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My family’s favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese. Slow cooked Italian Bolognese sauce with a mix of meat, vegetables, tomatoes, and a splash of vodka to create the most delicious and rich Bolognese. A little pesto adds a pop of fresh flavor. Serve this sauce over rigatoni pasta and top with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese. All it needs is a side of crusty bread for mopping up all that sauce. You simply can’t go wrong with this warming Bolognese.

My Family’s Favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese |

December recipes are a little different for me. Each one I share really needs to feel special. I don’t just want a dish to serve on Monday night, but one you can serve at your next dinner party too.

With so much entertaining happening during the busy holiday season, we need dinners that are simple, but special, you know?

This Bolognese has become my family’s favorite. My brothers especially love this. It’s perfect to serve while everyone is home for Christmas break!

I first made this for my older brother. My siblings have been asking me to make them a good, classic Bolognese dinner for years. I knew when I finally decided to make this recipe that I had to get the sauce just right. It took a few rounds of testing – but no one seemed to mind.

Each version was slightly different, but the recipe I landed on is truly perfect.

It has a few elements that really make it extra special.

My Family’s Favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese |

The details

What’s awesome about this sauce is that it’s mostly hands-off and simply simmers on the stove all day long. In fact, it’s even better if you can make the sauce the day before to really allow the amazing flavors to develop.

Start by cooking some pancetta. The pancetta is pretty traditional in an Italian style Bolognese and adds a really deep flavor to the sauce. Next add in the veggies, then all the meats. I love to use a combination of ground beef, bison, and pork.

When the meat is browned, stir in the tomatoes and cook until they really coat all of the meat. Then add some vodka, just like you’d make an alla vodka sauce. The vodka balances the tomatoes and creates the most flavorful sauce.

Stir in water and simmer the sauce with thyme and a parmesan rind.

My Family’s Favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese |

Finish it up

The longer you can cook the sauce over low heat, the better. The more time it has to cook, the more flavor it will develop. And as I said, this is great for making the day before too.

When you’re ready to serve, just boil off some pasta and then toss the sauce with the pasta. I usually add a handful of parmesan cheese too. Then just serve and enjoy! Oh, and be sure to serve with chunks of crusty bread for mopping up all that sauce…delicious.

This recipe feeds a lot, probably way more than you need, so chances are you’ll have leftovers. And those leftovers…they are amazing.

You can serve throughout the week with pasta or make cheesy stuffed peppers (our favorite). You can also freeze the leftover sauce too. The options are endless!

My Family’s Favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese |

Looking for other family dinner recipes? Here are a few ideas: 

Creamy White Chicken Chili

Cider Braised Short Ribs with Caramelized Onions

30 Minute Coq au Vin Chicken Meatballs

Lastly, if you make my family’s favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!

My Family’s Favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 25 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories Per Serving: 783 kcal

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.



  • 1. In a large dutch oven, cook the pancetta over medium heat, until crispy, 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and red pepper, and cook until the veggies are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute.
    2. Add the beef, bison, and pork. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up the meat as it cooks, until browned all over, 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook 5 minutes, then pour in the vodka. Add the crushed tomatoes, 3 cups water, and fish sauce. Stir in the thyme, bay leaf, and parmesan rind. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 2-3 hours or up to all day. If the sauce seems dry at any point, add up to 1 cup water.
    3. Discard the thyme, bay leaf, and parmesan rind. Stir in the milk and pesto, cook until warmed through, 10-15 minutes.
    4. Meanwhile, boil the pasta until al dente. Drain and add back to the pot. Ladle the sauce over the pasta and toss to combine. Divide the pasta among bowls and ladle the bolognese over top. Serve topped with parmesan, and fresh herbs. Enjoy!
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My Family’s Favorite Pesto Pasta Bolognese |

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  1. 5 stars
    So good and really easy to make. My family loved it and I stored the extra sauce in ball jars and froze it for the next time.

    1. Hey Michelle,
      Love it!! Thanks so much for making this recipe and sharing your feedback! So glad it was enjoyed:) Happy Monday!🎄

  2. 5 stars
    My family loved this recipe! Very easy and amazing flavors. I did end up draining my meat / scooping grease off the top — I used 80/20 pork and 85/15 beef so maybe that’s why? Either way, this is perfect for a chilly Sunday afternoon when I had a few hours to let it simmer while I continued to decorate the house for Christmas. Thanks for another great recipe!

    1. Hey Katie,
      Love it!! Thanks so much for making this recipe and sharing your feedback! So glad it was enjoyed:) Happy Monday!🎄

    1. Hey Kim,
      Fantastic!! So glad to hear that this recipe turned out well for you, thanks a bunch for giving it a try! xx

    1. Do you drain the meat before adding all the other ingredients? Going to make this for some friends coming for dinner and I know my boys will like it too.

    2. Hi Kim,
      Yes, that should work well for you, I would add everything to the instant pot and cook on high pressure for 12-15 minutes. I hope you love this dish, please let me know if you give it a try! xx

    1. Hey Ellen,
      Sure, you could store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Please let me know if you have any other questions! xx

    1. Hey Alyssa,
      You can use broth in place of the vodka. Please let me know if you give this recipe a try, I hope you love it! xx

    2. I used white wine since I didn’t have any vodka at home! I thought it turned out pretty good… and I poured myself a glass! 🙂

      1. Hey Katie,
        Love it!! Thanks so much for making this recipe and sharing your feedback! So glad it was enjoyed:) Happy Monday!🎄

  3. Made this tonight (forgot the milk and pesto 😆) but it was fabulous without it! The whole family loved it. Will be making again!

    1. Hey Becca,
      Thank you so much for making this recipe, I love to hear that it was a winner! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! xx

  4. Delicious recipe! I’m in England and couldn’t find tomato paste, so substituted with a mix of puree and canned tomatoes. What would be your suggested quantities for water and paste/canned tomatoes? I’ve actually got it simmering right now so was curious!

    1. Hey Shalina,
      Thanks so much for giving this recipe a try! I bet the tomato puree will be just fine and to keep the water as listed. Let me know how it turns out! Happy Thanksgiving! xx

  5. This is amazing but gtfo of here with fish sauce. miss me with that who hurt you putting anchovies in this here deliciousness

  6. 5 stars
    This recipe looks amazing but any sub for the fish sauce? Kids have nut and seafood allergies..Also I’ll be making a homemade pesto without nuts so hopefully turns out well! Thank you and my family has loved every recipe I’ve made of yours so far!

    1. Hey Courtenay,
      Just skip the fish sauce:) I hope your family loves this recipe, please let me know if you give it a try! xT

    1. Hey Jenn,
      Totally, that will work well for you! I hope you love this recipe, please let me know if you give it a try! xx

  7. Hi! Wanted to try making this recipe and wanted to confirm if the recipe needs 2 cans of tomato paste of 6 oz each or 6 oz of tomato paste in total?

    1. Hey Vivian,
      You will want to use 2 6 ounce cans, so 12 ounces total for this recipe. Please let me know if you have any other questions! xx

  8. 5 stars
    Love this recipe! I’ve made it like 5 times so far and it’s always a hit. I use ground venison,beef and turkey. The past couple times I made it I used garlic parm venison sausage and it was reallly good. Thanks for sharing it !

    1. Hi Heather,
      Perfect! I appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your review, I love to hear that it was a hit! xxT