Rigatoni Bolognese is a meaty, saucy pasta dinner that’ll stick to your ribs. Ground beef, garlic, and plenty of fresh basil give the homemade sauce a ton of flavor.
A Hearty Pasta Dinner with Homemade Bolognese Sauce!
When in doubt, pasta. That’s my family’s rule, anyway. I often enjoy a low-carb alternative – Bolognese Stuffed Peppers, anyone? However, if you’re in a pinch and need an easy dinner that even the picky eaters in your house will enjoy, pasta is usually the right choice!
This Rigatoni Bolognese is a perfect example. Hearty rigatoni noodles are just right in a thick, nourishing bolognese sauce loaded with ground beef. It’s as satisfying as a meal you worked on all day, but easy enough to whip up in under an hour.
Most of the ingredients in this recipe are versatile, wholesome items that you probably keep stocked in your fridge and pantry. One exception might be fresh basil leaves, but if you need to, you could substitute dried – I won’t tell! 🤫
Rigatoni: A box of rigatoni, or you can substitute penne.
Olive Oil: For sautéing.
Onion, Celery, and Carrots: Chop up one small yellow onion, and dice the carrots and celery.
Garlic: Minced, fresh garlic adds the brightest taste, but garlic powder will work, if that’s what you prefer.
Ground Beef: Lean ground beef doesn’t have to be drained, but fattier ground beef like ground chuck may have a beefier taste.
Crushed Tomatoes: A large can or box of crushed tomatoes.
Fresh Herbs: Again, dried will work, but fresh herbs definitely elevate this sauce. Parsley and basil for the sauce, and a little extra parsley for garnish.
Salt and Pepper
Pecorino Romano: Freshly grated, for serving.
What Does Rigatoni Mean in Italian?
Rigatoni comes from the word “rigate” in Italian, which means “ridged.” These tube-shaped pasta pieces have ridges along the outside, which helps them cling to the pasta sauce. The tube shape helps, too! Rigatoni is a fairly large pasta shape, which is great for this big, bold dish.
What’s the Difference Between Rigatoni and Penne Pasta?
Penne is also a tube-shaped pasta with ridges, but it’s thinner and sometimes a little longer than rigatoni. Penne also has pointed ends cut on the diagonal, while the ends of rigatoni are blunt. Both pasta shapes work well with bolognese sauce, but I think rigatoni is a slightly better choice since it’s very robust and hearty.
How to Make Rigatoni Bolognese
There are basically two parts to this dish: cooking the pasta, and making the sauce. You can simply cook the pasta according to the package directions, and the sauce is easy to make in one pot.
Start the Pasta. You’ll want to cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Start heating the pasta water first, or check out the Tips and Tricks section below for timing the pasta and sauce to finish cooking at roughly the same time.
Cook the Vegetables. To get started with the sauce, heat your olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and cook those for about 3 minutes. Then stir in the garlic, and let that cook for a minute or so, stirring often so it doesn’t scorch. Burnt garlic tastes very bitter. Finally, add your diced celery and carrots to the pot, and cook all of the veggies for 5 minutes more. If the pan seems dry, add a bit more oil.
Add the Ground Beef. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Add the ground beef to the pot, and cook it for about 10 minutes, breaking it up as it browns.
Add the Remaning Ingredients and Simmer. Once the beef is browned, you can add the crushed tomatoes and herbs to the pot. Bring this to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low, and add the salt and pepper to taste. Cook the sauce for 25 minutes, or until it has thickened a bit.
Finish the Dish. Taste the finished sauce for salt and pepper, and adjust as needed. Then, serve the bolognese sauce over the cooked, drained rigatoni, and top each plate with a sprinkle of grated pecorino romano and fresh chopped parsley.
Tips and Tricks
To make your rigatoni as scrumptious as possible, be sure to check out these helpful hints and easy variations. Enjoy, and happy cooking!
Salt the Water: To maximize the flavor in your rigatoni (and other pasta dishes), make sure to sprinkle salt into the pasta water generously. You might not want the pasta water to be quite as salty as ocean water, but it should definitely have a little flavor. That way, the pasta itself will have some flavor, instead of a plain flour taste.
Time the Pasta: It might be easiest to start the pasta and the sauce at the same time, but if you don’t want the pasta to sit and wait while the sauce finishes simmering, you can time them to be done together. To do this, start heating the water for the pasta about 20 minutes before the sauce is done. If the water takes 10 minutes to heat, and the rigatoni takes 10 to 15 minutes to cook, you should have both items done at almost the same time.
Protein Substitutes: I love this dish with ground beef, but it’s also amazing with ground turkey, or with Italian sausage. You can go with spicy or sweet sausage – either would be delicious.
Add Dairy: For a creamier version of the sauce, try adding a small amount of whole milk, half and half, or heavy cream. The richer the dairy, the more it will enrich the flavor of the sauce.
Tasty Side Dish Suggestions
Serve this dish as dressed-up or dressed-down as you please. It makes a great meal as is, and plays well with all kinds of side dishes. These are some of our favorites:
Garlic Bread: I love making really basic garlic bread by toasting baguette slices, rubbing a cut clove of garlic over each slice, and adding butter. For something a little fancier, try these restaurant-style Garlic Parmesan Breadsticks with Garlic Dipping Sauce. Fair warning: they are impossible to stop eating!
Zucchini: Add a green veggie side that’s a little different from the typical green bean or broccoli dish. Zucchini are wonderful any way you slice them (see what I did there?). These Skillet Zucchini and Mushrooms are so full of umami flavor you’ll want to make a meal out of them on their own.
Salad: A simple green salad is always a good option, or you can make this cool and crunchy Cabbage Cucumber Salad. It’s refreshing, robust, and includes a seriously yummy homemade vinaigrette dressing.
Storing and Reheating the Leftovers
To store leftover rigatoni, let cool down a bit and then place it in an airtight container (or a zip-top bag). Refrigerate for 2 to 3 days.
You can reheat this dish in the microwave or in a covered skillet set over low heat. Add a splash of water if you think the pasta seems a bit dry.
Can I Freeze Rigatoni Bolognese?
Yes, you can cool down the cooked pasta and sauce, and then transfer it to a disposable foil pan for freezing.
Cover it tightly in two layers of foil or plastic wrap and freeze for up to three months.
Reheat in the oven at 350˚F, covered with foil, until the pasta and sauce are hot.
Prep Time 20mins
Cook Time 25mins
Total Time 45mins
Cook pasta according to the directions on the box.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven set over medium heat.
Add the onions to the hot oil and cook for 3 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir frequently.
Add celery and carrots; cook for 5 more minutes. Add more oil, if needed.
Increase heat to medium-high and add the ground beef; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until browned, stirring frequently to break up the beef.
Stir in the crushed tomatoes, parsley, and basil; bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low.
Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook for 25 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
Taste for salt and pepper; adjust accordingly.
Spoon bolognese sauce over the cooked and drained rigatoni.
Top with grated pecorino romano and parsley.
Pasta: Rigatoni is a tube-shaped pasta with ridges along the outside, which helps them cling to the bolognese pasta sauce. You can also use Penne pasta. As a general rule, heartier sauces are served with wider, bigger noodles, and noodles like, fettuccine or linguine, are best paired with cream sauces.
Ground Beef: I love my bolognese prepared with ground beef, but it’s also really good with ground turkey or even Italian Sausage!
Add Dairy: For a creamy version, add a small amount of heavy cream to the meat sauce while cooking.
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