International Day of Italian Cuisines

Ragù alla Bolognese: authentic and evocative flavour of Italy

Tagliatelle al Ragù Bolognese
The real thing: Tagliatelle al ragù Bolognese.
Spaghetti Bolognaise is just a forgery of Italian cuisine,
born outside Italy

‘Bolognaise’. How many gastronomic aberrations around the world have been committed in this name? No true food lover, let alone an Italian, could ever forget the rather disgusting pictures appearing on the labels of ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ tins, so omnipresent in Britain, in the US, in Canada, in Australia and elsewhere: a slice of industrial bread topped with a nest of mushy, overdone noodles, coated by a brownish tomato and minced meat sauce. Some have described the concoction as “cheap dog food sold for human consumption” appealing “way beyond those who don't like cooking, into the realm of those who don't like food at all.”

Ragù alla Bolognese
Bolognese sauce in a can:
a degraded version of the original

Misnamed food, offensive and in fact sacrilegious; there is nothing in Italian cuisine or in Bologna called ‘spaghetti bolognaise’; no pasta is served over bread, no one in Italy would eat it microwaved from a can. Those cans, regardless of the brand, are themselves the paradoxical impostor of another fake, which is actually the mother of all Italian cuisine forgeries: ‘spaghetti bolognaise’, known as ‘Spag Bol’ or ‘Spag Bog’. “It’s really sad that, so often, stewed mince with the addition of herbs and tomato purée gets presented as ‘bolognaise sauce’ even in lesser Italian restaurants;” wrote British cook and TV celebrity Delia Smith.

Ragù alla Bolognese
Delia Smith

The real thing –as she pointed out on other occasions– is in fact something else.” It is, instead, that masterpiece of gastronomy called Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese: the offspring of a region –Emilia Romagna– and a city –Bologna– that have some of the strongest and most flavourful culinary traditions in Italy. Not by chance, Pellegrino Artusi, one of the most important Italian gastronomes of the 19th and 20th centuries, wrote: “Bolognese cuisine well deserves a reverence,” perhaps also considering the great chefs of the past born in Bologna: Bartolomeo Stefani e Bartolomeo Scappi over all. The authentic ragù alla bolognese, the one that defines the city's identity, has nothing to do with canned Spag Bogs or with Spaghetti Bolognaise.

Rosario Scarpato

Ragù alla Bolognese
Piazza Maggiore, Bologna