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Bolognese sauce (UK: /ˌbɒləˈnz, -ˈnɛz/, US: /ˌblənˈjz/;[1] known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese, pronounced [raˈɡu alla boloɲˈɲeːse, -eːze], ragù bolognese, or simply ragù) is a meat-based sauce in Italian cuisine, typical of the city of Bologna. It is customarily used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne alla bolognese. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a slowly cooked sauce, and its preparation involves several techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. Ingredients include a characteristic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped beef, often alongside small amounts of fatty pork. White wine, milk, and a small amount of tomato concentrate or tomatoes are added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a thick sauce.

Ragù alla bolognese
Tagliatelle al ragù (image modified).jpg
Bolognese sauce used for tagliatelle al ragù
Alternative namesRagù
Place of originItaly
Main ingredientsGround meat (beef or veal, sometimes pork), soffritto (celery, carrot, onion), tomato paste, wine (usually white)

The earliest documented recipe of an Italian meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna. A recipe for a meat sauce for pasta that is specifically described as being "bolognese" appeared in Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook of 1891. The ragù alla bolognese that is now traditionally associated with tagliatelle and lasagne is somewhat different from Artusi's recipe. Many traditional variations currently exist. In 1982 the Italian Academy of Cuisine registered a recipe for authentic ragù alla bolognese with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (incorporating some fresh pancetta and a little milk). In Italy, ragù alla bolognese is often referred to simply as ragù.

Outside Italy, the phrase "Bolognese sauce" often refers to a tomato-based sauce to which minced beef (or pork) has been added; such sauces typically bear less resemblance to ragù alla bolognese being more similar in fact to the ragù alla napoletana from the tomato-rich south of the country. Whereas in Italy ragù is not used with spaghetti,[2] so-called "spaghetti bolognese" has become a popular dish in many other parts of the world.

Origin and historyEdit

The earliest documented recipe for a meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna.[3] Pellegrino Artusi published a recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being bolognese in his cookbook published in 1891.[4] Artusi's recipe, which he called Maccheroni alla bolognese, is thought to derive from the mid 19th century when he spent considerable time in Bologna (maccheroni being a generic term for pasta, both dried and fresh[5]). The recipe only partially resembles the ragù alla bolognese that is traditionally associated with tagliatelle.[6] The sauce called for predominantly lean veal filet along with pancetta, butter, onion, and carrot. The meats and vegetables were to be finely minced, cooked with butter until the meats browned, then covered and cooked with broth. Artusi commented that the taste could be made even more pleasant by adding small pieces of dried mushroom, a few slices of truffle, or chicken liver cooked with the meat and diced. As a final touch, he also suggested adding half a glass of cream to the sauce when it was completely done to make it taste even smoother. Artusi recommended serving this sauce with a medium size pasta ("horse teeth") made from durum wheat. The pasta was to be made fresh, cooked until it was firm, and then flavored with the sauce and Parmigiano cheese.[4]

Evolution and variationsEdit

Tagliatelle al ragu bolognese as served in Bologna.

In the century-plus since Artusi recorded and subsequently published his recipe for Maccheroni alla bolognese, what is now ragù alla bolognese has evolved with the cuisine of the region. Most notable is the preferred choice of pasta, which today is widely recognized as fresh tagliatelle. Another reflection of the evolution of the cuisine over the past 150 years is the addition of tomato, either as a puree or as a concentrated paste, to the common mix of ingredients. Similarly, both wine and milk appear today in the list of ingredients in many of the contemporary recipes, and beef has mostly displaced veal as the dominant meat.

In 1982, the Italian Academy of Cuisine (Accademia Italiana della Cucina), an organization dedicated to preserving the culinary heritage of Italy, recorded and deposited a recipe for "classic Bolognese ragù" with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (La Camera di Commercio di Bologna).[7][8][9] A version of the academy's recipe for American kitchens was also published.[3] The academy's recipe confines the ingredients to beef cut from the plate section (cartella di manzo), fresh unsmoked pancetta (pancetta di maiale distesa), onions, carrot, celery, passata (or tomato purée), meat broth, dry white wine, milk, salt and pepper.

Nowadays, there are many variations of the recipe even among native Italian chefs,[10][11][12] and the repertoire has been further broadened by some American chefs known for their expertise in Italian cuisine.[13]

Ragù alla bolognese is a complex sauce which involves various cooking techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. As such, it lends itself well to interpretation and adaptation by professional chefs and home cooks alike. Common sources of differences include which meats to use (beef, pork or veal) and their relative quantities, the possible inclusion of either cured meats or offal, which fats are used in the sauté phases (rendered pork fat, butter, olive or vegetable oil), what form of tomato is employed (fresh, canned or paste), the makeup of the cooking liquids (wine, milk, tomato juices, or broth) and their specific sequence of addition.

The numerous variations among recipes for ragù alla bolognese have led many to search for the definitive, authentic recipe.[14] Some have suggested the recipe registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 1982 as the "most authentic".[15]

A pot of ragù bolognese

However, this would be inconsistent with the academy's own beliefs and statements about remaining faithful to tradition in documenting and preserving Italy's culinary heritage.[why?][16][17] The Milan-born chef Mario Caramella stated, "In Italy, there are several traditional recipes of tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese with more or less slight variations".[12] According to UK cookbook author and food writer Felicity Cloake, "The fact is that there is no definitive recipe for a bolognese meat sauce, but to be worthy of the name, it should respect the traditions of the area",[14] a view that is consistent with that often expressed by the Italian Academy of Cuisine.

