Lamb Bolognese is a gourmet twist on a classic Italian pasta recipe. Nothing is more comforting than twirling big forkfuls of pappardelle in this rich sauce. Make a double batch, because it’s freezer friendly!

A gold fork twirling pappardelle pasta with lamb bolognese in a black bowl.

Other than Italians, I have a feeling that Midwesterners eat just about the most pasta per capita. Especially in the fall and winter, when it’s cold, damp and seems to start getting dark at about 2pm.

While I definitely try to sprinkle in lighter, non-pasta dinners like almond crusted chicken and shrimp fajitas, I do admit that noodles like salmon pasta make up a significant portion of our cravings during this time of year.

And while a pack of ground beef will always be on standby for rigatoni bolognese or fettuccine bolognese, sometimes I like to change things up.

Just as ground lamb tacos are a unique twist on taco night and lamb sliders are elegant for a holiday appetizer, this lamb bolognese recipe will have you coming back for seconds with its rich, hearty, gourmet flavor.

A large skillet filled with lamb pasta made with pappardelle noodles, garnished with parsley.

What is lamb bolognese?

Bolognese is a meat-based Italian pasta sauce, named for the city of Bologna. It is sometimes known as ragu alla bolognese or simply ragu.

It can be used to prepare lasagna with cottage cheese, or just stirred together with cooked pasta like pappardelle (or other options, discussed below).

Just like my sweet dumpling squash soup, I classify bolognese as relatively easy – if a little time consuming – but worth it. There’s some time spent up front getting a good brown on the lamb, then the vegetables, then breaking up the meat into little bits.

But then, you get to the most important (and hands off) part of this lamb bolognese recipe – the two hour SIMMER.

This is where you can go read a book or do a quick Peloton ride, because you only need to stir every 30-40 minutes or so.

After the simmer, you’ll just need to cook some pasta and then stir it together with the bolognese before serving.

If you’re looking for a quicker pasta dish, my Greek yogurt pasta sauce comes together in about 40 minutes, so it’s perfect for a weeknight.

A black bowl filled with ground lamb pasta sauce over pappardelle noodles, garnished with parsley and cheese.

What is the difference between bolognese sauce and spaghetti sauce?

In the U.S., “spaghetti sauce” is usually very tomato-heavy. It may have ground meat like beef or sausage in it. And it’s always served with, of course, spaghetti!

Bolognese sauce is more meat-forward. It may or may not have some type of tomato product in it (in my lamb bolognese recipe, there’s just a smidge of tomato paste). It’s thicker and richer than spaghetti sauce.

Bolognese also typically includes milk, as the enzymes in the dairy tenderize the meat.

What is the best pasta for ground lamb pasta?

While in Italy, it is traditional to serve bolognese with freshly made tagliatelle, that’s not something that I can typically get my hands on.

Making fresh homemade pasta has never been my idea of a good time, and I don’t always have access to freshly made pasta to buy. So, I love dried pappardelle or tagliatelle for this ground lamb bolognese.

Penne, like in my Mexican pasta bake and Cajun salmon pasta, is another great tube shaped pasta with ridges that works well with this sauce. Penne is also fantastic for Greek lasagna.

Rigatoni is also great because both the tube shade of the noodle, and the ridges on the outside, make it an ideal pasta shape for the meaty sauce to cling to.

Bolognese is also perfect with regular old spaghetti noodles, like I use for my lentil ragu, or linguine like I use for my pasta with capers.

A gold fork twirling pappardelle pasta with meat sauce in a black bowl.

One of my favorite tips for lamb bolognese:

Don’t want to open a bottle of wine to make one batch of ground lamb bolognese? Neither do I. I’m the only wine drinker in my house, and only very occasionally, so opening a bottle is usually quite wasteful.

I like to keep mini bottles (187 mL) of both red and white wine on hand, just for cooking.

They’re SO handy to have around. Each bottle equals just a tad over 3/4 cup. Since you need 3/4 cup of wine for this lamb pasta recipe, you can either take a few sips first, or just round up on the wine a little bit and use the entire bottle. A little extra wine never hurt any bolognese.

