Ragu vs Bolognese: a Sausage Ragù

Are you tired of the same old pasta sauce? This sausage ragù is comfort food at its best. Although it takes some time from start to finish, it cooks slowly and with little intervention. So you can make this Italian sausage pasta sauce on a lazy afternoon while you read a book, make a loaf of crusty semolina bread, and sip a glass of wine.

And know that the ragù vs Bolognese controversy is one that will stick with us for a while. Can a pasta sauce made with lentils be called a Bolognese? Is chocolate hummus really hummus? How do foods get their names?

a bowl of sausage ragu with cascatelli.
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What’s the difference between ragù and Bolognese?

A ragù, according to Merriam-Webster, is a non-specific term for an Italian sauce made of meat and tomatoes. Bolognese, or rather ragù alla Bolognese, is a specific type of ragù. It typically includes cooking a vegetable mixture of carrot, celery, and onion in the fat from pancetta and then sequentially adding ground beef and pork, milk, and white wine. Tomatoes may be included but do not play a prominent role in Bolognese.


So the true ragù vs Bolognese Venn diagram is less controversial than the bonbon and chocolate truffle Venn diagram. Bolognese is a subset of ragù. And lentil Bolognese, while delicious, is a misnomer. Or an empty set, if you like Venn diagrams.


Italian sausage, can of tomatoes, and other ingredients for the sausage ragu on a countertop.

Ok, now that you’ve learned the difference between ragù vs Bolognese, you can see that this sausage ragù recipe is inspired by methods used to make Bolognese. But it’s not Bolognese.

This Italian sausage ragù omits the pancetta found in Bolognese. I’ve added garlic, subbed in ground sausage and red wine, and given the tomatoes a co-starring role.

  • Tomatoes – whole tomatoes are your best choice because only good quality tomatoes can be canned whole.
  • Wine – a reasonable rule of thumb is that you should cook with wine that you would drink, but you also don’t want to use a great wine. A red blend or table wine or a Sangiovese would work well in this recipe.
  • Pasta – this sausage ragù is a thick sauce, so long or short pasta shapes work, but you’ll want one that’s sturdy like tagliatelle, rigatoni, or cascatelli.

Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.

Variations and substitutions

  • Use whole sausages if you can’t find bulk Italian sausage. Slice open the casings of the sausage to get the meat, and discard the casings.
  • Use ground beef or a combination for a beef and Italian sausage ragù.

Recipe tips and tricks

The panels below show the cooked vegetables added to the oil in the pan (Panel #1), the cooked ground sausage after milk has been added (Panel #2), and the level of dryness you should get before adding the wine (Panel #3). Using milk and cooking this Italian sausage ragù super slowly makes the meat super tender.

Tip from the wise quacker: pour at least a sip of wine before you add it to the pot to check if it is “corked.” Some people say that corking happens in up to 1 in 10 bottles of wine! Corked wine can taste sour or vinegary and is said to smell like wet cardboard or wet dog.

six panels showing steps in making sausage ragu from cooking vegetables to the meat sauce pasta.

[Apologies for missing a step and the slightly off-color pics!]

Add the tomatoes and cook slowly for at least 30 minutes (Panel #5). You can see from that shimmering picture why you might want to skim the fat from the surface. Or, if you don’t want to use the sauce immediately, cool it overnight and then remove the fat once it has solidified.

Serving pasta

Bring a big pot of water to boil, add salt, and cook your pasta to al dente according to the package instructions. Adding salt to the pot after the water is boiling will prevent the salt from pitting the pot.

When you mix the sauce and al dente pasta in the pan and heat the combination together before serving, the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. It gives your pasta better flavor and texture. Please don’t skip this step, regardless of whether you’re making something like this hot sausage pasta or a cold orzo pesto pasta salad.

plate of linguini and sausage ragu sprinkled with Parmesan.

What to serve with this sausage ragù

Recipe FAQs

Now what’s the difference between ragù and ragout?

A ragout is a meat stew, not a pasta sauce.

Can I freeze this ragù?

Yes. The ragù freezes perfectly in a Tupperware-type container once cool and can be defrosted on the stove top or microwave.

Is this sausage ragù a good recipe for a beginner?

Yes! There is nothing complicated about this meal. You just want to cook it slowly, so it takes a bit of time.

Does the alcohol cook off from this pasta sauce?

While it’s a myth that alcohol burns off completely during cooking, the time spent cooking this ragu will burn off most of the alcohol, according to the USDA.

Why did my sauce come out watery?

If your sausage ragù is thinner than you like, simmer it for a bit with the lid only partially covered so that the water evaporates. Also, some of the liquid will be absorbed when you finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, so please don’t skip this step!

a close up shot of penne pasta with sausage ragu.

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.


Sausage Ragù

5 from 1 vote
Category: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories: 297kcal
This sausage ragù is inspired by Bolognese, (because there are differences between ragu vs Bolognese). Although it takes a bit of time from start to finish, it cooks slowly and with little intervention. So you can make a side to go with your Italian sausage ragù while stirring the pot and sipping a glass of the wine you opened to make the pasta sauce.
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  • ½ cup onion
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 medium-sized carrot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 28 ounces (1 large can) whole tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Parmesan, grated for serving


  • Finely chop the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic.
    ½ cup onion, 1 stalk celery, 1 medium-sized carrot, 1 clove garlic
  • Add the olive oil to the pan and heat on medium low. Add the vegetables and cook until softened about 5 minutes.
    1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Add the meat, breaking up into small pieces, and cook until no longer pink.
    1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • Add the milk and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the milk has been absorbed.
    1 cup milk
  • Repeat with the wine (add and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally until absorbed).
    1 cup red wine
  • Add the can of tomatoes (discard the basil, if your can has basil), salt, and nutmeg, and cover. Continue to cook at a low simmer for at least 30 minutes. Occasionally check on the pot to skim off any fat that rises to the surface and then stir to break up the tomatoes.
    28 ounces (1 large can) whole tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • If you are having this over pasta, boil a large pot of well-salted water and cook the pasta as directed to al dente.
  • When the pasta has cooked, drain and return it to the pasta pot. Add as much sauce as desired to the cooked pasta and cook for an additional minute so the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.
  • Serve immediately with the Parmesan alongside for topping.
    Parmesan, grated


This sausage ragu recipe makes enough for 8 pasta servings or one 9 by 13 inch lasagna.
I find it simplest to use a food processor to chop the vegetables for this ragu. Just pulse and blitz until you get a fine chop, scraping down your bowl as necessary.
Slowly cooking the sausage in milk and then wine helps keep the sausage tender.
A reasonable rule of thumb is that you should cook with wine that you would drink, but you also don’t want to use a great wine. Pour at least a sip of wine before you add it to your sausage ragu to make sure it isn’t corked.
Mix the sausage ragu and al dente pasta in the pan and heat the combination together. This makes the pasta absorb some of the sauce and will give your sausage pasta better flavor and texture. Please don’t skip this step.


Calories: 297kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 46mg | Sodium: 860mg | Potassium: 567mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1560IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 89mg | Iron: 2mg
Love this recipe?Mention @Uglyducklingbakery or tag #uglyducklingbakery!

This sausage ragù recipe and information about the difference between ragù and bolognese was first posted March 6, 2021. It was last updated on May 5, 2023.

You’re an adventurous home cook looking for inspiration in your weeknight meals and weekend baking. Get that inspiration here:

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