Monday, December 4, 2023

Instant Pot American-Style Bolognese Sauce (Spaghetti Meat Sauce)

An American-style Bolognese meat sauce, seasoned with a mirepoix of vegetables, beef and pork, tomatoes and wine, made in the Instant Pot!
An American-style Bolognese meat sauce, seasoned with a mirepoix of vegetables, beef and pork, tomatoes and wine, made in the Instant Pot!

Instant Pot American-Style Bolognese Sauce (Spaghetti Meat Sauce)

So, the other day I had a craving for spaghetti.

I know, crazy, right? Mostly folks have "cravings" for sweet things, but me, I'm more of a savory kind of gal, so when I get a craving it's more likely it's for some kind of savory comfort food.

Maybe chicken and dumplings. Or tacos. Lasagna. Or those little burgers like Krystal's. Roast Chicken. Chicken Pot Pie. Homemade Mashed Potatoes. That sort of stuff.

Anyway, this specific time after our recent carb-heavy holiday meal, I was craving meat and more specifically meat sauce. I started to just make my normal semi-homemade spaghetti sauce, but then, I thought...

Let's try a slightly different sauce this time.

Let's try it in the Instant Pot!

That's how a food blogger's mind works y'all - we seem to be in the creative process most of the time when it comes to preparing food. We're always looking for something new to do with ordinary ingredients!
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And then I thought, what exactly is the difference between the spaghetti meat sauce I usually make and this Bolognese sauce everywhere?

Turns out, that's not such an easy question to answer!
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I first turned to my trusty self-proclaimed "bible of authentic Italian cooking" The Silver Spoon cookbook (#ad) and found that the Bolognese sauce in it was quite simple and didn't agree much with the Bolognese of the internet. Imagine that!
  • It starts with a basic mirepoix of onion, carrot and celery and adds garlic, though it notes the garlic as optional.
  • Ground beef is used, though half ground veal with half pork, or half ground beef with Italian sausage is also acceptable.
  • The sauce consists of tomato paste and water, and that's it, though a mixture of white wine with water can be used.
  • Seasoning is simple - salt and pepper and it is added early, before the sauce simmers.
  • The sauce simmers for 1-1/2 hours.
  • Sliced mushrooms, sauteed in butter first and then added in the last half hour are a suggested addition.
  • Pasta to use is advised to be one that is a long, flat and ribbon shaped, such as a tagliatelle.

There are a lot of different thoughts on bolognese online, and none of them agree with the other! I poked around and found the basics from the Academy of Italian Cuisine, filed in 1982 and revised in 2023, which includes:

  • It usually starts with pork belly or salt pork, but not smoked bacon.
  • Seasoning vegetables are the same mirepoix of onion, carrot and celery.
  • Minced beef is what the recipe calls for, though it is noted that a 60/40 blend of mixed beef and pork could be used, though veal and only pork aren't allowed.
  • The sauce consists of tomato, usually a puree, tomato paste, meat or vegetable broth and red or white wine. No brandy.
  • Milk or heavy cream is sometimes added as well, though it appears to be optional, but no flour is to be used for thickening.
  • Seasonings are typically only salt and pepper and aren't added until the end of the cooking time.
  • It usually cooks for at least 2 hours, preferably 3.
  • Enrichments can include chicken giblets, crumbled pork sausage, seared peas and mushrooms.
  • There are a lot of seasoning elements that are "not allowed," many of them herbs and certain spices that are classics that we use in our sauces here in America, like Italian seasoning.

Long story short, my version falls somewhere in between both of those and my own semi-homemade sauce, so it's not a Classic Italian Bolognese Sauce by any means. I think it'd be safe to say that the sauce I made is more of an American-style Bolognese ragu.

I can say one thing for certain.

This sauce turned out ultra-delicious and we sure gobbled it up! Frankly I liked it even better than the sauce I traditionally make.

Here's how I made it.

Boil pasta with salt according to package directions; drain and set aside. I used my Fasta Pasta (#ad) to cook the spaghetti noodles. Y'all know I love this thing! You won't need as much salt for this as you would in a large pasta pot either. I usually just add a pinch of kosher salt.

Meanwhile, set your Instant Pot to the SAUTE function and add olive oil and the bacon. You may also use salt pork. Cook just until fat is rendered out. When I speak to Instant Pot here, as always, this applies to any branded electronic multi-cooker. You just may need to adjust the directions based on the functions of your pot and/or do some of the prep on the stovetop.

I settled on using an 85/15 lean ground beef and mild Italian sausage for my meats, though you can use half ground veal with half pork of any kind.

Add the ground beef to the drippings in the Instant Pot.


Remove the sausage from the casings.

Add the sausage to the ground beef.

Cook, stirring regularly, until most of the pink is cooked out.

This is one of the older choppers I have had for many years and I believe I got this one on QVC, but there are many different ones available (#ad) on the market. If you don't keep a food processor on the counter and you have space for one, it's a good tool to have y'all. You still have to do a little prep, but it takes away the rest of the work. I'm using a large carrot and medium sized onion for about1-1/2 cups chopped. I wanted to and did include in the recipe a rib of celery, however I discovered I was out! 

They also do an easy job of giving you a consistent sized chop on vegetables without having to do it all by hand.

Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, seasonings and bay leaf to the meat and toss.

Stir in wine. You can use either white or red, or if you don't want to use any alcohol, substitute broth.

Use whatever wine you like but remember. Use a wine that you would drink! This is a good one.

Then add pasta sauce and tomatoes to the meat. Rather than using whole, crushed or pureed tomatoes, I'm taking inspiration from my own semi-homemade sauce by starting with pasta sauces instead. I like Del Monte and Hunts but had a jar of Ragu in the pantry that had been given to me, so that works too and it's one that is often found on sale.

Give it a good stir.

CANCEL, then seal pot and select the MANUAL function. Set for 10 minutes at HIGH pressure. Let pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then carefully release any remaining pressure. Taste and add salt and pepper, taste again and adjust seasonings as needed. Add red pepper flakes for a boost of heat or offer at the table. Hold sauce on the KEEP WARM setting until you're ready for it, stirring occasionally.

Note: If using milk, press CANCEL function, stir in milk and press SAUTE button. Cook and stir until milk is well incorporated and sauce has taken up the milk, taking on an orange tint.

Serve over hot cooked spaghetti noodles with a side salad and garlic bread.

Speaking of which, y'all. This bread!

I saw it on QVC a couple of times and finally ordered the four-loaf sampler pack and wow, is it a good bread!

This garlic bread was the third loaf I've baked and all of them turned out great and the pricing is aligned with a local artesian bread shop too. The garlic bread version is already seasoned and pre-sliced too, so all you need to do is to spread the garlic blend out evenly before sticking it in the oven.

The craziest thing is this stuff is shelf stable for months, even though it's organic, thanks to the packing process and use of an oxygen absorber packet. None of mine have made it to the freezer, but I'd suggest that if you do try a multi-loaf pack and freeze some of them, that you remove the oxygen absorber and repackage the breads into vacuum sealed freezer bags. They are made by The Essential Baking Company (#ad) so check them out sometime! They have premade pizza crusts too that I totally plan to try.

For more of my favorite spaghetti recipes, check out this collection on my Pinterest page!

Unable to view the printable below on your device? Tap/click here.

Posted by on December 4, 2023
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