The many variations tend to be based on a common theme. For instance, garlic is absent from all of the recipes mentioned above, as are herbs other than the parsimonious use of bay leaves by some. Seasoning is limited to salt, pepper and the occasional pinch of nutmeg. In all of the recipes, meats dominate as the principal ingredient, while tomatoes, in one form or another, are only an auxiliary ingredient.

Traditional service and useEdit

In Bologna ragù alla bolognese is traditionally paired and served with tagliatelle made with eggs and northern Italy’s soft wheat flour. Acceptable alternatives to fresh tagliatelle include other broad flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine, and tube shapes, such as rigatoni and penne.[18] While the combination of the ragù with fresh tagliatelle remains the most traditional and authentic in the Bolognese cousine, some - such as Piero Valdiserra - have argued in favour of capitalizing on its already internationally widespread combination with spaghetti, even by attempting to portray it as not entirely foreign to local tradition.[19]

Ragù alla bolognese along with béchamel is also used to prepare traditional baked lasagna in Bolognese style.[10]

International Day of Italian Cuisines 2010Edit

Gruppo Virtuale Cuochi Italiani (GVCI), an international organization and network of culinary professionals dedicated to authentic Italian cuisine, annually organizes and promotes an "International Day of Italian Cuisines" (IDIC). In 2010 tagliatelle al ragu alla bolognese was the official dish for IDIC.[20] The event, held on 17 January 2010, included participation by 450 professional chefs in 50 countries who prepared the signature dish according to "an authentic" recipe provided by chef Mario Caramella.[21] Media coverage was broad internationally,[22] but reports often incorrectly identified the recipe followed as that of l'Accademia Italiana della Cucina, and some included stock photographs of spaghetti Bolognese.[14][23]

Spaghetti bologneseEdit

Spaghetti bolognese with thyme and basil

Spaghetti bolognese (sometimes called spaghetti alla bolognese, or colloquially spaghetti with meat sauce, or just spaghetti) is a pasta dish that is popular outside Italy (such as in other parts of Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific), but not part of traditional Bolognese or even Italian cuisine.[24][25] The dish is generally perceived as inauthentic when encountered by Italians abroad.

It consists of spaghetti served with a sauce made from tomatoes, minced beef, garlic, wine and herbs; sometimes minced beef can be replaced by other minced meats. In this sense the sauce is actually more similar to Neapolitan ragù from the south of Italy than the northern Bolognese version of ragù. It is often served with grated Parmesan on top, but local cheeses, such as grated cheddar are also often used. It may be served with a larger proportion of sauce to pasta than is common in genuine Italian spaghetti dishes. The sauce may be laid on top of the pasta (rather than being mixed in, in the Italian manner) or even served separately from it, leaving diners to mix it in themselves.

The origins of the dish are unclear, but it may have evolved in the context of early twentieth century emigration of southern Italians to the Americas (particularly the United States) as a sort of fusion influenced by the tomato-rich style of Neapolitan ragù. In countries where it is common, the sauce is often used for lasagna in place of ragù alla bolognese as in Bologna and elsewhere in Italy.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2008), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.), Longman, ISBN 9781405881180
  2. ^ "Ragu alla Bolognese – Authentic recipe". Culinaria Italia. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  3. ^ a b Kasper, Lynne Rossetto, The Splendid Table, Morrow, ISBN 0-688-08963-1
  4. ^ a b Artusi, Pellegrino, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (English translation), recipe 87, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-8704-3
  5. ^ De Vita, Oretta Zanini (15 September 2009). Encyclopedia of Pasta. Translated by Fant, Maureen B. University of California Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-520-94471-8. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  6. ^ Scarpato, Rosario (2010). "Tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese: the dictionary". GVCI - Gruppo virtuale cuochi italiani. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  7. ^ Gruppo Virtuale Cuochi Italiani. "The Classic Bolognese Ragù according the Accademia Italiana della Cucina". itchefs. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  8. ^ Gruppo Virtuale Cuochi Italiani. "Il classico Ragù alla Bolognese secondo l'Accademia Italiana della Cucina" (in Italian). itchefs. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  9. ^ Carlo Alberto Tozzola; Bologna Cooking School. "Come fare le Tagliatelle con ragù alla bolognese" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 15 September 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  10. ^ a b Hazan, Marcella Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Knopf, ISBN 0-394-58404-X
  11. ^ "The Ragù according to the Simili Sisters". IT Chefs GVCI.
  12. ^ a b "Tagliatelle with ragù Bolognese sauce, Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese by Mario Caramella". IT Chefs GVCI.
  13. ^ Bertolli, Paul, Cooking by Hand, Potter, ISBN 0-609-60893-2
  14. ^ a b c Cloake, Felicity (25 November 2010). "How to make perfect bolognese". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  15. ^ "Tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese: the dictionary". IT Chefs GVCI.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) ; retrieved 2 March 2012
  17. ^ Accademia Italian dell Cucina, La Cucina – The Regional Cooking of Italy, Rizzoli, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8478-3147-0 (English translation of La Cucina del Bel Paese)
  18. ^ Hazan, Giuliano, The Classic Pasta Cookbook, Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 978-1-56458-292-8
  19. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (25 November 2016). "Italian or British? Writer solves riddle of spaghetti bolognese". Guardian Australia. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  20. ^ "International Day of Italian Cuisines 2010". itchefs GVCI.
  21. ^, retrieved 2 March 2012
  22. ^ "IDIC 2010: a worldwide celebration". ITChefs GVCI.
  23. ^ Squires, Nick (18 January 2010). "Spaghetti bolognese recipe: Italian chefs show world the correct way". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  24. ^ Pizzimenti, Chiara. "Spaghetti bolognese a chi?". (in Italian). La Cucina Italiana. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Spaghetti bolognese in Bologna?, Pisa to Lake Garda, Series 4, Great Continental Railway Journeys". BBC.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit