Pasta Bolognese with Spinach and Parmesan

Last Updated on September 17, 2023

This makes quite a large batch of saucy and savory slow-cooked bolognese, famed meaty sauce that hails from Bologna, Italy. Here, ground beef, pork and bacon are the main characters, but they are supported by a vegetable medley, warm and cooling spices, orange peel and tomato to keep things bright and nod to the sauces of the Italian south, as well as a little cocoa powder to darken the sauce and add a mild flavor of sharp dark chocolate. The rich sauce envelops noodles like tagliatelle, but can also be used for lasagna. In this recipe, spinach is added to the pasta to keep things bright and fresh. Parmesan is also extremely welcome here.

Pasta Bolognese with Spinach and Parmesan

3.85 from 52 votes
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Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Servings: 6


  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped 
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
  • 5 sprigs of thyme 
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp black pepper, coarsely ground 
  • 2 tsp fennel seed, crushed or coarsely ground 
  • 1 tsp crushed chili flakes
  • 3 strips orange peel 
  • 1 package ButcherBox Bacon, finely chopped 
  • 1 lb ButcherBox Ground Beef
  • 1 lb ButcherBox Ground Pork 
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
  • 4 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth 
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 12oz dried egg noodles such as tagliatelle 
  • 3 oz chopped spinach, for serving 
  • Parmesan, for serving


  • Sauté the vegetables by first heating the butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Season with salt (about 1 teaspoon) and cook, stirring often until the garlic is super aromatic and the vegetables have softened, about 7 minutes.
  • Add the thyme, cocoa powder, black pepper, fennel seed, chili flakes and orange peel and cook, stirring regularly, until very aromatic, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the bacon to the pot and use a wooden edged spoon to break up any clumping. Cook, stirring often until the bacon pieces start to shrivel and soften, but not brown, about 3 minutes. Next, add the ground beef and pork. Use a blunt edged spoon to break the ground meat into as small of crumbles as you can and stir into the vegetables. Cook, stirring, tossing and breaking down the crumbles as much as possible until no pink is left in the meat, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Pour in the tomato sauce and cook, stirring regularly for about 10 minutes until the tomato has fully heated through, has darkened a little and is bubbling, about 10 minutes. Pour in the broth and wine, bring to a simmer and turn the heat down to medium to medium-low. Cover with a lid that’s slightly ajar. Cook, lifting the lid occasionally and stirring, until the sauce has thickened and liquid has reduced about by about ¼ of the volume; the meat is very soft and tender; and the overall flavors are complex, rich, meaty, bright from the tomato, vegetable centric and with a kick of spice, about 45 minutes. Taste and season with salt or more spices, if desired, and let cool. 
  • Meanwhile, cook pasta, drain and reserve about ½ cup of pasta liquid. 
    When ready to serve, heat the pasta liquid with pasta in a large skillet. Once warm, stir in the spinach and a few generous spoonfuls of bolognese. Then transfer to bowls or plates. Finely grate Parmesan over the top, if desired. 


Note: Naturally, ButcherBox is a great source for making bolognese because of its bounty of ground meats, smoky bacon and any other porky or beefy odds and ends you may have left over from your box. So, if you don’t happen to have, say, ground beef, small diced beef can be a great substitute. The same is true for the pork or bacon; diced pork butt or other porky or beefy cuts you have on hand can be good substitutions or additions. The idea is that this recipe (and most recipes) is a starting point, but feel free to toggle the flavor profiles. By the way, this is probably best made on a lazy Sunday afternoon when simmering sauces is always welcome. Also, a further reminder, this makes a large batch of bolognese that keeps for about 1 week in the fridge or longer in the freezer. To reheat the sauce, add a little water, pasta water, a little milk (traditional and not called for in this recipe) and maybe a pat of butter over medium-low, stirring until saucy and warmed through.
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