It’s the most famous sauce in the world to serve pasta, taken from the Italian tradition and used by chefs and home cooking in every part of the globe. In Italy it’s called “Ragù”, but in the rest of the world we all refer to it as “Bolognese”, with several alternative recipes which are to be considered incorrect. Even in Italy there are several regional versions, and the expert don’t totally refuse the existence of completely legitimate regional alternatives. What we will try to do in this article is to tell the story of how the recipe evolved until today and then describe the recipe and the procedure considered to be the most correct.
Although somebody dates back the origin of bolognese sauce even to the ancient Romans, it is unquestionable to say that it comes from the French “ragout”, which etymologically means “to awaken” (the appetite). However, the French ragout was more similar to the modern stew, which was obtained by long cooking a main element (like meat) together with vegetables, in a broth or in wine.
Using a similar recipe to season pasta is a subsequent achievement, consolidated after pasta began to become more and more protagonist of Italian cookbooks. It is said that the first to try the experiment was the cook of Louis XIV of France, awho came from Bologna: he used ragout sauce to season pasta, but he excluded the meat, which was still served separately. According to the in-depth story told by the Italian food authority Il Gambero Rosso, the same thing happened in the first versions that appeared in Italian cookbooks in the late eighteenth century: bolognese sauce was still a meat dish that did not meet pasta. Even the first versions of “maccheroni alla napoletana” (Neapolitan macaroni) , always from the late eighteenth century, used the sauce obtained by cooking meat to season pasta, but there was no meat in that plate. In Puccini’s Bohéme, the opera written in the late nineteenth century, “ragù” was simply a meat dish.
Throughout the nineteenth century, however, pasta recipes seasoned with sauces and meat began to spread. These recipes did not always use the term “ragù”, precisely because that commonly identified a dish without pasta. At the same time, tomato sauce started to be progressively more present, turning the sauce into red, similar to the one cooked today. At the turn of the twentieth centuries, Bologna became the capital of bolognese tradition, with a number of cookbooks that will increasingly define the recipe. Recipe that, however, will continue to evolve until recent times, with the presence or absence of different vegetables, mushrooms, truffles or milk.