Ask a Brit which country spaghetti Bolognese comes from and they’re likely to reply, “Italy.”

Ask an Italian, and they’re likely to ask you what you’re talking about.

The truth is, as with Chinese and Indian cuisines, our typical interpretations of Italian dishes are less authentic than we may have been led to believe. And unfortunately, it seems, that as with language, flavour, too, can find itself lost in translation.

The city of Bologna’s traditional ragu al Bolognese is the authentic Italian inspiration for what’s affectionately referred to in the UK as ‘spag-bol,’ and, perhaps surprisingly, the two share only a passing resemblance.

Bolonga, Italy

First of all, ragu al Bolognese is never accompanied by spaghetti. Instead, you’ll typically find it served over tagliatelle or another chunky variety of pasta better for gripping the thick sauce than thin, slippery spaghetti. And whereas spaghetti Bolognese is almost exclusively cooked with minced beef, variations of ragu al Bolognese can be made using minced beef, minced pork, chicken liver, or any combination of the three. It may also come as a surprise that the list of ingredients for the Italian original excludes garlic but includes milk.

Ragu al Bolognese

Spaghetti Bolognese is much-loved, and when cooked well, it makes for a hearty, flavoursome dinner. But if you want a more authentic taste of Italy, have a go at cooking this recipe for the real ragu al Bolognese.

Ragu al Bolognese

Serves 4–6


40g butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
50g pancetta, diced
1 bay leaf
200g minced beef
200g minced pork
50g chicken livers
200ml red or white wine
1 tbsp tomato puree dissolved in 150ml of chicken stock
Salt and black pepper
150ml full fat milk
500g tagliatelle
6 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan


1.     Melt the butter on a low heat in a large pan, then mix in the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery, pancetta and the bay leaf. Continue cooking on a low heat until the veg becomes soft.

2.     Increase the heat a little, and then add the beef, pork and liver to the pan. Stir until the meat has browned. Pour in the wine. Simmer for a couple of minutes to allow the wine’s alcohol to evaporate. Now add the tomato chicken stock mix.

3.     Lower the heat and simmer for half an hour. The sauce should now be a deep, rich colour and almost liquid free. Season with salt and pepper and add a splash of the milk. Stir, then place the lid on the pan. Simmer for an hour, occasionally adding more of the milk until it’s all gone. The sauce should now be very thick, but not totally dry.

4.     Cook the tagliatelle in salted boiling water. Once al dente, drain, but retain a cup of the cooking water in a serving bowl. Add the sauce and half the grated Parmesan to the serving bowl. Add the tagliatelle to the bowl little by little, tossing the mixture each time you add more of the pasta using two spoons. Place the remainder of the Parmesan on a plate for your diners to use as a garnish.

5. Serve.

Buon appetite.

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