What is spaghetti bolognese?
Spaghetti bolognese (spaghetti alla bolognese in Italian, pronounced: “spa-GET-tie alla bolo-NYEH-seh ’) is a main course consisting of spaghetti (long thin strings of pasta) with a bolognese sauce over it.
It is a corrupted version of the traditional ragù alla Bolognese: pasta with a meat sauce as they make it in the city of Bologna. But calling spaghetti bolognese an Italian dish would be a step too far, and many Italians would be disappointed with the description.
This is because, in Italy, there are many types of ragù, including the one from Bologna. Bolognese sauce should only ever be served with fresh tagliatelle, tortellini or lasagne; never with spaghetti as the sauce is thick and contains pieces, so will not satisfactorily cling to thin, delicate strings. A firmer pasta is needed as, according to the average Italian, a firm sauce needs firm pasta – it’s as simple as that.
As an example of the passion Italians reserve for their cuisine and all of its regional varieties, a lively discussion arose in 2016 after The New York Times gave a recipe for “white bolognese”. A bolognese sauce without tomatoes? “Unthinkable” was the clear message from the readers. But no matter your feelings about tradition and ingredients, spaghetti bolognese is one of the most widely eaten and beloved dishes. All over the world, it is found on the menu of just about every Italian restaurant.
Did you know...
It is assumed that bolognese sauce was first created at the end of the seventeenth century, well after the explorers first brought tomatoes from America. Europeans thought at first that tomatoes, as members of the nightshade family, were poisonous. Only when it was discovered that this was not actually the case did the tomato become a popular ingredient in Italian dishes.
How to make spaghetti bolognese
A traditional bolognese sauce has only a slight tomato flavour. In fact, there are larger volumes of minced beef, chicken livers and bacon. Most versions outside of Italy omit the chicken livers, but often add bacon to the dish to give a richer taste. Most non-Italian chefs are also a little more generous with the tomatoes.
Just like with osso buco, you start off the bolognese sauce with a soffrito: a mixture of finely diced onion, carrot and celery, gently softened. Then pieces of bacon are added, and then the minced meat, which is stirred to break it up. Wine, stock and some tomato puree (or quite a few canned tomatoes, if you go for a more corrupt version) form a sauce. The whole is left to simmer for a good hour and a half before it is served with pasta cooked al dente.
How to eat
With Parmesan cheese.
If everything’s going well, you can now open a bottle of wine. Salute!
Go mad and try the dish with fresh tagliatelle instead of spaghetti. Then next time you’ll know what the Italians are so passionate about.