomato mixture for 10 minutes, then add the cream and more aromatics and simmer for 10 more minutes. The end result was almost like a cream of tomato soup. I already thought it was too wine-y before I added the final 1/4 cup, and that last bit took it beyond repair. There simply wasn’t enough time to let the wine cook off and allow the rest of the flavors to meld. Because of this, I couldn’t taste any of the aromatics, and the cream sat on my palate in an unpleasing way. Even Parmesan could not save this sauce.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

If You’re Making Ina’s Bolognese, a Few Tips

  1. Use ground chuck. Ground chuck would bring some extra fat and flavor to balance out the heavy wine.
  2. Try different aromatics. A recipe with so much wine needs something to balance it out, and I think using the traditional onion, carrot, and celery combination would do the trick.
  3. Use white wine instead of red. The red wine flavor was so intense, and I think white wine or a lighter red would brighten and lighten things up.
  4. Cook the sauce longer. Cooking the mixture a little longer would allow the flavors to meld.
  5. Opt for milk instead of cream. The addition of cream toward the end of the recipe turned the texture of the sauce into a creamy tomato sauce. I might try using milk and even adding it earlier in the cooking process to see if that helps.

Overall rating: 3/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Headshots From Left to Right: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images, Noam Galai/Getty Images, Barbara Banks, Food & Wine

Have you tried Ina Garten’s Weeknight Bolognese? Let us know what you thought in the comments.