The Ingredient That Will Change Your Bolognese Sauce Forever

What's your favorite pasta dish? Is it a classic like spaghetti with marinara sauce, or something zany like the baked feta pasta that went viral on TikTok? Does your palate tend toward the rich and comforting, like egg yolk-filled ravioli, or the spicy, like chili flake-infused penne arrabbiata? All of the above? When it comes to pasta, you can't go wrong.

If you're a meat-eater, it's very likely that you're a fan of bolognese, the basic ground meat sauce many of us have folded into freshly cooked pasta more than once. According to Simply Recipes, bolognese is a classic Italian sauce hailing from the northern city of Bologna. Made from ground beef, pork, or sometimes a combination of the two, the sauce is deeply flavored with a sauté of onions, carrots, celery, and tomatoes and is traditionally simmered for hours. But there's one other ingredient you should know about if you plan to make bolognese at home — and it might surprise you.

Bolognese traditionally contains milk

Many of us have stirred up an improvised bolognese sauce at home — browning some ground meat, sautéing it with some aromatics, adding tomatoes, and cooking it down. That makes a fine meat sauce, but it's not really bolognese without a rich, creamy ingredient: milk. According to Delish, a pour of milk brings a depth of flavor to bolognese and helps to soften the ground meat. As Melbourne, Australia restaurateur Guy Grossi told goodfood, "Milk adds a little richness and it may aid in tenderizing meat." 

Lidia Bastianich, the doyenne of Italian-American cooking, also recommends using milk in bolognese in her recipe. Her recipe calls for Bastianich browns onions, celery, and carrots before adding several pounds of ground beef and pork to the pan. Then, as the meat is browning, she warms milk with hot chicken or vegetable broth, adding it by the ladleful to the meat mixture as it bubbles away. After a whopping three hours, what's left is a "​​highly developed sauce" — one that owes no small measure of success to the creamy dairy it's cooked down in. So the next time you're craving meat sauce, don't forget to swing down the dairy aisle, too.