Penne Bolognese is a quick and easy dinner recipe combining a hearty meat sauce with chewy al dente penne pasta. Switching up the traditional spag bowl by using an alternate pasta gives variety in taste and texture to the dinner table. Penne pasta bolognese is meaty, saucy and deliciously cheesy. Your family and friends who you make it for are going to LOVE it (and you, haha!) 😍.
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Comfort food: there is nothing like a bowl of bolognese sauce and pasta for satisfaction. It doesn't have to be traditional spaghetti bolognese to make you feel like you are in Italy, this penne bolognese recipe will deliver the goods 😉👌.
- Budget friendly: beef mince is cheaper than other cuts of meat and you can use an economical brand of pasta to keep the weekly shop under control. This recipe calls for affordable ingredients that will allow you to stick to your budget.
- Fast cook time: forget spending hours simmering a bolognese sauce and bring this penne bolognese together in less than half an hour!
- Versatile: there are plenty of options to add variety to this simple penne with bolognese sauce. You can check out my substitutions and variations for ways to bulk up or spice up the recipe.
- Family favourite: this spaghetti meat sauce recipe will be loved by the whole family regardless of age. It is the perfect family dinner recipe.
- Freezer friendly: whip up a batch, let it cool then freeze for busy weeks and night's when you don't have time to start from scratch.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Olive oil: we add this to the pan as a starting point to allow us to cook the beef mince.
- Salt and black pepper: are added when we cook the ground beef as a means to season it.
- Garlic: a couple of finely chopped fresh garlic cloves.
- Onion: skin peeled and finely diced.
- Italian herbs: Italian seasoning is a pantry staple, making it an easy choice for the herby flavour in the dish.
- Beef bouillon cubes: crushed and sprinkled over the top of the pan adding flavor to the bolognese sauce.
- Tomato paste: thick and rich, you can use this as a pizza sauce if you need. It brings a lovely rich tomato flavour to the sauce.
- Worcestershire sauce: gives a little oomph to the bolognese. It is my preference to use this as opposed to stock or wine in the recipe.
- Diced tomatoes: grab the ones with no extra herbs or spices, we don't need extra stuffs, simply the plain tomatoes.
- Tomato passata (tomato puree): this forms the basis of the bolognese sauce.
- Ground beef mince: an excellent versatile freezer friendly cut of meat. It works wonders in many recipes. Lean ground beef or premium will both work well.
- Penne pasta: easy to get your hands on at your local supermarket, this is a tubular pasta. With a wide variety of brands available you will be able to get a budget friendly packet of this pasta.
- Garnish: a trio of black pepper, pecorino romano cheese and basil will season and add the final touches of taste and texture to the dish.
Tasty Tip: I like to offer a number of substitutions and variations to give you options when making the recipe. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section before diving into the instructions on how to make the recipe below 👍😉.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the recipe. We start by browning the beef in a large pan with the oil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper.
- Add oil, garlic, onion, beef salt and pepper to pan (Photo 1)
- Then add sauce ingredients (Photo 2)
- Stir and simmer for 15 minutes (Photo 3)
- Reserve some pasta water (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Penne Bolognese
We start the recipe by cooking the beef mince on the stove. Do this by placing a large sauté pan on an element on high heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, onion, ground meat, salt and pepper. Cook this using a wooden spoon to break up any clumps of meat as you go. It will take 5 to 8 minutes.
Once done we add the sauce ingredients to the pan. Pour in the passata, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Italian herbs and sprinkle the beef bouillon cubes over the top. Stir to combine then reduce the heat to low and allow the bolognese to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
You can also use this time to cook the pasta on a separate element on the stove. Simply read and follow the packet instructions using a medium sauce pan of boiling salted water. Reduce by 1 minute for al dente (slightly chewy pasta).
Moments before it is done, use a heat proof jug to scoop out 1 to 2 cups of pasta water. Then drain the penne using a colander over the sink.
You can discard the rest of the pasta water.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce (Photo 5)
Next add the cooked penne to the bolognese sauce and then pour in ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Pour in pasta water (Photo 6)
Once you have added the pasta water, you can use a wooden spoon to toss and combine the cooked pasta, bolognese sauce and starchy pasta water.
- Toss and garnish the bolognese (Photo 7)
Now that all of the elements of the dish are cooked and combined, you are almost ready to serve 😉👍.
Give the dish a garnish with the trio of freshly cracked black pepper, grated pecorino romano cheese and basil leaves to add a pop of colour.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
This is a hearty meal and you might find it enough as it is. Or you can opt for smaller portion sizes and have a side or bread pairing.
For wine pairings a glass of white wine will go down a treat. A Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio both good choices. For red wine lovers, I recommend a dry red wine like Pinot Noir 😉👍.
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers of the penne bolognese on a plate in the fridge with cling wrap or in airtight containers. They will last for 3 days.
How to Freeze
Allow the dish to fully cool before portioning into containers. A good option is to freeze the bolognese sauce separately and then cook fresh penne to go with it the night you want to eat or serve it. Or you can freeze cooled portions of the combined dish. Thaw the dish completely before reheating.
