Will the real Spaghetti Bolognese please stand up, asks Katy Fentress as she peels back the layers of this most famous of Italian pasta dishes.
Contrary to what people might think, Spaghetti Bolognese is not an Italian dish. Sure, it owes its origins to a delicious pasta from the area but, put simply, no one in the Northern Italian city of Bologna (pronounced Bo-lo-nee-ah) has ever dreamed of combining their famous meat and tomato sauce with spaghetti. This is mainly because Bologna, and its neighbouring city Modena, have for centuries perfected the art of egg-based pasta. Think fresh ribbony fettuccine, sheets of lasagna and of course those delicious parcels of meat wrapped in a thin dough called tortellini (one of Modena’s biggest claims to fame). These are the vessels that were created to go with this rich and hearty meat sauce and not the hard and durum-wheat varieties that are popular in the south of the Italian peninsula.
“Up and down Italy we have different ways of preparing a sauce we call ragù,” says Patrizia Fiora, owner of the popular Dolce Vita restaurant that sits on the lower level of the small shopping centre at Muthaiga Mini Market. Fiora, who has spent a long time studying the many different regional variations in Italian cooking, goes on to explain that ragù in itself is a confusing name because it comes from the French word ragouter which roughly translates as ‘to awaken your appetite’. Ragout was first introduced to Italy in the 18th century, Fiora explains, “but when the Fascist Mussolini came into power in the 1930s, he passed a law that said that there could be no foreign words in the Italian language, so he had the name changed to ragù”.
So it is that we find a version of ragù made in city Naples, which is traditionally made around Mardi Gras and involves cooking large chunks of beef, pork and sausages together in a tomato sauce for hours before shredding it much like the Mexicans do with pulled pork. Or else we find that in the Tuscany region instead, people add both garlic and onion – a combination that borders on the heretical for many Italian pasta sauces – to their beef and bacon ragù and cook it with red wine, with a few tablespoons of tomato concentrate.
Fiora, recently created an entire menu inspired by the region of Emilia Romagna (of which the city of Bologna is the capital) which she served as part of her monthly regional menu series at Dolce Vita. She says she has no idea why it is that of all the ragùs in Italy it was the one from Bologna that caught the imagination of Italian food enthusiasts worldwide. Whatever the case, this is a dish that has burst the seams of its original inception with each country that has adopted it as their own, adding a special local twist. So for example in the UK they always add Worcestershire (repeat after me Wooster – yes you read that right, the correct pronunciation is Wooster ) sauce, in the USA they often add bell peppers, in Thailand they add coconut milk and in Nigeria, ginger.
1 Celery stalk
1 Medium onion
Large glug of olive oil
500g Beef mince (choose a fatty cut
to bring out the flavour)
250g Pork mince
3 tins of tomatoes
One glass of red wine
½ Glass of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Mince your vegetables and put them onto the pan to make a soffritto (that’s Italian for frying the vegetable trio slowly in olive oil to make a flavour base for your dish).
2. Add the meat at a high heat and mix until browned
3. Add the red wine and mix until it has all evaporated
4. Add pepper and salt
5. Add tomatoes and water and cook for three hours at low heat adding water if it ever gets too dry
6. Towards the end pour in the milk
7. When the sauce has lost most of its liquid it is ready to serve with your choice of pasta or whatever vessel you select.