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The real Spaghetti alla Bolognese Recipe

Beware: we lift the lid on a contraversial recipe... Not to be confused with tagliatelle al ragù!

At its core, a quid pro quo

Spaghetti bolognese is a much-loved dish in many parts of the world. However, in Italy, the only place you'll find it is in restaurants that cater to tourists. The dish most of non-Italians identify as spaghetti bolognese doesn't have any ties with Bologna, Emilia-Romagna's vibrant capital. Bologna is home to a treasure trove of authentic recipes and the locals are fiercely proud of their food culture.

In fact, the mayor of Bologna recently launched a social awareness campaign to teach food lovers to choose tagliatelle al ragù, a traditional dish that really does originate there. It's a world away from some variations of Bolognese sauce. Golden ribbons of tagliatelle pasta are served with a rich ragù of onion, celery, carrot, a dash of wine and a careful mixture of meats that varies from kitchen to kitchen. Serve with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano (grated parmesan cheese), and you're good to go. Many bolognese cooks add a dash of milk... But that's another story.

Back to spaghetti alla bolognese!

And now let's clarify about Spaghetti Bolognese

Spaghetti Bolognese is a typical dish of traditional Bolognese cuisine, just like lasagna and tagliatelle.

However, the true recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese is quite different from the similarly named dish served abroad (and in many tourist restaurants in Italy): its sauce is not the classic Bolognese meat sauce, but rather a tuna-based sauce.

Through careful research, the Italian Academy of Cuisine has traced the origin and spread of this dish from the early 20th century.

This period coincided with the advent of canned tuna commercialization and the distribution of spaghetti in northern Italy. The popularity of this dish grew rapidly as it did not require particularly expensive ingredients and was suitable for the dietary restrictions of Catholics who refrain from eating meat on Fridays.

The official recipe resulting from this research has been officially recorded with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, along with 29 other traditional Bolognese recipes, thus putting an end to controversies.

The success of Spaghetti Bolognese with meat sauce abroad

It was in the early 20th century that Spaghetti Bolognese, dressed with the traditional meat sauce, won over the palates of foreigners.

The origin of this spread is shrouded in noble intentions: a fundraising campaign to support the families of Italian soldiers during the First World War. In 1917, Julia Lovejoy Cuniberti published Practical Italian recipes for American kitchens, featuring a variety of Italian recipes. In this text, Cuniberti suggested using Bolognese meat sauce to dress "macaroni or spaghetti", thus introducing spaghetti as a valid alternative to tagliatelle.

Soon, spaghetti prevailed over tagliatelle for several reasons: in the United States, unlike in Bologna and Emilia in general, there was no strong tradition of fresh egg pasta; moreover, tagliatelle, being delicate, were not suitable for exportation.

Spaghetti, on the other hand, were already popular in the American market, and the resemblance to tagliatelle naturally led to their substitution. This marked the beginning of the success of Spaghetti Bolognese with meat sauce, which quickly spread among Italian immigrants and in many American restaurants. In particular, the Hotel Commodore in 1920 and Moneta's restaurant in 1931 were among the first to add them to their menus.

The recipe for the authentic Spaghetti Bolognese from Cesarina Margherita

When we interviewed Margherita, one of our Cesarine hosts in Bologna, she told us that her favourite dish was... you've guessed it... Spaghetti alla bolognese. 

"All over the world, Bologna’s signature dish Tagliatelle al ragù is interpreted as ‘Spaghetti alla Bolognese’. Here in Bologna we’re very proud of our traditions, and have always done our best to serve only the real tagliatelle. Many people say “Spaghetti alla Bolognese doesn’t exist!” as a response to this mistake, but they in turn are mistaken… Spaghetti alla Bolognese is actually a traditional - but little known - dish here. It’s one of my favourites. It’s traditionally served on Fridays, which traditionally are days in which you shouldn’t consume meat, or on Christmas Eve."

Margherita was kind enough to share her family recipe for the dish with you all. It's quick, simple and delicious. Once you've tried it, you'll never go back. Trust me!

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