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Bolognese sauce, known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese, is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy. In Italian cuisine, it is customarily used to dress "tagliatelle al ragù" and to prepare "lasagne alla bolognese". In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine, or with short tube shapes, such as rigatoni or penne. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a complex sauce which involves slow cooking using a variety of techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. Ingredients include a characteristic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped meat (generally bovine, including beef, and possibly pork, such as pancetta), wine and a small amount of tomato concentrate.
The earliest documented recipe of an Italian meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna. In 1891 Pellegrino Artusi first published a recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being "bolognese". While many traditional variations do exist, in 1982 the Italian Academy of Cuisine registered a recipe for authentic ragù alla bolognese with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (incorporating some fresh pancetta and a little milk). In Italy, ragù alla bolognese is often referred to simply as ragù.
Outside Italy, Bolognese sauce often refers to a tomato-based sauce to which mince (beef or pork) has been added; such sauces typically bear little resemblance to ragù alla bolognese. Whereas in Italy ragù is not used with spaghetti, so-called spaghetti bolognese has become a popular dish in many other parts of the world.
The earliest documented recipe for a meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna. Pellegrino Artusi published a recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being bolognese in his cookbook published in 1891. Artusi's recipe, Maccheroni alla bolognese, is thought to derive from the mid 19th century when he spent considerable time in Bologna (maccheroni being a generic term for pasta, both dried and fresh). The recipe only partially resembles the ragù alla bolognese that is traditionally associated with tagliatelle.The sauce called for predominantly lean veal filet along with pancetta, butter, onion, and carrot. The meats and vegetables were to be finely minced, cooked with butter until the meats browned, then covered and cooked with broth. Artusi commented that the taste could be made even more pleasant by adding small pieces of dried mushroom, a few slices of truffle, or chicken liver cooked with the meat and diced. As a final touch, he also suggested adding half a glass of cream to the sauce when it was completely done to make it taste even smoother. Artusi recommended serving this sauce with a medium size pasta ("horse teeth") made from durum wheat. The pasta was to be made fresh, cooked until it was firm, and then flavored with the sauce and Parmigiano cheese.
In the century-plus since Artusi recorded and subsequently published his recipe for Maccheroni alla bolognese, what is now ragù alla bolognese has evolved with the cuisine of the region. Most notable is the preferred choice of pasta, which today is widely recognized as fresh tagliatelle. Another reflection of the evolution of the cuisine over the past 150 years is the addition of tomato, either as a puree or as a concentrated paste, to the common mix of ingredients. Similarly, both wine and milk appear today in the list of ingredients in many of the contemporary recipes, and beef has mostly displaced veal as the dominant meat.
In 1982 the Italian Academy of Cuisine (Accademia Italiana della Cucina), an organization dedicated to preserving the culinary heritage of Italy, recorded and deposited a recipe for "classic Bolognese ragù" with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (La Camera di Commercio di Bologna). A version of the academy's recipe for American kitchens was also published. The academy's recipe confines the ingredients to beef cut from the plate section (cartella di manzo), fresh unsmoked pancetta (pancetta di maiale distesa), onions, carrot, celery, passata (or tomato purée), meat broth, dry wine (red or white, not sparkling), milk, salt and pepper. The option of adding a small amount of cream at the end of the preparation is recommended.
Nowadays, there are many variations of the recipe even among native Italian chefs, and the repertoire has been further broadened by some American chefs known for their expertise in Italian cuisine.
Ragù alla bolognese is a complex sauce which involves a variety of cooking techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. As such, it lends itself well to interpretation and adaptation by professional chefs and home cooks alike. Common sources of differences include which meats to use (beef, pork or veal) and their relative quantities, the possible inclusion of either cured meats or offal, which fats are used in the sauté phases (rendered pork fat, butter, olive or vegetable oil), what form of tomato is employed (fresh, canned or paste), the makeup of the cooking liquids (wine, milk, tomato juices, or broth) and their specific sequence of addition.
The numerous variations among recipes for ragù alla bolognese have led many to search for the definitive, authentic recipe. Some have suggested the recipe registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 1982 as the "most authentic". However, this would be inconsistent with the academy's own beliefs and statements about remaining faithful to tradition in documenting and preserving Italy's culinary heritage. Prominent Italian chef Mario Caramella stated, "In Italy, there are several traditional recipes of Tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese with more or less slight variations". The noted chef, culinary teacher, food writer, and authority on the cuisine of Bologna, Mary Beth Clark, claims "There are as many versions of Bolognese ragù as there are versions of tomato sauce and pizza!" According to UK cookbook author and food writer Felicity Cloake, "The fact is that there is no definitive recipe for a bolognese meat sauce, but to be worthy of the name, it should respect the traditions of the area", a view that is consistent with that often expressed by the Italian Academy of Cuisine.
The many variations tend to be based on a common theme. For instance, garlic is absent from all of the recipes referenced above, as are herbs other than a parsimonious use of bay leaves by some. Seasoning is limited to salt, pepper and the occasional pinch of nutmeg. In all of the recipes meats dominate as the principal ingredient, while tomatoes, in one form or another, are only an auxiliary ingredient.
In Bologna ragù alla bolognese is customarily paired and served with tagliatelle, made with eggs and northern Italy’s soft wheat flour. Acceptable alternatives to fresh tagliatelle include other broad flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine, and tube shapes, such as rigatoni and penne.
Gruppo Virtuale Cuochi Italiani (GVCI), an international organization and network of culinary professionals dedicated to authentic Italian cuisine, annually organizes and promotes an "International Day of Italian Cuisines" (IDIC). In 2010 tagliatelle al ragu alla bolognese was the official dish for IDIC. The event, held on January 17, 2010, included participation by 450 professional chefs in 50 countries who prepared the signature dish according to “an authentic” recipe provided by chef Mario Caramella. Media coverage was broad internationally, but reports often incorrectly identified the recipe followed as that of l'Accademia Italiana della Cucina, and some included stock photographs of spaghetti Bolognese.
So-called spaghetti alla bolognese (also variously known as spaghetti bolognese, esparguete à bolonhesa, spaghetti bolognaise and colloquially in Commonwealth countries as spag bol) is a pasta dish invented outside of Italy, consisting of a meat sauce served on a bed of spaghetti. The sauce is commonly prepared from ground beef, tomato, onion, bacon, spices, possibly cream and additional vegetables such as carrots, celery, or parsnip. The dish is often topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano cheese. Although spaghetti alla bolognese is very popular in various countries outside of Italy, ragù is not served with spaghetti in Bologna (or elsewhere in Italy), as the pieces of meat do not adhere well to this kind of pasta.
In recent decades, the dish has become very popular in France, Libya, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway, especially among children. It is called spaghetti med köttfärssås, in Swedish; spaghetti ja jauhelihakastike, in Finnish; spaghetti med kødsovs in Danish; bolognai spagetti in Hungarian; and spaghetti og kjøttdeig in Norwegian; or simply bolognese. Most of these dishes have ground beef and grated cheese as the main ingredient, other ingredients can vary or even be omitted.
A version of this dish is popular in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and Australia where it is often referred to as spag bol or spag bog. In the United States, the term "bolognese" is sometimes applied to a tomato-and-ground-beef sauce that bears little resemblance to the ragù served in Bologna.
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