If you look into the history of Ragu Bolognaise, as I did for about three hours (please don’t judge), you will be none the wiser at the end of it than you were before you started. It seems that every Italian authority, Academia Barilla, Slow Food Italy, Cucina Bologna, all have their own research and opinion of what’s true Ragu Bolognese is, what it is made of and more controversially, what pasta to serve with it. The one uniform opinion everyone seems to have is that Spaghetti Bolognese doesn’t exist in Italy, and no self-respecting Italian would dream of serving Ragu Bolognese with spaghetti.
There are hundreds of differing opinions as to why Spaghetti Bolognese should never be served, but in my humble (non Italian) opinion, I tend to go down the route of basic geography – Ragu Bolognese comes from the city of Bologne, in northern Italy, Spaghetti comes from Naples in southern Italy, so hundreds of years ago when Ragu Bolognese was created, it could never have been served with spaghetti because the two parts were too far away, another opinion of mine is that spaghetti is slightly to thin for a good deep, rich Ragu Bolognese, but I’m sure there will be people who disagree.
While I was researching Ragu Bolognese I found what the true history of Bolognese is, according to the good people of Bologne anyway. Tagliatelle is known as the pride of the city of Bologna and it is the most widely known, and used, shape of fresh egg pasta in the area. In 1972, in an attempt to preserve the authenticity of the pasta, the Accademia Italiana della Cucina placed a copy of the original recipe for tagliatelle from Bologna in a deposit box in the Chamber of Commerce, this recipe states that the ideal pasta is between 1/5th and 1/4th of an inch in width before cooking, the roundabout measurement of tagliatelle. Given the importance of tagliatelle to the people of Bologna, it will come as no surprise that there are various legends surrounding the origin of this pasta. The most famous of which was spread by Augusto Majani, a humorist. According to his verion of the story, tagliatelle was invented in Bologna in January 1487 by Maesto Zefirano. This Bolognese cook created a special pasta for a banquet organized by the noblemen of Bologna in honor of Lucrezia Borgia’s engagement to the Duke of Este. The tagliatelle, was created in her honour, to represent Lucrezia’s beautiful blond hair.
Despite this typically Italian legend, they do have a legend for almost everything they invent, if you search for a Ragu Bolognese recipe in books or on the net you will still end up with a million and one different recipes for a true Ragu Bolognese. My advice is stick to the basic elements of the dish, a rich, deep ragu using good quality mince (or small chunks of meat if you’re felling particularly rebellious) with a suitable pasta to hold the sauce. You can use different meats if you want, a mixture of beef and pork mince is very traditional in Bologna, you can also add chopped tomatoes or chopped peppers, for a not so traditional Ragu Bolognese.
Any way, just to add to the million and one authentic Ragu Bolognese recipes, here’s mine . . Enjoy.
400g Lasagnette or tagliatelle
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 sticks celery
3 cloves garlic
500g minced beef steak
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
200ml red wine
500ml beef stock or beef stock cube dissolved in hot water
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
(1). Finely dice the vegetables and then fry gently until soft and beginning to brown.
(2). . Add the beef mince and fry rapidly until browned.
(3). Add the wine, allow the alcohol to burn off. Then add the bay leaves, thyme and tomatoes.
(4). Bring to a very slow simmer, only just bubbling every ten- twenty seconds and cook slowly for at least six hours until the meat is very tender.
(5). Once the meat is cooked, check for seasoning, and add the parsley.
(6). Put the pasta to cook in a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook to al dente.
(7). Remove the pasta and add to the ragu.
(8). Serve with grated parmesan.