19 April 2015

TESSERAE - 10 - Spag. Bol.

Ragù Alla Bolognese

There’s no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese!  Or at least not in Bologna…..  Spag Bol is one of those things, like Shepherd’s Pie, Cheddar Cheese, and Madras Curry, which has taken on an identity that denies its birthright.  Great food, perhaps, but never quite the ‘real thing’…..  

Here’s Jamie Oliver on his website:

Oliver's Twist Recipe

Spaghetti Bolognese is a classic. You don't need a lot of ingredients to create a really tasty dish and cooking it in the oven means you get great depth of flavour. It's a perfect meal for kids – don't be worried about the wine as the alcohol cooks away.

olive oil
  • 6 rashers higher-welfare dry-cured smoked streaky bacon, sliced 1cm thick
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 500 g quality British beef mince
  • 200 ml red wine
  • 1 x 280 g jar of sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 x 400 g tins of plum tomatoes
  • 500 g dried spaghetti
  • Parmesan cheese
  • extra virgin olive oil

The official version, however, goes like this….. Questa è la ricetta ”attualizzata” del vero Ragù alla bolognese, depositata il 17 ottobre 1982 dalla delegazione bolognese dell'Accademia italiana della cucina presso la Camera di Commercio di Bologna.  [This is the up-to-date true recipe for Bolognese Sauce, as delivered to the Bologna Chamber of Commerce on the 17th October 1982, by Bolognese delegates of the Italian Academy of Cuisine.]

Ragù Alla Bolognese

300 g di polpa di manzo (cartella o pancia o fesone di spalla o fusello) macinata grossa, 150 g di pancetta di maiale, 50 g di carota gialla, 50 g di costa di sedano, 50 g di cipolla, 300 g di passata di pomodoro o pelati, ½ bicchiere di vino bianco secco, ½ bicchiere di latte intero, poco brodo, olio d’oliva o burro, sale, pepe,½ bicchiere di panna liquida da montare (facoltativa)

Principal differences from Jamie being – no garlic, but carrot and celery; less tomato, but some milk (and even cream).


Sciogliere, in un tegame possibilmente di terracotta o di alluminio spesso, di circa 20 cm, la pancetta tagliata prima a dadini e poi tritata fine con la mezzaluna. Unire 3 cucchiai d’olio o 50 g di burro e gli odori tritati fini e far appassire dolcemente. Unire la carne macinata e mescolare bene con un mestolo facendola rosolare finché non “sfrigola”. Bagnare con il vino e mescolare delicatamente sino a quando non sarà completamente evaporato. Unire la passata o i pelati, coprire e far sobbollire lentamente per circa 2 ore aggiungendo, quando occorre, del brodo, verso la fine unire il latte per smorzare l’acidità del pomodoro. Aggiustare di sale e di pepe. Alla fine, quando il ragù è pronto, secondo l’uso bolognese, si usa aggiungere la panna se si tratta di condire paste secche.
Per le tagliatelle il suo uso è da escludere.

Delicious!  But you won’t find it on spaghetti...... tagliatelle, oh yes!

However, however, there’s much more to Bologna than meat sauce.  Ragù (from French, ragôut, from ragôuter, to restore the appetite) is Italian for a seasoned meat sauce, but there are many other delights in Bolognese food – tortelloni stuffed with mozzarella di bufala and Parma ham, for example, or the classic tortellini in brodo (little pasta parcels stuffed with veal, or ham, mortadella or cheese, served in delicate meat broth), minestra di paradiso (egg and breadcrumbs in stock), and cotolette alla Bolognese (veal cutlets with ham, cheese and truffles).  Yum!  And perhaps accompanied by a bottle of Pignoletto frizzante, local white wine served cool and lightly fizzy…..

Bologna is known as la Dotta, la Grassa, la Rossa, which refer to its history as a university city (dotta means learned; the university is the world’s oldest, being founded in 1088), its gastronomic traditions (grassa means fat) and both its red tiles and bricks and its post-war association with the left wing (rossa is red), and these entwined traits contribute to a character quite individual among Italian cities, the seventh largest in Italy (population c1 million).

It’s a city of arcades – protecting its perambulating public from sun, snow and showers.  

It’s a city of churches – with the cavernous Basilica of San Petronio (1390 – 1659) dominating the Piazza Maggiore; 

the cathedral of San Pietro; churches dedicated to San Francesco, San Domenico (containing Nicolo Pisano’s sublime tomb of St Dominic

as well as that of St Thomas Aquinas), the medieval complex of Santo Stefano; and, outside the city walls, the Monastery of San Michele in Bosco with its echoing hospital corridors and nested cloisters…..

We were in Bologna over Easter, and the churches were packed both on the Saturday night and on the Sunday.  The lighting of the Paschal Candle by the Archbishop, 77 year old Carlo Caffarra, was a dramatic expression of springtime and rebirth within the huge dark space of the cathedral. 

Mass on Easter Sunday in the Church of the Crucifix was a more intimate, almost familiar affair, wreathed in incense and flowers.

We strolled along the porticoed streets; delved into richly decorated churches (the frescoed oratory of Santa Cecilia attached to S. Giacomo Maggiore was a special treat); climbed the 97.6 metre high (478 steps) Torre degli Asinelli, 

which leans 2.23 metres from the vertical (Goethe believed this was deliberate - perpendicular towers being too commonplace!); relaxed on Easter Monday with the rest of the population in the Giardini Margherita; 

trawled the overflowing shops of the market quarter; 

and danced to the Harley Davison Rock of Beppe Maniglia (local hero - 70+ and still got grit) by the fountain of Neptune.

Bologna is not such a beautiful place as some – damaged in WWII as Siena and Florence were not – and it lacks green spaces and trees in its centre to give it freshness and elegance, but it has a personality all its own.  

Lucio Dalla, one of Italy’s best known singer songwriters in recent times (until his early death in 2012) was a native of the city. In 1972, with his collaborator Rosalino Cellamare (better known as Ron), he set words by Gianfranco Baldazzi to music in a song entitled Piazza Grande, which perhaps reflects Piazza Cavour, where Dalla lived. The song describes the thoughts of a homeless person watching the world pass by ‘his’ piazza.

Piazza Grande
Lenzuola bianche per coprirci non ne ho
sotto le stelle in Piazza Grande,
e se la vita non ha sogni io li ho e te li do.

E se non ci sarà più gente come me
voglio morire in Piazza Grande,
tra i gatti che non han padrone come me attorno a me

[White sheets to cover me I do not have
Beneath the stars in Piazza Grande
And if your life has no dreams, I have, and I will give you them

And if there are no more people like me
I wish to die in Piazza Grande
Amongst the cats that have no masters, like me]

There may be no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese, but Bologna, la Dotta, la Grassa, la Rossa, has plenty else to offer…..

e piangendo gli viene da ridere
ballo anch'io se balli tu


  1. It was so wonderful to be there!xx

  2. 'But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.'Some time ago a crazy dream came to me
    I dreamt I was walkin’ into World War Three
    I went to the doctor the very next day
    To see what kinda words he could say
    He said it was a bad dream

    These are hard times that are enlivened and enriched by observations and reflections such as yours. Thank you!