If you ask what the world’s favourite Italian dish is, a large amount will say spaghetti bolognese. The problem is that it doesn’t exist in Italy!
Picture the scene. A tourist, after months of dreaming of sun and plates of pasta is sitting at a table in Italy, beads of sweat forming on their brow when they can’t find ‘bolognese’ after frantically scanning the menu.
The startled tourist asks the waiter for their recommendation, who politely suggests that they try the tagliatelle al ragù instead.
So, let’s talk about why spaghetti bolognese is not Italian. (And by the way, that’s Bolognese, not ‘Bolognaise’, as I have seen it spelled around the world.)
First of all, Ragù alla Bolognese, or Bolognese sauce, is only one of the many ways which a meat sauce – or Ragù – can be prepared in Italy.
What is Ragu?
Ragù in Italy is a general term, used to indicate any meat sauce cooked over low heat for many hours. Each ragù is composed of numerous ingredients, which vary according to each region or even towns – hence “alla Bolognese”, meaning from the town of Bologna.
In Italy, the Bolognese version of Ragù contains tomatoes and is only served with tagliatelle, tortellini or gnocchi, and never with spaghetti, unless you are eating in a restaurant only for tourists. These thicker pastas are more able to hold the chunky sauce.
It is thought that the birth of the original recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese can be traced back to the end of the 1700s. It was then that Alberto Alvisi, the chef of the Cardial of Imola, cooked the first real tomato-based meat sauce, which was served with a plate of macaroni pasta.
By the beginning of the 1800s, recipes for tomato-based ragù start to appear in some cookbooks from the Emilia-Romagna region. However, at this time it was a dish that was generally reserved for holidays or special occasions.
The original recipe for Bolognese sauce was shaped over the intervening years and the ‘official’ version of the recipe was registered by the Italian Academy of Cuisine at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce on October 17th 1982.
In the official version, bacon and milk are listed among the usual ingredients. Milk! That’s surprised you hasn’t it!?
In Italy, where things can seem to be chaotic only when it comes to food are they very technical and precise!
No two ragus are the same
Nowadays, in Italy, Ragu sauces aren’t just made with meat: they can also be prepared with fish (sea bass and sea bream are popular choices), vegetables and even tofu.
But how many types of meat ragù sauce are out there? Countless versions! Some people prepare it with only one type of meat, some use garlic, others use rosemary, and some use venison. wild boar and even lamb to make their sauce.
Apart from Bolognese, the most famous version of a tomato-based ragù is perhaps from Naples.
Neapolitan ragù, is made with tomatoes and whole pieces of meat, cut as if they were pieces of a stew. The meat comes from different animals: beef, veal and pork. The whole thing is simmered for several hours, until it becomes soft and tasty.
So, try the wonderful selection of ragu when you come to Italy. Just don’t ask for bolognese!