The Bolognese myth

Here you can find out why Spaghetti Bolognese is not Italian, why Sauce Bolognese is called “ragù”, which ingredients it contains - and what an Italian silk merchant has to do with it

Don't be surprised, when you are in Italy, if the “cameriere” (the waiter) rolls his eyes or shakes his head if you order Spaghetti Bolognese in a trattoria. The best-known Italian pasta dish with its meat and tomato sauce is available all over the world - except in Italy. There's a simple explanation for this.


Not Sauce Bolognese, but ragù alla bolognese

In Italy, the sauce is not called Sauce Bolognese, but ragù alla bolognese. The word is derived from the French “ragoût” and refers to braised meat, fish or vegetable dishes in a spicy sauce. “Bolognese” refers to the origins of the dish in Bologna. In the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region, “ragoût” became “ragù” during the Renaissance. This is when the first ragù recipes were created. The oldest surviving recipe for pasta with ragù comes from Imola, near Bologna.

Recipe number 87: “Maccheroni alla bolognese”

The name used today was first mentioned in 1891. At that time, the Florentine silk merchant and passionate culinary expert Pellegrino Artusi published a cookery book called “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene” (The science of cooking and the art of good food”). In this book - alongside nearly 800 recipes from many Italian regions – you can also find a recipe for ragù as we know it today. Recipe number 87 is called “Maccheroni alla bolognese”. At that time, the ingredients included dried meat (“carne secca”) as well as beef. Artusi also recommended dried mushrooms, truffles and goose liver to refine the sauce.

The original recipe for ragù alla bolognese

Today, there are countless versions of ragù alla bolognese all over Italy. Every family has its own recipe - and of course, mama’s is always the best. The Accademia Italiana della Cucina surely has nothing to complain about in this regard. However, the Academy for Italian Cooking does not show a lot of love for the use of ketchup, nuts or courgettes. That’s why, in October 1982, an original recipe for ragù alla bolognese was submitted to the chamber of commerce in Bologna for safe keeping. The recipe clearly specifies the ingredients and the manner of preparation: roughly minced meat, pancetta (pork belly bacon), carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes, dry white wine, full-fat milk, vegetable bouillon, olive oil or butter, salt and pepper (and as an option, a dash of cream). A particular feature of the preparation is the long simmering time and the wide range of techniques used in the process. The ingredients are sautéd, fried, steamed and braised.

And why not Spaghetti Bolognese?

Here is a traditional recipe for taglietelle with ragù alla bolognese. There is a simple reason why you’ll not find this ragù combined with spaghetti in Italy. The bolognese sauce doesn’t stick particularly well to the smooth, thin spaghetti. The result: you twist the pasta around your fork, and the sauce stays on the plate. That’s why in Italy, ragù alla bolognese is served only with short or wide pasta, such as tagliatelle. Ragù is also used for lasagne with bechamel sauce - or is simply rolled up in thin pancakes

Share this kitchen secret:


Recipes & kitchen secrets

Italian cuisine is full of well-preserved traditions. That’s what makes it so consistent in terms of its quality, and simply immortal. We will show you how to create these refined dishes for yourself. We won’t just offer recipes, but also secret kitchen tips that you can use every day, and which lead to better results even without the recipes.

Start cooking Italian food now