Spaghetti Bolognese

This post came about in a funny way. My virtual food blogger sister-friend Linda Duffin, of the impressive blog Mrs. Portly’s Kitchen and I were commenting back and forth one day discussing the cooking of our mothers.

Linda wrote, “And don’t get me started on her spag bol.” Now, Linda is British, and I’ve spent many months-worth of time in the UK, or whatever it’s called now, and I have always tried local specialties in the various countries, whether Cullen Skink, Bedfordshire Clanger or, my favorite – Spotted Dick. But I’d never heard of Spag Bol.

Linda, probably thinking I’m an unsophisticated daftie, explained that spag bol was simply short for Spaghetti Bolognese. Of course.

Which then got me thinking that I’ve never made spaghetti bolognese in all of my years cooking. The cookbook I immediately grabbed, was Giuliani Buglialli’s Buglialli on Pasta, published in 1988.

Buglialli is so strictly Italian, and he’s so familiar with Italy’s regional cooking, that I knew he would be the proper resource. When I call him strict, I’m not kidding. He practically yells at you from the pages of his cookbooks if you dare grab a chunk of Parmesan.

“One should not indiscriminately sprinkle Parmigiano over everything if all dishes are not to melt into an unappealing sameness.”

On his research in studying and documenting authentic Italian recipes: “Arriving at an authentic version of a recipe with a long tradition requires work. The dish as prepared at one regional restaurant or by one family from an area is not necessarily an authentic version of that region’s preparation. It is important to compare many different sources, printed and oral, especially the oldest available ones. But let us not forget that even some Italian grandmothers are poor cooks.”

I find him really entertaining, and I love his passion. And there it was, in the cookbook, Tagliatelle al Ragu alla Bolognese.

“The famous Bolognese ragu is one of several meat sauces and the most popular. Its distinctive features are the sautéing of the meat together with the aromatic chopped vegetables, the omission of garlic, the combination of snipped, chopped, or ground beef and pork, the use of white rather than red wine, and the use of heavy cream.”

Furthermore: “I should like to remind once again that pasta with meat sauce is not automatically alla bolognese. Only those pastas specifically using a Bolognese meat sauce are such; the many employing such sauces from other regions would never be considered alla bolognese.”

I looked online for any recent information on Buglialli, and did find his website, called Buglialli Foods of Italy, and under his cooking courses, held at his farmhouse in Tuscany, none are listed beyond 2015. If he is still alive, it’s estimated that Buglialli is approximately 80 years old. Seems like his date of birth was always kept a secret.

Ragu Alla Bolognese
printable recipe below

1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 large stalk celery
3 ounces pancetta, cut into cubes
6 ounces lean boneless beef, in cubes
6 ounces boneless pork, in cubes
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup lukewarm beef broth
3/4 cup heavy cream

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery.

Coarsely grind the pancetta, beef, and pork all together in a meat grinder. (I used my food processor.)

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy, flameproof casserole over medium heat. When the oil mixture is warm, add the chopped vegetables and ground meats, and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill, using the disc with smallest holes, into a glass bowl.

Add the wine to the casserole and let it evaporate for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Then add the broth. Cover the casserole and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Add the cream, mix very well, lower the heat, and reduce for 20 minutes; for the last 5 minutes, remove the lid.

Remove the sauce from the heat and let rest until cool, about 1 hour.

Tagliatelle Al Ragu Alla Bolognese, from Bologna

Cook the pasta according to package directions, although Buglialli suggests fresh tagliatelle. (I used pappardelle.)

Place 4 tablespoons of sweet butter in serving bowl; add a little boiling water to melt the butter.

When ready, drain the pasta, transfer to the serving bowl, and mix well with the melted butter.

Pour the sauce all over, mix and serve immediately.

Pass freshly grated Parmigiano cheese at the table.

This ragu is fabulous. If you close your eyes, it’s like you’re eating blended lasagna!

My only regret is not making a quadruple batch of this luscious sauce.


108 thoughts on “Spaghetti Bolognese

  • Hi Mimi, You opened a secret box for me! I’ve never dared writing the ragù recipe because I knew every Italian family uses a different recipe and even when I prepare it, I modify the recipe according to the ingredients I have available (sometimes I substitute red or white wine to the broth, or I use stock buillon instead of vegetable broth).. anyway this is so an Italian classic that it deserved to be talked about!

  • Italians are so funny. I read a book recently about Italy, and in it 3 Italian nonne are arguing about ragu recipes. Hysterical!

  • Thank you for this, Mimi! Being allergic to garlic, the one place I can eat without fear is Italy! And that is because they stick to tradition and authentic recipes. I know which ones are safe and which are not. A salsa Bolognese in Italy is always safe – not so much here in the US, though… unless I come to your home! Beaufhl job, and beautiful presentation!

