The Spaghetti Bolognese Controversy

Who doesn’t love a ‘spag bol’? Some garlic bread and green salad on the side. It’s just great comfort food, and the kids love it!

As a kid, we regularly ate ‘spag bol.’ As I mentioned previously, growing up, we didn’t eat a lot of ‘foreign’ food, so I thought spaghetti sauce came in a can for a long time. Overcook some spaghetti, heat a tin of “Campbells Spaghetti Sauce,” add some tomato sauce, sprinkle on some “Kraft Parmesan,” and there you have it!

Then one day, it all changed. Sitting down to lunch with family friends, we had Spaghetti Bolognese. It was a food revelation! It changed my life forever, and we never ate spaghetti sauce from a tin again!

You may not know that what we think to be one of Italy’s most iconic dishes is not! Indeed, you are not likely to find Spaghetti alla Bolognese on the menu of any restaurant in Italy other than a tourist trap. And yet, the dish has been the subject of passionate and heated debate over the years.

Pellegrino Artusi, an Italian business man and writer, may have been the first to coin the term ‘Bolognese’ in his cookbook published in 1891, ‘La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene’ titled ‘Maccheroni alla Bolognese.’ However, Alberto Alvisi was a cook in the late 1700s’ for the bishop of Imola, who became Pope Pio VII, who made ‘Ragù per li maccheroni appasiciati,’ a meat sauce recipe for pasta.

Interestingly, despite neither of those early recipes using tomatoes, the so-called “classic” Bolognese recipe filed with Accademia Italiana Della Cucina in1982 does. When the New York Times published a recipe for a ‘White Bolognese,’ Italian purists went wild, blasting the newspaper for the blasphemy of suggesting a Bolognese didn’t need tomato. Furthermore, meat-based ragu’s have been eaten since ancient Roman times, with tomatoes only arriving in Italy in 1548 from the New World. Even then, tomatoes did not gain popularity for over a century later. 

Perhaps the more controversial issue is the use of spaghetti. Spaghetti is too thin to hold an ‘authentic’ Ragu Alla Bolognese. Ragu in ancient times was typically eaten on polenta or bread, while today, it is generally served with Tagliatelle. While Bologna is reputably the home of Spaghetti Bolognese, its Mayor, Virginio Merola, appears to be on a pasta crusade to set the record straight, tweeting images of Spaghetti Bolognese as being “fake news!” 

So while this is not a traditional bolognese sauce, it’s rich and flavoursome. More so, it’s a thicker sauce, so it will sit on spaghetti rather than pooling at the bottom of the dish. It also works great in a lasagne bolognese and doesn’t leave you with a sloppy mess that doesn’t hold together.

Bolognese Sauce

  • 2 large onions
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 kg ground beef
  • 2 800g tins diced Italian tomatoes
  • 200g Tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp Italian herb mix
  • Sugar and season to taste

1. Cut onions into large dice, place in a large frying pan, add olive oil, and sweat until onions are translucent but not starting to brown. Add minced garlic and cook off for a couple more minutes.

2. Combine beef mince with onion and garlic mixture. Brown mince.

3. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and combine

4. Add dried herbs and stir through.

5. Simmer for at least 1 hour.


I prefer to cook my sauce in a large frying pan. Using a frying pan tends to give better caramelisation to the ground beef, rather than cooking it in a pot where it tends to boil in its juices.


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