Crimes against ragù alla bolognese!
The celebrity chef Antonio Carluccio recently said that no such dish as spaghetti bolognese exists in Italy, where ragù alla bolognese is served over tagliatelle, and made “without any herbs whatsoever”. Why does the uniquely West European notion of “spaghetti bolognese” leave such a bad taste in the mouth?
His main beef with spaghetti bolognese is that it uses spaghetti, rather than the authentic fresh tagliatelle made with eggs, and that the meat sauce served on tables is corrupted by herbs such as oregano and basil, sometimes even garlic, when it should not contain any.
A true bolognese sauce includes a small amount of tomatoes or tomato paste in a rich sauce with meat and other ingredients. It tends to be served on thick pasta, as larger pasta shapes hold meat much better than finer pastas such as capellini. Variations on the sauce outside of Italy often include much more tomato and vegetable ingredients, which change the flavour profile considerably.
The base of bolognese sauce is a soffrito, an assortment of aromatic and flavourful vegetables such as celery, onions, and carrots fried in olive oil and butter. Next, chunks of meat such as beef and pancetta are added to the soffrito to brown. A dash of milk or cream is added and the mixture is briefly stirred before white wine is poured in and the sauce is allowed to reduce, concentrating the flavour and creating a rich broth. Next, tomato paste and stock are added, along with a dash of butter and salt. The bolognese sauce is stirred and then simmered gently until the meat breaks down. If you are already mouth-watering, why don’t you try making it at home. The recipe can be found here on our website.
The bolognese sauce may be tossed with pasta, or drizzled on top. Some cooks dress it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, while others prefer to let the natural flavour of the sauce come through. Freshly cracked salt and pepper may also be used in small amounts, to bring out the flavours of the bolognese sauce. Typically, pasta with bolognese sauce is served with a wine of choice, such as a rich red.
Why do we believe that the sauce is confined to a tomato-and-ground-beef sauce? Some think that all happened during World War II, when American (and British) soldiers passing through Emilia, ate tagliatelle al ragù and liked them. Back home, they asked for the dish and Italian restaurateurs created the dish we know today, with spaghetti. There is no evidence but the story could well be true. When American and British came back to Italy as tourists they asked for their beloved spaghetti bolognese and Italian restaurateurs gave it to them. The origins of the dish are unclear, but it may also have started as a simplified version of the ragù alla bolognese, and probably evolved in the UK or United States as part of fusion between Italian and local cuisine as in the aftermath of extensive Italian immigration to these countries in the early and mid-20th century.
In recent decades, the dish has become very popular in Sweden, Denmark and Norway as spagetti och köttfärssås, in Swedish, spaghetti og kødsovs in Danish, and spaghetti og kjøttdeig in Norwegian, especially among children. The tomato-and-ground-beef sauce bears little resemblance to the ragù served in Bologna.
A true bolognese sauce is paired and served with tagliatelle. Acceptable alternatives to tagliatelle include other broad flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine, and tube shapes, such as rigatoni and penne. Ragù alla bolognese along with béchamel is also used by many Italian chefs to prepare traditional baked lasagna in bolognese style.
Definitively worth trying!