Bolognese Sauce - The Original Version

Posted by Delicious Italian on February 26, 2012

Bolognese Sauce - The Original Version
Ragu' alla Bolognese


Bolognese Sauce or more correctly Ragú Bolognese style or, in Italian, Ragú alla Bolognese is one of the most known and loved Italian sauces across the world.

A sauce that is recognised on over 4 continents surely has many different adaptations, no wonders. Whether it is prepared French style, American or Asian this type of sauce still maintains the name Bolognese or, very often misspelled, ‘Bolognaise’.

One of the reasons why this recipe is so popular world wide could be the fact that it utilises ingredients easily found everywhere – pork, beef, celery, carrot, onions, tomatoes etc. or maybe, because it tastes great, or because it is used with lasagne and many other types of pasta etc… At the end of the day Bolognese belongs to the historical culinary Italian heritage and, as such, it must be protected, respected and kept authentic, at least if you want to call it Bolognese.

Ok, let’s get this straight, if by any chance you find yourself in Bologna the capital city of Emilia Romagna, a beautiful northerner Italian region, and happen to ask for a Bolognese you might get yourself a girl born and raised in Bologna! This is not necessarily a bad thing by the way…. But that’s material for another blog.

Bolognese sauce in Bologna and in the rest of Italy, for that matter, is called Ragú.

The world Ragú comes from the French term Ragout which in Italy defines a meat-based, slow-cooked sauce. As mentioned above, there are many different versions of this sauce around the world and in Italy, in fact every region and even each family may have their own adaptation to this classical and ancient recipe.

In order to avoid confusion and shed a light on this popular sauce, the Italian Academy of Cuisine in 1982 has registered its original recipe and method with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. Whilst people can venture themselves in experimenting with this recipe adding  more exotic ingredients or replacing the original ones with some others more agreeable to their personal taste, they should be careful when, in a commercial setting especially, they claim their own version as the ‘original’ or even ‘traditional’ Bolognese.


In the United States for example any tomato sauce with the addition of mince beef is named Bolognese. In Australia or UK there is a similar version, even though more authentic than the American one. We, at Delicious Italian, beg to differ. You see, there is nothing wrong in making variations to or twisting a particular preparation, after all some beautiful dishes have been created adding or changing ingredients to pre-existing recipe, as long  as people don’t declare them to be the ‘one and only’.

Some chefs or restaurant owners (you can join in) call me a purist (if they want to be nice) or more usually an arrogant culinary extremist (if they want to be honest) as I, most of the times, end up doubting the authenticity of their dishes. Think about it though, imagine a recipe like a chemical compound, would you ingest a tablet with a slight variation of ingredients from the original formula? Or, if you were an art collector and someone tried to sell you a copy of a Picasso for the price of a real one, would you buy it even though you liked the results?

I didn’t think so.

After all paying a price for something original when it is not, by some it is seen as a fraud.


The original Bolognese recipe as per Italian Academy of Cuisine:


  • 300 g beef cartella (thin beef skirt)
  • 150 g pancetta, dried
  • 50 g carrot
  • 50 g celery stalk
  • 50 g onion
  • 5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 g triple tomato puree
  • 1 cup (250 mL) whole milk
  • Half cup of still, dry white or dry red wine
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


 Cut the pancetta into little cubes and melt in a saucepan. Finely chop the ‘soffritto’ of vegetables with the ‘mezzaluna’ and leave to stew until soft. Next, add the ground beef and leave to gently come up to simmering point, stirring constantly until it splutters. Add the wine and tomato puree (cut with a little broth) and leave to simmer for around two hours. Add the milk little by little. Season with salt and pepper according to taste.

The classic recipe recommends the addition of ‘a panna di cottura’ of a litre of whole milk near the end of the cooking. This is whole milk reduced in a saucepan to at least half its volume. Note that the above classic recipe includes neither garlic nor herbs.

Soffritto: in this case indicates the equal amount of celery, carrot and onion roughly chopped

Mezzaluna: Is a sharp half-moon shaped knife with an handle at both sides of the blade.

Now your legitimate question would be:

-: Do you use this recipe when making Ragú Bolognese?

The answer is no, at least not most of the time.

-: When I make my own version, do I call it the ‘original’ Bolognese?

The answer once again is no.

There will be a time when I will show you my own version so stick around for when the time will come or join me in one of my classes.

Spaghetti Bolognese, Oh My!

and the shock continues.


What you are going to read here may disturb you and affect the way you think of your childhood memories.

 Jokes aside, when I revealed this to those attending some of my seminars and classes a surge of shock and disbelief rocked the room.

Spaghetti Bolognese, as much as you love them and grew up eating them, is something that in Italy you won’t find, at least not together in the same plate, except in some clever and unscrupulous tourist restaurants.

The reason is perhaps an unspoken rule which refers to the marrying of certain pasta shapes to specific sauces. There is a rule of thumb which states that heavy, thicker and denser sauces go well with short/medium pasta shapes (penne, rigatoni, paccheri etc.) whilst lighter and thinner sauce must be used for long shaped pasta (spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine etc.).  Therefore, as you can see, Bolognese sauce asks for short pasta and not spaghetti.

Don’t despair, you can easily make it for yourself there is no harm in cooking and eating what you like. If, however, by any chance you find yourself in Italy and are dying for some Spag Bol ask a friend to make you one at their place and, if like me they refuse, ask them nicely, maybe with a gun, I am sure they’ll agree, after all, we Italian love making tourists happy.



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