Spaghetti Bolognese for Earth Day

Spaghetti Bolognese for Earth Day

Spaghetti Bolognese – the Most Popular Food in 1970

What was the most popular food on the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970?  Can you believe it was spaghetti Bolognese?  Imagine, at that time, it was “foreign” and need I say exotic – to North Americans, that is, not to Europeans!

So while I could have written about the history of sustainable food, I chose Spaghetti Bolognese?  Writing about sustainable food would probably amount to writing a book!

Tagliatelle al ragù
Tagliatelle al ragù

The name suggests that Spaghetti Bolognese comes from Bologna, known as the food capital of Italy. And given its popularity, that would seem plausible.

However, using spaghetti as the pasta may be an Americanization. In Bologna, the pasta would more likely be something like lasagna or tagliatelle which are long and flat, better to hold the sauce.

Also, tagliatelle is specifically from Emilia-Romagna, the region of which Bologna is the capital.

The “Bolognese” part is from the “ragù alla Bolognese,” which means “from Bologna.” The term ragù means a meat sauce that has been cooked many hours over low heat. Each region, or even village, throughout Italy, has its own ragù, using its own ingredients, making them all somewhat different.

According to Pizza Capuccino, it could go back to the ancient Romans who prepared a kind of Roman stew.

The French Connection

In 13th century France, it was popular to slowly stew pieces of meat with vegetables, known as a ragoût. The choice of cuts of meat, spices and garnishes determined if it was a dish for the poor or a dish for the rich.

When the Bolognese chef of King Louis XIV of France (1638 to 1715) had the idea to grind the meat use it as a sauce on pasta, he came closer to what we know today.  Remember that it did not yet contain tomatoes, since they hadn’t made it to Europe from the New World yet.

From ragoût to ragù

As it made its way to Italy by way of the Renaissance aristocrats at the Bourbon court in Naples, the French ragout became the Italian ragù, or more likely the Neapolitan word ragù.

Bologna Piazza Maggiore

In the 18th century, Aberto Alvisi, a chef from Imola near Bologna, is said to have been the first to cook the ragù as we know it and served it with “maccheroni.”

Tomatoes were not used in the original version made in Bologna.  They appeared in 1790 in the “Maccheroni alla Napolitana” recipe in the cookbook “The modern Apicius” by Francesco Leonardi.

The ragù started to appear in Emilian cookbooks in the 19th century. In the first decade of the 20th century, the change was definitively made to use tagliatelle, a local product, over maccheroni, and to use tomato.

Deserving of Protection

Around the end of the second world war, pork was also added to the recipe, to arrive at the “Ragù alla Bolognese.” This is now a protected recipe, thanks to the Bologna Delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisines who deposited the recipe at the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna in 1982. (Tagliatelle became protected in 1972.)

Bote than the protected recipe contains no aromatics at all e.g. bay leaves, parsley, rosemary, garlic, chili or nutmeg. The long, slow cooking and milk or cream were required to break down the meat fibers and give it the “sweet touch.”

Finally, after several hundred years of evolution, here we are with the actual recipe filed by the Bologna Delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisines on October 17, 1982, at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. (fromù -bolognese-history-original-recipe. )

As for the pasta, while you of course are free to use spaghetti, why not try it with tagliatelle instead?  It has a wonderful history all its own (to be the subject of a future post) and it is the traditional pasta for the recipe, authentic with its Emilia-Romagna origins.

Usually, I grate parmeggiano grated on top which this recipe does not do, so I am not being totally authentic!

Recipe: Ragù alla Bolognese (Spaghetti Bolognese)

300 g coarsely ground beef
150 g pork belly
50 g yellow carrot
50 g celery stalk
30 g onion
300 g tomato sauce or peeled tomatoes
½ glass of dry white wine
½ glass of whole milk
a little broth
extra virgin olive oil or butter
½ glass of whipping cream (optional)

Melt the bacon, first diced and then finely chopped with the crescent, possibly in a terracotta or aluminum thick pan of about 20 cm.

Combine 3 tablespoons of oil or 50 g of butter and the finely chopped odors and let them dry gently.

Add the minced meat and mix well with a ladle making it brown until it “sizzles”.

Pour in the wine and stir gently until it has completely evaporated.

Add the passata or the peeled tomatoes, cover and simmer slowly for about 2 hours, adding broth when necessary, then add the milk towards the end to dampen the acidity of the tomato.

Season with salt and pepper.

When the sauce is ready, according to the Bolognese use, add the cream if it is to season dry pasta. For tagliatelle, its use is to be excluded.

And this is the “updated” recipe of the real Bolognese ragù, filed on October 17, 1982, by the Bolognese delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.

Tools needed:
Terracotta pan about 20 cm in diameter
Wooden spoon
Crescent knife


The bacon, diced and minced with the crescent, is melted in the pan;

add the well-chopped vegetables with the crescent and let them dry gently;

add the minced meat and leave it, stirring until it sizzles;

put 1/2 glass of wine and the tomato lengthened with a little broth;

simmer for about two hours, adding the milk, time after time and adjusting with salt and black pepper.

When cooked, it is advisable but optional to add cooking cream or one liter of milk.



References:ù -bolognese-history-original-recipeù -bolognese-history-original-recipe.