In Italy it is a milestone when a child tries pasta for the first time. Whether you have children or not, cooking pasta bolognese is one of the dishes that makes a home. It is also one of the dishes that makes Italians infuriated. Eating pasta is serious business.
Pasta bolognese is one of the most famous Italian dishes, yet it doesn’t exist in Italy. You will not find “Pasta bolognese” on an Italian menu, except tourist menues. In Italy the dish is called Ragù alla Bolognese or Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. The pasta bolognese made in other countries are abominations with their use of meatballs, turkey, cream or other inauthentic ingredients. Not to mention the most heretic ingredient, spaghetti! Pasta bolognese is always paired with tagliatelle.
We often think fresh pasta (pasta fresca) is more authentic than dried pasta (pasta secca), but Italians will not hesitate using dry pasta. Also, the pasta should not drown in the sauce, the sauce should just cling to the pasta. And while most of us love to eat pasta as main course, in Italy pasta is the starter, primo piatti. Considering the fact that there are more than 100 types of pasta in Italy, pasta is not pasta.
The home of bolognese is Bologna, where the official recipe was established in 1982 in an attempt to protect the authenticity of the dish. This recipe uses two kinds of meat (minced beef and pancetta), olive oil, onions, garlic, carrots, celery sticks, red wine, tomatoes from can, bay leaves and parmesan. The use of garlic, herbs, milk, red or white wine, however, is a disputed fact among Italian chefs.
Love takes time
The key to the ragu is cooking it for hours to develop intense flavours. You should cook the pasta bolognese for at least an hour, preferably two. Although it takes some time to make, it is a very easy dish, perfect for families with small children or if you are short on time. Like stir-fry, the job consists mainly of chopping. The rest is slow cooking. Make a large portion because pasta bolognese freezes extremely well. Then you just have to boil the pasta and heat the sauce – that’s what I call clever cooking.
A slightly greener version
The authentic ragu is more a meat sauce than a tomato sauce, and it is quite dry. My version is slightly greener with more vegetables and I replace the bacon with fennel seeds to enhance the flavour. Pasta bolognese is healthier than you might think. In Italy pasta bolognese is served with parmesan only, but I love to dress it with a handful of herbs such as parsley. Garlic, onion, olive oil, carrots and tomatoes (canned tomatoes are actually healthier than fresh ones) all contain antioxidants, and both carrots and tomatoes are richer in antioxidants cooked, instead of raw. This is just another reason to love the dish from the city with the nickname “La Grassa”, the fat one.
Pasta bolognese (Ragù alla Bolognese) (makes 4)
100 ml olive oil
1 big onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
400 g organic minced beef
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 small glass of wine, red or white (optional)
1 can chopped tomatoes
100 ml water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp fennel seeds
salt and pepper
a handful of flat-leaf parsley
1. Fry the onion and garlic gently for 5 minutes, then add the carrots and celery and continue frying for 10 minutes until softened.
2. Season the meat and add to the pan. Fry the meat until it has changed colour, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the tomato paste and fry for a minute.
4. Now add the wine and increase the temperature until most of the wine has evaporated.
5. Add the canned tomatoes, water (fill the can with water to get hold of the remains of the tomato), bay leaf, fennel seeds and let simmer for at about half an hour.
6. When finished, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with spaghetti (or more authentically, tagliatelle), finely chopped parsley, a drizzle of extra olive oil and parmesan cheese.
More dishes inspired by Italy?
And here is how the Italian blogger Juls’ kitchen makes the ragu.