Bolognese sauce

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Bolognese sauce
Tagliatelle al ragù
Alternative namesRagù, ragù alla bolognese
Place of originItaly
Region or stateBologna
Main ingredientsGround meat (beef or veal, pork), soffritto (celery, carrot, onion), tomato paste, wine (usually white), milk

Bolognese sauce,[a] known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese[b] or ragù bolognese (called ragù in the city of Bologna, ragó in Bolognese dialect), 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.

Italian ragù alla bolognese is a slowly cooked meat-based 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 paste or tomato sauce are added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a thick sauce.

Outside Italy, the phrase "Bolognese sauce" is often used to refer to a tomato-based sauce to which minced meat has been added; such sauces typically bear little resemblance to Italian ragù alla bolognese, being more similar in fact to ragù alla napoletana from the tomato-rich south of the country. Although in Italy ragù alla bolognese is not used with spaghetti (but rather with flat pasta, such as tagliatelle),[2][3][4] "spaghetti bolognese" has become a popular dish in many other parts of the world.[where?]


The origins of the Bolognese ragù are related to those of the French ragout, a stew of ingredients reduced to small pieces, which became popular in the 18th century.[5]

The earliest documented recipe for a ragù served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna, from Alberto Alvisi, cook of the local Cardinal[6] Barnaba Chiaramonti, later Pope Pius VII.

In 1891, Pellegrino Artusi published a recipe for a ragù characterized as bolognese in his cookbook.[7] 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[8]). 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. No tomatoes were included. 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 Parmesan cheese.[7]

Evolution and variations[edit]

Since Artusi recorded and subsequently published his recipe for maccheroni alla bolognese, what is now[when?] ragù alla bolognese has evolved with the cuisine of the region. Most notable is the preferred choice of pasta, which today[when?] is widely recognized as fresh tagliatelle. Another reflection of the evolution of the cuisine since its inception, is the addition of tomato, either as a puree or as a concentrated paste,[9] to the common mix of ingredients. Similarly, both wine and milk appear today[when?] 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).[10][11][12] A version of the academy's recipe for American kitchens was also published.[6] 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 di pomodoro (or tomato purée), meat broth, dry white wine, milk, salt and pepper.

Nowadays,[when?] there are many slight variations of the recipe even among native Italian chefs,[13][14][15] and the repertoire has been further broadened by some American chefs known for their expertise in Italian cuisine.[16]

A bowl of ragù alla bolognese

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.[17] Some have suggested the recipe registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 1982 as the "most authentic".[18]

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?][19][20] 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",[17] 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 use[edit]

Tagliatelle al ragù as served in Bologna

In Bologna ragù 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.[21] While the combination of the ragù with fresh tagliatelle remains the most traditional and authentic in the Bolognese cuisine, 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.[22]

Ragù alla bolognese, along with béchamel, is also used to prepare traditional baked lasagne in Bolognese style.[13]

Spaghetti bolognese[edit]

Spaghetti bolognese with thyme and basil

Spaghetti bolognese, or shortened to "spag bol" in the UK, is a popular pasta dish outside Italy, although not part of Italian cuisine.[23][24] The dish is generally perceived as inauthentic by Italians.[3][4][25][26]

Spaghetti bolognese consists of spaghetti served with a sauce made from tomatoes, minced beef or other meat, garlic, wine and herbs. In this sense the sauce is actually more similar to Neapolitan ragù from the south of Italy than the northern Bolognese version of ragù.

