Italian Style Sloppy Joe’s

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Sloppy Joe's Italian Style

I originally made these for a tailgating party, but you can make these anytime. I call these the perfect manfood. Messy, flavorful and not your typical sloppy joe. 

When I think of a tailgating party, I think of food that is hearty, mobile, easy to eat with one hand and a great accompaniment to beer. I knew immediately I wanted to transform an all American classic  by making over the Sloppy Joe into Italian Bolognese sliders.

At first, I was a little hesitant, wondering if bolognese sliders would count as a legitimate tailgating food. I’m not a sports fan and I’ve never been tailgating so I did a little tailgating recipe googling, and I. discovered I’m missing out. Tailgating is a lot more than wings and beer at the back of a car. Tailgaters take their food seriously and may prepare for days in advance.  Some tailgaters just tailgate and don’t even go into the stadium.

They might host a tailgate party for up to 50 friends, many of whom also tailgate and it’s one big eating serious food party. Did I mention that the food is accompanied by large amounts of alcohol?  And all the while,  I was envisioning burgers on the back of pick up trucks.  And food and drink may not be the only pleasure.

I would bring a rustic table covering,  my  new two-bite hand held apple pies  a big pot of bolognese sauce, rolls and butter for toasting and a big bowl of tuscan kale salad.

This is not the first bolognese I’ve written about. I featured Marcella Hazan’s bolognese with my fresh pasta recipe. It was also delicious, perhaps a bit sweeter, as the recipe had more carrots and a lot more tomatoes.  This recipe is different in that it has sausage (which I increased) and pancetta, two flavor builders I think are just right for this event.

The results were beyond my expectations. I missed last month’s “cooking with wine” challenge as my blog was in maintenance mode, and this covers that too, because bolognese  is made with wine,  just one of the many ingredients that builds an incredible hearty and complex flavor to ground meat.

The  one thing an original  Sloppy Joe and my bolognese sliders have in common is finely ground meat, mostly beef with some tomato. The traditional Sloppy Joe meat is sweetened with brown sugar, not my favorite ingredient in savory food. On the other hand, bolognese is much richer, as flavors are built layer by layer with a battuto of celery, onion and carrot, wine, pancetta, and tomato puree and  finished off with milk, which adds to its richness.

The test of a good slider is the tease factor. If after eating one, you have to have another and then another, you’ve got a good slider. These passed the tease test, so you might want to make a double batch if you are serving a large crowd.

Tell me, what is your favorite tailgating food or drink that meets the tease test?

Sloppy Joe's Italian Style
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Tailgating with Bolognese Sliders, the Five Star Sloppy Joe Makeover

(Adapted from La Cucina Italiana , October, 2009) an Italian take on an American tradition of Sloppy Joe's.
Servings: 6


  • 1 14- ounce can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes in juice or half large 28 ounce can
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 celery rib roughly cut
  • 1 small onion roughly chopped
  • 1 medium carrot roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter divided (3 for sauce, 1 for toasting rolls)
  • 2 links sweet Italian sausage removed from casing
  • 2 ounces pancetta or bacon finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • small water rolls


  • Puree tomatoes until smooth. Set aside.
  • Heat beef broth with tomato paste. Set aside.
  • Make battuto. Chop together the celery, onion and carrots.
  • Melt butter in large pot until frothy. Add vegetables, sausage and pancetta. Cook on low heat, until veggies are softened, not browned, about 25 minutes.
  • Add beef, pork, and break up with wooden spoon. Cook 10 minutes. Do not brown.
  • Add salt and pepper.
  • Add wine, bring to boil until it is mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  • Add tomato puree and beef broth mixture and bay leaf.
  • Cook for 2 1/2 hours on simmering heat until liquid is evaporated.
  • Add milk and cook for 30 more minutes.
  • Add pinch of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Brush rolls with butter. Grill until toasted golden brown.
  • Spoon bolognese sauce on rolls.

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  1. I bet these were fantastic. I have fond memories of sloppy joes from school cafeteria lunches (they were one of the only good things) but these sound so much better. Personally, I’ve always thought the concept of the “slider” to be over-hyped, but in some cases (like this one,a party), they are the perfect format. Oh, and those little apple pies look adorable!

  2. Very smart idea! This is like the perfect little 2 bite snack. And by the way, I love those little leaf toothpicks! Those are the cutest.

  3. I’m not a fan of sport but I’m a fan of tailgate party! hahaha. I don’t care who’s playing. All i care is food and drink. I adore these sloppy joe and your take on these. All the flavors together sound delicious!

  4. These sound wonderful. I love sloppy joe’s and this rendition looks fantastic. I must have missed this recipe in La Cucina Italiana. One of my favorite magazines. Perfect tailgating grub!

  5. These look delicious — they’re like the ultimate sloppy joes with a gourmet twist! Love how you served them as sliders…one of these would definitely leave me wanting more!

  6. I love the concept of your makeover! The bolognese sliders look adorable and I bet they taste fantastic!

  7. Something about this tailgate idea brings out food of my youth in my head… I thought about sloppy joes and then my head moved to ham… but not before thinking “why don’t I make those again>?” It’s been years and I loved them as a kid… probably because I made such a mess eating them. YOurs look delicious… can’t wait to try the recipe on a bun… great fun.

  8. Well…. I have no idea what tailgating is although by the sound of your story it has to do with sports…. Your sloppy joe remakes however look delicious! I would gladly have one of those, even if it might finding out what tailgating is! 🙂

    1. Simone, people party at the back of their cars with grills, etc. often elaborately in parking lots at stadiums. Lots of food and drink involved.

  9. Angela, I’m feeling so unAmerican;)… I’ve never had a sloppy joe. I don’t know how I missed trying one, but it’s true. I must say, your Bolognese slider may just be the most delectable way to give it a try!

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