    And, as it turns out, I am doing a post on Bolognese sauces in the new year – but I am giving several different recipes, all of which follow the tradition: soffritto, pancetta, ground meat, tomatoes, milk/cream.

    • Oh that will be fantastic, because there are so many differences. And, of course, I’m sure they’re all wonderful. My real father came over from Sicily, and I’ve yet to go visit. I saw your lovely photos from there and it’s moved up a few places on my long bucket list! That’s so sad about garlic. But I guess it could be worse.

      • That is exactly what I say, “It could be worse.” Much better one small flavoring than wheat/gluten, dairy, chocolate, nuts, soy, or – the unthinkable – wine.

        Sicily was truly magnificent… a real eye-opener. Not at all what I expected and yet so much more. You really need to get there!

  • “One should not indiscriminately sprinkle Parmigiano over everything if all dishes are not to melt into an unappealing sameness.” I love that line. I fight so hard not to do that with garlic. The garlic usually makes it in, though. :D This looks delicious. I adore the books where the person’s voice comes through so strongly.

      • I hadn’t heard of him before. Is this your favorite of his books? We watch Nick Stellino on PBS for the same reason. I bought one of his books but haven’t tried it yet. Show’s addictive, though.

      • Well, I haven’t heard of Nick! So many authors! Yes, this is my favorite. It’s a thorough book. Just checked and it’s unavailable. It’s just too old.

  • My one regret is that I wasn’t there to eat it with you! And I laughed my head off (no translation needed, I think) at your intro. I am honoured to have made it onto your pages, sister-friend. Linda xxx

      • Well see, are you Brits? That truly is confusing to me. But I’d never heard that before! And you know i get around food a lot!!

      • The correct name for my country is the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland … so ‘Britain’ actually encompasses England, Scotland and Wales and the UK includes Northern Ireland. Clear as mud and heaven knows where we’ll be after Brexit, the dumbest political move since we tried to over-tax America.

  • Mimi! I’m unfortunately reading your post at lunch while semi-starving because I’m trying to lose the last 4 pounds of summer wine and you are completely wrecking my diet! Bolognese is my very favorite. Good thing I don’t have smell-a-vision.

  • This is fabulous! I love bolognese! We must be on the same wavelength, I was just thinking about this sauce the other night!

  • Mimi this sounds sensational. I was drooling from just looking at all your photos and perfect chopping skills.

    How unusual that he chooses a white wine over red but this looks amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever used a recipe to make this but I will definitely try this one. Thanks for sharing.

    • Absolutely. I don’t know about the wine, personally, but sometimes they can make a sauce purple-ish? Even good wine? Or he just wanted the wine flavor and not the color. I have no idea. But it was certainly delicious!

  • Bugialli is indeed one of the best sources of information about real Italian cookery. Not just recipes but, even more valuable in my opinion, the origins of dishes and how they’ve evolved over the years. He deserves to be better known. And his pasta book is a great compendium, the result of a lot of in depth investigation.

    • It’s a very impressive book, no longer available I just saw on Amazon. I really love that he states how just because you’re an Italian grandmother, doesn’t mean you can cook! He always makes me laugh.

  • The Ragu debate will never end, but your version looks perfect to me. However, your referring to the dish as “blended lasagna” is really so correct, and it made me understand why I still prefer lasagna to it! :)

  • Mimi, I know this recipe well and you honored in your post. So, how many cookbooks do you have? Wait, Wait, I forgot! Never ask a food blogger how many cookbooks they have. I’m not telling how many I have.

    • I didn’t know that was a “thing!” But I’ll keep it to myself. I’ve been collecting a long time. Thank goodness for those lean years when I went to the library and had my husband copy recipes for me!

      • I gave boxes away to my daughter and still have way too many! Then I determined I’d have to live many many lifetimes to make a fraction of the recipes and determined to not buy another cookbook, ever. I have cut back quite a bit since then but I have NOT been able to keep my promise! I have a problem…

  • Hats off for doing this the right way, with celery, carrots etc. I grew up with the lazy option – still a homemade version, though – and am in awe of some of my friends who make gallons of bolognese sauce for freezing, cooking it for 5 hours etc.
    And while I can’t be bothered to make it the proper way, I most certainly can be bothered to eat it when invited :-D .

  • Coming from an Italian family I really can confirm that spag bol doesn’t exist in Italy but a lovely meaty ragu like this certainly does (although I’ve never, ever known anyone in the family to use cream in it but that could be because we’re a southern Italian family which is an area that doesn’t really use many dairy products in its cooking).

    • Interesting. It is so complicated, isn’t it?!! Just prepare and eat what you love is my motto!!! And we loved this!