The dish 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 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 or it may have developed in immigrant restaurants in Britain in the post war era.[27] The first mention of this combination appeared in the book Practical Italian recipes for American kitchens, written by Julia Lovejoy Cuniberti in 1917, and published to raise funds for the families of Italian soldiers, at the time fighting in World War I. In the book bolognese sauce is recommended for "macaroni or spaghetti". The latter were in fact already widespread in the United States, unlike tagliatelle, traditionally made fresh and difficult to export due to the fragility of their consistency.[28] In countries where it is common, the sauce is often used for lasagne in place of ragù alla bolognese as in Bologna and elsewhere in Italy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UK: /ˌbɒləˈnz, ˌbɒləˈnɛz/ BOL-ə-NAYZ, BOL-ə-NEZ, US: /ˌblənˈjz, ˌbləˈnz/ BOH-lən-YAYZ, BOH-lə-NEEZ.[1]
  2. ^ Pronounced [raˈɡu alla boloɲˈɲeːze, -eːse].


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2008), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.), Longman, ISBN 9781405881180
  2. ^ Monica Cesarato (14 September 2016). "Why you won't find spaghetti bolognese in Italy". The Local. Archived from the original on 15 September 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b Rachel Hosie (11 March 2019). "The mayor of Bologna, Italy, says spaghetti bolognese does not exist". Insider. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  4. ^ a b Stefano Carnazzi (24 August 2017). "Spaghetti bolognese, the strange story of an "Italian" dish that doesn't exist in Italy". Lifegate. Archived from the original on 12 April 2024. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  5. ^ Scarpato, Rosario (2010). "Tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese: the dictionary". GVCI - Gruppo virtuale cuochi italiani. Archived from the original on 1 June 2020. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  6. ^ a b Lynne Rossetto Kasper (21 February 2012). Morrow (ed.). The Splendid Table. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-688-08963-4.
  7. ^ a b Artusi, Pellegrino (1895). Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (English translation). University of Toronto Press. p. recipe 87. ISBN 0-8020-8704-3. Archived from the original on 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Stefano Lollini. "Alimentazione e gastronomia a Bologna" (in Italian). Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  10. ^ Gruppo Virtuale Cuochi Italiani. "The Classic Bolognese Ragù according the Accademia Italiana della Cucina". itchefs. Archived from the original on 29 May 2019. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b Hazan, Marcella Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Knopf, ISBN 0-394-58404-X
  14. ^ "The Ragù according to the Simili Sisters". IT Chefs GVCI. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  15. ^ "Tagliatelle with ragù Bolognese sauce, Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese by Mario Caramella". IT Chefs GVCI. Archived from the original on 28 January 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  16. ^ Bertolli, Paul, Cooking by Hand, Potter, ISBN 0-609-60893-2
  17. ^ a b Cloake, Felicity (25 November 2010). "How to make perfect bolognese". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 31 October 2013. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
  18. ^ "Tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese: the dictionary". IT Chefs GVCI. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 September 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) ; retrieved 2 March 2012
  20. ^ 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)
  21. ^ Hazan, Giuliano, The Classic Pasta Cookbook, Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 978-1-56458-292-8
  22. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (25 November 2016). "Italian or British? Writer solves riddle of spaghetti bolognese". Guardian Australia. Archived from the original on 25 November 2016. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  23. ^ Pizzimenti, Chiara (4 November 2015). "Spaghetti bolognese a chi?". (in Italian). La Cucina Italiana. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  24. ^ "Spaghetti bolognese in Bologna?, Pisa to Lake Garda, Series 4, Great Continental Railway Journeys". BBC. Archived from the original on 12 April 2024. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  25. ^ Luca Marchiori (8 August 2018). "Why do Italians go crazy about Italian cuisine?". Luca's Italy. Archived from the original on 6 March 2021. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  26. ^ Comaschi, Giorgio (18 November 2014). Spaghetti alla bolognese: Una città tra leggende e vita quotidiana (in Italian). Bologna: Pendragon. ISBN 9788865984406. Archived from the original on 12 April 2024. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  27. ^ Oakeley, Lucas (19 September 2019). "The tangled history of spaghetti bolognese". The Economist 1843. Archived from the original on 20 April 2020. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
  28. ^ "Gli spaghetti alla bolognese, la ricetta che non c'è. Origini e storia". Gambero Rosso (in Italian). 27 April 2020. Archived from the original on 25 November 2020. Retrieved 20 August 2021.

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