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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
    Thanks for fabulous recipe 👋👋👋 planning on making this dish at the weekend. Question… could I pre cook pasta and then amalgamate with the sauce, sprinkle with cheese and bake in oven like a pasta bake? Any advice appreciated 🙂

    1. Hi Nina,
      Sure, I don’t see why that wouldn’t work for you! Let me know if you give this dish a try, I hope it’s a hit! xx

    1. Hi there! I haven’t tried that myself but that should work well, you could probably just brown the meat and then follow the same steps as the stove top! xT

  2. Just wanted to say thank you again for this perfect recipe. I make it often, it’s delicious and gratifying every time. It’s so versatile and simple then hugely flavorful. So grateful for your recipes and this amazing website, you are a wonderful gift to our family and so appreciated.

  3. 5 stars
    Another wonderful recipe. Hubby really liked this one. Took leftovers to my daughter and we enjoyed it even more than the first day. Flavors are delicious and this feeds an army. Froze the rest of the meat sauce for later use. Thank you for sharing.

  4. 5 stars
    This recipe was AMAZING! I used ground beef and pork, and I let it simmer for about 3 hours. Holy goodness!!! I can’t wait to eat the leftovers! I halved the recipe since I was only making it for my husband and myself.

    1. Hey Amy,
      Wonderful!! Thanks so much for making this recipe and sharing your feedback, so glad to hear that it was a hit! xx

  5. 5 stars
    10/10 absolutely amazing. Such a great dish when hosting because of the ability to simmer all day. It was a hit for everyone to the point where someone asked to have some of the leftover sauce. Thank you ❤️

    1. Hey Amanda,
      Happy Sunday!😃 Thanks so much for trying this recipe and sharing your review, so glad to hear it was enjoyed:) xT

    1. Hi Nicole,
      Sure, I would cook on 275F. Please let me know if you have any other questions, I hope you love this recipe! xx

  6. Hi Tieghan- we make so many of your recipes. They are always so yummy! For this one do you have a suggestion for a bison substitute?

    1. Hey Danica,
      For this recipe, you can just use more beef or sausage in place of the bison. Please let me know if you have any other questions! xT

  7. 5 stars
    Hey Tieghan – I made this sauce previously and had a little extra so I threw it in the freezer and used it later for baked ziti and the crowd LOVED it!

    I’ve got the sauce together and simmering, and plan to make baked ziti again with it but not for about 5 days. Would you suggest making the whole sauce and freezing? Or omitting the milk and pesto, and adding the day off?

    Thanks as always for your awesome recipes!!

    1. Hey Cara,
      Happy Holidays!! I love to hear that this recipe was enjoyed and appreciate you giving it a try! I would wait to add the milk and pesto once you reheat:) 🎄❄️

  8. 5 stars
    This sauce is absolutely delicious. The pancetta gives it such a great flavor!
    I did get my sauce a little too salty… do you have a tip for something I can add to cut some of the salt? Thank you for another great recipe!

    1. Hey Kate,
      Awesome!! Thanks a lot for making this recipe, I am so glad it turned out well for you! I would skip the fish sauce to reduce the salt. Have a great weekend!🎄⛄️

  9. 5 stars
    WOW – I made this exactly the way you wrote it and it was AMAZING….. Simmered for about 4 hours…. There was quite a bit of oil at the top so I just scooped it out before serving.
    Best part is there was enough to freeze for future dinners! Thank you <3

    1. Hey Tobi,
      Wonderful!! Thanks a bunch for making this recipe and sharing your feedback! Love to hear that it was enjoyed! Happy Holidays!🎄🎁

    1. Hey Cindy,
      Wonderful!! Thanks a bunch for making this recipe and sharing your feedback! Love to hear that it was enjoyed! Happy Holidays!🎄🎁

      1. My husband requested for his special birthday dinner. I have made this plenty, and every single time it is enjoyed by everyone. Thanks again for sharing such delicious recipes.

        1. Hi Colleen,
          Wonderful!! I appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your comment, so glad it was a hit! Happy Memorial Day weekend!🇺🇸