What type of red wine should I use for ground lamb pasta?

I typically use cabernet sauvignon in this bolognese recipe, but pinot noir would also be great in lamb bolognese.

As long as it’s not too sweet, just about any red wine will be just fine for ground lamb pasta.

Or, if you have white wine left over from a wine and cheese board, that works in a pinch for this lamb pasta, too. But red wine is always my first choice for this recipe, if possible.

Variations on lamb bolognese:

  • lamb bolognese with ricotta – dollop a spoonful of ricotta cheese on top of each bowl when you serve! Use the extra cheese to make baked lemon ricotta cheese.
  • lamb bolognese with peas – stir thawed frozen peas (also great for breakfast fried rice!) in at Step 8 in the recipe below to add an extra serving of vegetables to this dish.
  • lamb bolognese with cream – to make a creamy lamb bolognese, stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream at Step 8.
A large skillet and two black bowls on a wooden surface, all filled with noodles covered in a red meaty sauce and garnished with parsley.

Can you freeze this lamb bolognese recipe?

Yes, bolognese sauce itself freezes great!

I recommend that you make and freeze the sauce on it’s own (make the recipe through step 6, then freeze).

Then, when you’re ready to eat it, simply thaw and warm the sauce, and cook your pasta at that point. Then, stir it all together and eat (steps 7 through 9).

What to serve with lamb pasta:

There’s hidden vegetables built right into this ground lamb bolognese, but if you’d like even more, I’d suggest a simple green salad with feta dressing.

My Thanksgiving salad also pairs really well with rich, meaty dishes like crock pot beef stroganoff and this ground lamb pasta recipe, whether it’s Thanksgiving or not!

You can also never go wrong with some balsamic asparagus or balsamic green beans.

And how about a gin rosemary cocktail to drink and some affogato (coffee with ice cream) for dessert? 

More great pasta recipes:

Pair it with meat, seafood, or keep it vegetarian. Pasta is just about the most versatile ingredient ever!

A black bowl filled with lamb bolognese tossed with pappardelle noodles.

Lamb Bolognese

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Lamb Bolognese is a gourmet twist on a classic Italian pasta recipe. Nothing is more comforting than twirling big forkfuls of pappardelle in this rich sauce. Make a double batch, because it’s freezer friendly!

Ingredients

  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large sprig thyme
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 12 ounces dry pappardelle
  • Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley, for serving

Instructions

  1. In bowl of food processor fitted with knife blade attachment, pulse celery, carrots and onion until very finely chopped.
  2. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Break ground lamb into about 8 chunks and add to pot. Season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally but not breaking up meat, 6 to 8 minutes or until outside of lamb chunks are browned. Using slotted spoon, transfer lamb to medium bowl.
  3. Add celery mixture to pot and cook 10 to 15 minutes or until all moisture has evaporated and vegetables begin to lightly stick to bottom of pot, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in wine and reserved lamb. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until wine is evaporated, using spoon to break lamb into small bits as it cooks.
  5. Add tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme and cook 5 minutes or until tomato paste is slightly browned, continuing to break lamb up as it cooks.
  6. Stir in water, milk, and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, 2 hours or until mixture has reduced to a sauce consistency and meat is very tender, stirring about every 30 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Taste sauce and season with additional salt if necessary.
  7. Heat large pot of salted water to boiling over high heat. Add pappardelle and cook for 2 minutes less than package directions for al dente.
  8. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and transfer to pot with bolognese. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water. Increase heat to medium, and cook, while stirring pasta and sauce together, 2 minutes or until pasta is al dente and everything is combined. Add additional pasta water if necessary, to keep things saucy!
  9. Serve topped with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Notes

Adapted from Bon Appetit.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 746Total Fat: 33gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 179mgSodium: 489mgCarbohydrates: 61gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 41g

This website provides estimated nutrition information as a courtesy only. You should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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