How to Reheat
Refrigerated leftovers can be reheated in the microwave, on a plate with cling wrap over the top. They will only take 2 to 3 minutes to heat through. You can also add a couple of drops (teaspoon) to a saucepan and add the leftover bolognese sauce. Turn the heat to medium and stir till heated through.
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- If you want to add more vegetables, try finely chopped carrots, celery, bell peppers and or sliced mushrooms.
- You can use minced garlic in place of the freshly chopped cloves. Up to 1 tablespoon will work well.
- Dried oregano or dried basil can be used (equivalent amount) in place of the Italian herbs. Or you can use the combination of the 2 of these to the amount (½ teaspoon each).
- You can use dried onion (1 tablespoon) if you don't want to peel and chop a brown onion.
- Parmesan cheese can be used in place of the pecorino romano for garnish.
- Parsley can be used in place of the basil leaves for garnish.
- You can use pork mince in place of the ground beef.
- Chicken mince or ground turkey are other proteins you can use in place of the beef mince.
- Rigatoni, spiral or macaroni are good alternative pastas to use, or you can use your favorite pasta.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- When purchasing the tomatoes, opt for a tin that is plain with no additional herbs or 'Italian style'. This allows us to know exactly what herbs we are using to flavor the bolognese sauce without extras.
- Be a little gentle when tossing the pasta and sauce, stirring too vigorously leads to some of the penne tubes bursting open.
- The ground beef is higher in fat than some ground meats. For this reason only 1 tablespoon of olive oil is needed to cook it. If using pork mince, you can use 1 ½ or 2 tablespoons.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
What is penne Bolognese made of?
Penne bolognese is made from a combination of ground beef with a tomato based sauce garnished with fresh herbs, cheese and black pepper.
Is Bolognese better with pasta or spaghetti?
Many pastas can be used with bolognese sauce from spaghetti to tagliatelle, penne or fusilli. It comes down to personal preference which pasta or spaghetti it is served with.
Does bolognese need milk?
Some recipes call for adding milk to bolognese sauce as a means to tenderise the meat. It is not, however, essential to every recipe or a necessary ingredient. There are plenty of full flavored bolognese sauce recipes that do not include milk.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
Never wonder 'What's for dinner?' again with some tasty recipes that you can turn to offering a variety of flavours and cook times. Here are some ideas to try:
- Linguine Bolognese
- Fettuccine Bolognese
- Baked Pasta Bolognese
- Pesto Pasta Bake
- Easy Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese
- Meatball Bolognese
- Turkey Mince Bolognese
- Spaghetti Alla Bolognese
- Spaghetti Al Pesto
- Tuna Pesto Pasta
Easy Penne Bolognese
- 1 Medium Saucepan to cook the pasta
- 1 Heatproof jug to reserve the pasta water
- 1 Colander to drain the pasta
- 1 Large saute pan to cook the beef and sauce
- 1 Wooden spoon to cook, stir and combine
- 1 Micro plane zester to grate the cheese
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped, Note 1
- ½ cup onion diced, Note 2
- 500 grams/1 pound ground beef mince
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 700 grams/28.4 oz passata Note 3
- 400 grams/14 oz diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cubes beef bouillon Note 4
- 1 teaspoon Italian herbs
- ½ cup/125 ml reserved pasta water Note 5
- 500 grams/16 oz penne pasta
- cracked black pepper
- pecorino romano cheese
- basil leaves
- Ground beef: place a large saute pan on the stove on heat heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, onion, beef, salt and pepper. Cook till browned using a wooden spoon to break up any clumps of meat as you go. This will take 5 to 8 minutes.
- Pasta: read and follow the instructions on the penne packet to cook it in a large sauce pan of boiling salted water. Moments before draining, use a heat proof jug to scoop out 1 to 2 cups of pasta water. Then drain using a colander and discard the rest of the water.
- Sauce: once the meat is cooked add the sauce ingredients. Pour in the tomato passata, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Italian herbs and sprinkle the bouillon cubes over the top. Stir to combine, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Combine: once the bolognese sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, add the cooked drained pasta to the pan, then pour in ½ cup of reserved pasta water. Use a wooden spoon to gently toss and combine.
- Garnish: sprinkle cracked black pepper over the top with grated pecorino romano cheese and fresh basil leaves. Provide forks and spoons for serving.
- Note 1 - Garlic: you can use 2-3 cloves finely chopped or 1 tablespoon of chunky minced garlic.
- Note 2 - Onion: this is equal to ½ a brown onion skin peeled and diced.
- Note 3 - Tomato passata: in some countries this will be known as tomato puree.
- Note 4- Beef bouillon cubes: these will crush very easily, so hold them over the pan when you are using your finger tips to crush and they will sprinkle straight into the dish.
- Note 5 - Reserved pasta water: I usually scoop out 1 to 2 cups, as they can be handy to juice up leftovers. However, the recipe calls for only adding ½ cup (125 ml) of this when combining the sauce and pasta.