This post will be controversial. Because it is fully dedicated to the real spaghetti bolognese. And you will find out that one of the most famous Italian pasta recipes, the spaghetti bolognese, are almost always made in a way that is unacceptable in the city where they were created, Bologna!
Why controversial? Well, if you are here, there are two possible options.
Option 1: you are interested in the mainstream “spaghetti bolognese” or even worse “spaghetti bolognaise” and you are expecting a meat based sauce, rich in tomato with lots of Parmigiano Reggiano (most likely parmesan) on top, and maybe some parsley. Let me tell you, you are not in the right place, or maybe you are in the right place to learn that the dish you are looking for does not exist. (But if you still want to cook a perfect homemade ragù alla bolognese… I’ve got you covered, just go to this post and chose a different shape of pasta 😉 ).
Option 2: you already know that this world-wide famous dish, literally does not exist. Better said, it does not exist in the form that made it famous, but (and here comes the interesting point and the reason for this post) it exists in a completely different way: not a meat based sauce, but a tuna based one! And since my EatalianWithRoberto is dedicated to traditional, authentic Italian food, today you will learn why the recipe is different and most of all how to properly cook a real spaghetti bolognese at home. Because spaghetti alla bolognese are not only delicious, but also super easy to prepare and with very common ingredients.
Spaghetti bolognese are fake
You already know, in Italy we are very serious about food (at least about this one thing…). Well, in Bologna we are even more, maybe.
And we are so serious that even the former mayor of Bologna, Virginio Merola, had to give an interview about the subject. In 2019, he started a “crusade” against the abuse of our sauce, the famous bolognese sauce (that we simply call “ragù”… here my family recipe!).
And the worst abuse is maybe the pairing of our sauce with the wrong shape of pasta, spaghetti.
But… why are spaghetti bolognese fake?
At this point many of you must be thinking we are too strict and with no reason, but if you give me 2 minutes I can easily explain the reasons behind.
There are actually two mistakes in that dish.
First: if bolognese sauce is done properly, it does not stick to spaghetti. Simple like that. The result would be a dish in which you eat the spaghetti and most of the sauce is left untouched in the plate.
Second: the reason why, abroad, spaghetti bolognese are famous, is that the sauce is not a real ragù bolognese, but a sauce rich in tomato. Being rich in tomato, the sauce will stick to any shape of pasta, spaghetti included. In my opinion, the sauce known as “bolognese” abroad is actually a lot more similar to neapolitan ragù, which is very rich in tomato. This would be reasonable, since immigration, to Germany and USA in particular, has been a lot more intense from Southern Italy than from Bologna, and immigration has brought to other countries our traditions.
Real spaghetti bolognese recipe
The official recipe for the authentic spaghetti alla bolognese is patented c/o the “Camera di commercio di Bologna” (official website here). This happens only for recipes that are considered part of the territory and with a strong identity that has to be protected against fakes and attempts to copy.
The recipe is based on:
- canned tuna
- tomatoes (fresh or peeled, depending on the season)
That’s it, as simple as this. That’s why this is maybe the favorite recipe among the immense community of students living in Bologna: never forget that my town has about 400.000 inhabitants and about 100.000 students, thanks to our University!
When I use canned tuna, I always chose a premium brand. The difference between a good canned tuna and a cheap one is massive, not only in taste but also (usually) in sustainability. The best I have found for you is this one:
But now I believe it’s time for you to learn how to make your first real spaghetti bolognese, or at least the first that would not make anyone in Bologna pass out 😉
The real spaghetti bolognese
- 1 knife
- 1 pan
- 1 pot
- 320 gr spaghetti
- 180 gr canned tuna chose a good quality one… it's crucial
- 1 onion
- 700 gr fresh tomatoes OR 400 gr canned peeled tomatoes (depending on the season you are in)
- q.s. EVO oil
- q.s. salt
- Start finely chopping the onion and gently fry it in a pan with EVO oil. The key is the word "gently". It has to cook until it gets transparent. This will take about 15-20 minutes.
- When the onion is fully transparent, add the peeled tomatoes, chopped into pieces.
- Gently cook for about 20 minutes. (Note: starting from fresh tomatoes, it will take longer, about 30-40 minutes.) Add the chopped tuna and cook about 10 minutes more. The final result should be a sauce like the one in the picture.
- In the meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in salted water.
- As usual, when they are almost cooked, take them away from the water "al dente" and put them into the pan with the sauce. Add a small amount of pasta water and mix them.
- The result will be your first spaghetti alla bolognese… the bolognese way! 😉 Enjoy them.
- quality of canned tuna is crucial
- always chose canned peeled tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes if it’s not tomatoes’ season. This will be healthier, tastier and more sustainable for the planet. Thanks!
- I hope you are glad to be able to cook at home the REAL spaghetti bolognesi, the way we do in Bologna! 🙂
Before you leave… do you love spaghetti but tuna is not your thing? Well, this blog got you covered! You can try these, that are some of the best spaghetti recipes you will find:
- the mother of all the pasta recipes from Rome, the gricia! here is a fancy version… with fava beans!
- Her Majesty, the carbonara 🙂
- simple but super tasty, directly from Rome (are you sure it is from Rome? 😉 have a look…), the amatriciana;
- and last but not least, my signature pasta, the spaghetti all’assassina, from Bari. Enjoy my friends!
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