Locals describe Bologna as la dotta (the learned, from the university), la rossa, (the red, from its roofs), and most importantly for us, la grassa (the fat, from its food). This city is an unmissable stop for foodies seeking the authentic Italy. The city is large enough to keep you busy, but small enough to explore by foot, with history, secrets and fascinating details everywhere you look.
The streets are lined with over 38km of beautiful porticoes, which you can follow all the way up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna San Luca, if you're up for a hike. Plus there's Italy's tallest leaning tower, the Torre degli Asinelli: the view is breathtaking, well worth the 498 steps to reach it! All that walking is sure to leave you with an appetite... Lucky you're in one of Europe's food capitals!
Many travellers come to Bologna expecting to find the original Spaghetti alla Bolognese. After all, the name does lead you to think the dish comes from Bologna... However, this is a myth! Spaghetti alla Bolognese is actually a loose interpretation of the traditional bolognese sauce, which is actually called ragù. It is always served with handmade tagliatelle pasta, as the shape and texture is the ideal vehicle to hold onto those delicious flavours.
Ragù is a simple and humble sauce. You don't need herbs or complicated ingredients. You don't need garlic. You don't need basil. All you need is time. That's the key to very best ragù, the type that makes Bolognese people misty-eyed and nostalgic as they think of their nonna or mamma on a Sunday morning.
Set aside at least 3-4 hours to allow your ragù to simmer away slowly. The complex flavours and textures need time to develop, and that's what will give your sauce depth of flavour. Stir it every now and then, and marvel as your kitchen fills with the gorgeous scent of a family Sunday in Bologna.
While your ragù is bubbling away, you'll have plenty of time to make handmade tagliatelle, just like the Bolognese families do. Click here to see the recipe!
1. Chop the carrot, celery and onion very finely.
2. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and add the chopped vegetables. Sweat them over a low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes (this is called soffritto).
3. When the vegetables have softened, add the meat to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly until the meat browns.
4. When the meat has browned, pour the white wine into the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes so the alcohol evaporates.
5. Stir in the tomato passata. Then, fill the passata bottle with water, shake it up, and pour the water into the pan. (This cleans the bottle and avoids food waste!)
6. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, stir, and wait until the sauce reaches simmering point.
7. As soon as the sauce starts to simmer, turn the heat down low, put a lid on the pan, and leave to cook for at least 3 hours (even more, if you can). Stir the sauce occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. If the sauce looks a little too thick or starts to stick, you can stir in more water.
8. While your ragù is cooking, prepare your fresh tagliatelle. You can find the recipe for fresh pasta here.
The best way to experience Bologna's cuisine is by learning to cook with locals. The true character of the city is embodied in its iconic recipes, and you'll find the most authentic recipes in local homes.
Encounter welcoming people, experience the culinary legacy of one of Europe's food capitals, and come home with cooking skills you'll use forever.
Explore some of our favourite Bologna food experiences below...
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