  • Spag Bol, also known as Spag bog in Australia has become our national dish, although the only place to eat a quality version is at home. Sounds delicious esp after travelling a Asia for 5 weeks

    • Hi Sandra! Long time no see! Obviously because you were on a major trip! Can’t wait to see your posts. I’ve never been to Asia. It’s on my list, but not on the top. Next year is South America. Interesting about Spag bog!

  • I guess my family simplifies everything as much as possible and so happens with pasta and sauces; there are always some basics that we agree upon but we really do not have quarrels over food or fight who’s recipe is the best. Food should be something to gather us to enjoy together. Life too. At least to our standards. Love your ingredients Mimi. Thank you !

    • Except that he makes me laugh out loud! I’ve made many recipes from that cookbook over the years, and all have been successful.

  • Your posts always make me smile…like the Brits we Aussies call it ‘Spag Bol’ too.
    Growing up Spag Bol was on high repeat dial for our weeknight dinner. It was actually the first thing I learned how to cook and once that happened it became my job to make the ragu. I think the quintessential and best ragu recipe is Marcella Hazan’s, my copy of her wonderful ‘The Classic Italian Cookbook’ is testimony to how much I have read it…. it is falling apart! I am keen to try this version as a comparison.

    • I actually own that cookbook, so I’ll check it out. Bugiali popped into my head just because he’s so particular and I wanted to make it the correct way!

  • hi mimi
    i had never heard of chef Bugialli before; he looks kinda fierce. being an old british colony and still part of the Commonwealth, we too here in australia call it spag bol:) tho i doubt it is very italian these days at all. I love parmesan on everything! too bad if it all tastes the same, i say. cheers sherry

  • Mimi, such an informative post! Pappardelle with Bolognese sauce is one of our family’s favorite dinners. Comfort food at its finest! I am guilty of adding garlic though! I have Bugialli’s pasta book on my shelf, I’ll have to pull it out again. So funny when he said even some grandmothers are poor cooks. I suppose it’s true.

    • I know! He said his grandmother didn’t know how to boil an egg!!! I’ve always wondered about that phenomenon. Are every French and Italian woman a good cook cause they’re French and Italian?!!!

  • Thanks for this post! I love Bolognese. This is very similar to the recipe I use. After adding whole milk or cream I simmer for an hour. That trace of nutmeg is wonderful.

    • Sounds wonderful. I don’t know why I’ve never made it before! Maybe because I assumed it classically contained liver, which Dave won’t eat.

  • Mimi, you are making me hungry with this recipe – one of my all-time favorites, it’s nice to be taught from an expert! Thanks! I feel like I would love this recipe book!

    • Thanks, Laura! This book isn’t published any longer, I just checked. I’m not sure why I’ve never made spag bol before. But my husband and I were fighting over the last bits of it!

  • This is quite a bit like how I first learned to make Pasta alla Bolognese because it has just a bit of tomato and isn’t a heavy tomato based sauce like I usually see passed off as Bolognese. Buglialli sounds like a persnickity grandmother himself but isn’t it wonderful to find someone so passionate about their cuisine…I’d be arguing over the last spoonful, too!!

  • I love all the different ragu pasta dishes – with my favourite being one of wild boar that I ate in Assisi. It is one I shall never forget. I agree, making extra Ragu alla Bolognese is always a good idea. Especially to keep as a frozen option for when you don’t feel like cooking :)

    • I had it there also! Phenomenal. Although, I also have walnut ravioli in a cream sauce that was outstanding. I do need to make more ragu and freeze it. Good idea.

    • I checked on Amazon and they’re not selling the cookbook any longer, but of course there are other Italian cooks with books. I just always loved his passionately serious approach to regional Italian cuisines!

  • I love Pasta Bolognese, but haven’t ever tried to cook it myself. Our favorite Italian restaurant servers a wonderful version of it, but I think I would like to try making it myself. Thanks for the recipe!

    • You are so welcome. Maybe it sounds complicated is why people don’t make it? But it’s not. It just takes a little time.

  • This recipe looks amazing! My mom always cooks this pasta but very differently. She doesn’t add panceta, for example, which seems to be like a great addition.
    Thanks for the recipe!

  • The UK (or whatever it’s called now) ha ha! Yeah I’ve got to agree there. Are we “United” anymore? We live here and we don’t know! I’ve got to be “United” with you here on this recipe though Mimi :-) . I do love a good “Spag Bols”. :-)

  • This recipe makes me feel all warm and cozy inside. I’ve never made Spaghetti Bolognese either. Thanks for the encouragement to try something different. Your’s looks fabulous. Now I’m hungry and it’s barely 10 in the morning.

  • Oh, I love a good spag bol! :-) Buglialli sounds like a great chef, and I love his tidbits of wisdom. Sometimes those old cookbooks are the best! Now I’m craving a good bolognese for dinner tonight. Yum!

    • He seems like he might have been tough to get along with, but what a resource. I’m always keeping his cookbooks.

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