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Spaghetti bolognese
The Italian dish is much loved in IrelandGetty

The History Of Bolognese

The Italian classic may be more than you think.


It is not a traditional Irish dish, but it’s a dish that Irish people are genuinely obsessed with. However, the version broadly eaten in Irish homes (and some restaurants, unfortunately) is a bastardised version of the real deal. Here, Élodie Noël takes a look at the long and unexpected history of this dish. 

Simple to make, very tasty and inexpensive, spaghetti bolognese is a true crowd pleaser. But let’s get this straight: the spag bol that is eaten in pretty much every Irish household every other weeknight doesn’t have a lot to do with its Italian origin - you will actually never find a dish called “spaghetti bolognese” on a restaurant menu in Italy.

The Original Recipe

While the quest for the most traditional recipe leads to a much-heated debate in the motherland, it is established that the history of the bolognese sauce started in the late 18th century. The first mention of the term “alla Bolognese” appeared in Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook, “La Scienza in Cucina e L'arte di Mangier Bene” (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well). Published in 1891, it is recognised as the most famous Italian cookbook of modern times and features nearly 800 recipes.

In his “maccheroni alla Bolognese” (macaroni bolognese), Artusi used veal and pancetta - no mention of beef - as well as onion, carrot, celery, flour, broth, salt, pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese. A small amount of cream added at the end of the preparation is optional but recommended. Dried mushroom, a few slices of truffle, or chicken liver can also be included for additional flavour. From this recipe, the bolognese sauce evolved over the years, with every cook putting their own spin on it. So much so that many recipes don’t have much in common with Artusi’s original.

Read More: Baked rigatoni recipe from Matty Matheson

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Making It Official

To avoid their traditional dish from being butchered inland and abroad, the Italian Academy of Cuisine decided to register a recipe for the ragù alla bolognese, often referred to simply as “ragù”, with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce in 1982. The ingredient list is short and simple: beef cut from the plate section (cartella di manzo), unsmoked pancetta (pancetta di maiale distesa), onions, carrot, celery, passata (or tomato purée), meat broth, dry wine (red or white), milk, salt and pepper.

As for the method, the recipe starts with a classic Italian soffrito, a mixture of finely chopped carrots, onions and celery, sautéed in olive oil. Then, the minced or finely chopped beef and pork are browned in the saucepan. White wine, milk, and tomato purée are finally added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a thick sauce.

Compared to the pasta bolognese as we know it outside Italy, a major difference is the fact that tomato is used in a very limited amount - only a few spoons. There is no garlic, no herb, and the recipe recommends to cook the mixture slowly for at least two hours. There is certainly no ketchup or Worcestershire sauce.

Read more: Catherine Fulvio's Pork Ragù With Polenta

Varieties Of Ragù

In Bologna and the Tuscan region, you will not be disappointed wherever you order a pasta al ragù. They always taste beautiful, but the flavours differ slightly, confirming that there are probably as many recipes for ragù as there are cooks. What they all have in common though is that none of them will ever come with spaghetti. In Bologna, the sauce is mostly served with fresh tagliatelle, sometimes fettuccine or pappardelle.

In Drogheria della Rosa, a restaurant located in the heart of Bologna which serves the classic dishes of Bolognese cuisine, the chef only uses beef for his ragù, no pork. The tagliatelle are, of course, fresh and homemade, using one egg per 100 grams of flour.

In Ristorante Ciacco, another authentic bolognese eatery, it is the quality of the ingredients and the preparation time, a long and low heat cooking, that truly makes the difference according to Salvatore Lombardo, the maître d’hôtel.

In Osteria della Lodola, a guesthouse and restaurant located in Foiano della Chiana, two hours south of Bologna, the chef uses the end of a prosciutto leg that they serve as an element of their charcuterie board, creating the most stunning ragù sauce. The fatty, highly flavoured end of the Parma ham brings an unparalleled depth to this dish, served with fresh homemade pappardelle.

Élodie Noël
Élodie Noël

Author: Élodie Noël

Élodie is a French journalist who relocated to Dublin about three years ago. She immediately fell in love with the island and its amazing food and has been writing about it on her blog Lemon Lipstick. You can follow Élodie's food adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr.