We eat wonderfully well in Italy, especially in Bologna. That is probably why we had to go back and show Miss M Bologna during our last visit to Italy. Of course, for our readers, we had to recommend that you take a cooking class when you are in Bologna with your kids. And when it came to sharing our recipe for Bologna, it had to be a traditional spaghetti bolognese recipe – or spaghetti with meat sauce the way the people of Bologna make it.
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Our Bologna market and cooking class
As I mentioned in our post about our day in Bologna, during our first visit to Bologna (pre-Miss M), Peter and I took a wonderful tour and cooking class with a local family. We would both definitely recommend Bluone.
Raffaella took us around the market in the morning, explaining about balsamic vinegar, mortadella (which Americans call Bologna), parmesan cheese and tortellini. Both Raffaella and her husband Marcello are very knowledgable about the local area and the local artisans and their wares.
We got to try these and other local delicacies and discussed what we wanted to learn to cook. Of course, part of the task in the morning was to find the ingredients we would need later – and how to pick the best ingredients.
After a break, we met Raffaella and her daughter Francesca in their home. They taught us how to cook the foods we chose – even Peter learnt lots and he is not usually found in the kitchen.
We laughed, we drank, we cooked, we sampled more of the local food and we dined. Peter was also allowed to watch some of the soccer on the TV. One of the dishes that we made was lasagna bolognese – which of course has the traditional bolognese sauce as its base. It is definitely an experience that we would love to repeat.
This is Raffaella’s recipe, not mine, with a few adjustments.
Tips for making the perfect traditional spaghetti bolognese
For me, making the best traditional spaghetti bolognese starts with the right saucepan. I prefer to use my favourite wide, deep dish frypan (that is actually called a serving pan), the same one that I use for my risotto. I add a good amount of olive oil and a good dob of butter to my pan before adding the vegetables, but that is not essential.
In an attempt to make Miss M (and Peter) eat more vegetables, I also add more carrots (around 3 total) and normally use celeriac, rather than celery. The reason for this is simple economics. I can normally buy ‘soup vegetables’ (Suppengemüse) at the supermarket, which includes a few carrots, a bit of leek and some celery root. If I want to use celery, I have to buy it separately and most of the celery will wilt before it is used.
On occasion I have been known to throw some other vegetables into the mix too. Zucchini is often added. Mushrooms and capsicum find their way in if they need to be used. I also like to add some very finely chopped lean bacon.
The official recipe for bolognese sauce was registered in October 1982 by the Italian Academy of Cuisine with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. This official version includes bacon – so my addition is quite traditional. However, this official version also includes milk, so you know…
For years, I did not have a food processor – in fact, I did not have one until my birthday last month (Peter got me this one in red, after checking that I would not get mad for buying a practical gift). Instead, I would just very finely chop the vegetables. The texture was a little different and they sometimes needed more time to soften, but it still tasted great.
It was made very clear to us during our cooking class that a traditional spaghetti bolognese does NOT contain garlic. Garlic tends to overpower other ingredients in the sauce. According to our teachers, the Sicilians prefer to put garlic in their sauces, but that is not how things are done in Bologna.
In Italy, traditional spaghetti bolognese always has tomatoes in the sauce.
Tomatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until the 1500s, when Conquistador Hernán Cortés brought them back to Spain from Peru. Until then, obviously, the Bolognese made their meat sauce without tomatoes.
In the 1700s, Bologna became known for its tomato-based meat sauce. It is now impossible to think of traditional spaghetti bolognese without tomatoes. However, originally this style of sauce was only made for holidays and special occasions.
Here comes the crunch: if you are at a restaurant in Italy and ask for spaghetti bolognese, you will get blank looks and will not find it on the menu of a good restaurant.
A side note: How can you tell if a restaurant is a tourist trap in Italy? Simply look for spaghetti bolognese on the menu. If you see it, you’ve found one and the restaurant is likely to be more expensive, too.
First, what we refer to a bolognese is referred to in Italy as ragù, or meat sauce cooked over low heat for a number of hours. There are many, many different types of meat sauce in Italy, with the ingredients varying depending on the region (see garlic). Ragù alla Bolognese means meat sauce from Bologna, or made the way the Bolognese do.
Second, bolognese ragù sauce is only served with tagliatelle, tortellini or gnocchi. Never with spaghetti. The thicker types of pasta hold the chunky bolognese sauce better than the thin spaghetti.
If you can get it, fresh pasta is better. If not (if your supermarket shelves are a little bare like ours), serve it with whatever pasta you can get. Apparently ragù alla Bolognese was first served with macaroni.
Turning your traditional spaghetti bolognese into traditional lasagne bolognese
We didn’t make traditional spaghetti bolognese when at our Bluone cooking class. Instead, we used our bolognese sauce to make traditional lasagne bolognese. The traditional bolognese sauce forms the basis of both.
Other ingredients in a traditional lasagne bolognese include fresh spinach pasta, béchamel sauce and lots and lots of grated Parmigiano cheese.
I won’t share the recipe here – I would be letting Raffaella and Francesca down if I did not make the pasta from scratch and I don’t have time to do that at the moment. With pasta, flour and egg shortages, I would have difficulty finding what I needed at the moment anyway.
Better yet, if you want to learn how to make traditional Lasagne verdi alla Bolognese, take one of their cooking classes and learn from a local!
It’s the perfect time to make some traditional spaghetti bolognese
One of the best comfort foods, spaghetti bolognese is the perfect food now when we all need a little comfort. Now that you’ve learnt a bit more about it, make it the way the people of Bologna do and remember or dream of a trip to Bologna.
Is the spaghetti bolognese recipe that you normally use much different to this traditional spaghetti bolognese recipe?
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (Spaghetti Bolognese)
- Non-stick broiler pan, preferably with a lid
- sharp knife or food processor
- large saucepan
- 400-500 g tagliatelle or spaghetti fresh, if available
For the ragù alla Bolognese
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stick
- 1 onion
- 200 g ground pork
- 500 g ground beef
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 cup tomato puree
- 1-2 cups vegetable or meat broth
- Extravirgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Freshly grated Parmiagiano Reggiano
Prepare the ragù (meat sauce)
- Finely mince the onion, carrot and celery and put them in a saucepan with liberal amounts of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Fry lightly for about 10-15 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally.
- Add the minced meat and mix well with a wooden spoon, breaking up the meat. Fry until it browns a little, stirring every now and then.
- When the meat is lightly browned, add the tomato paste and stir through. Add the wine and allow to simmer until the wine has softened the meat or evaporated.
- Stir in the tomato puree, season with salt and pepper. Simmer very slowly in a covered saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the sauce starts to get dry, add some hot stock and continue simmering until the desired consistency is reached.
Prepare the tagliatelle
- Cook the pasta in lots of boiling water, with a little salt, until the pasta floats to the top. Strain and serve with the ragù alla Bolognese and a handful of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.