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Photo Credit: Elizabeth Newman
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Newman

There’s More to Bolognese Than You Think

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The truth about Bolognese, revealed!

What do you picture when you hear the word Bolognese? If you’re like most people in the English-speaking world, you probably see a rich tomato sauce loaded with ground beef, served over a long pasta like spaghetti. Spaghetti Bolognese is a beloved comfort food staple in the U.S. and U.K. (where they lovingly call it spag bol), a simple and filling meal that’s a true crowd-pleaser. But in Italy, that meaty tomato sauce just one of the (many, many) variations on the versatile dish known as ragú Bolognese.

In Italian, Bolognese means, simply, “from Bologna,” the city that is the capital of the northern Emilia-Romagna region. The historically wealthy area has a culinary tradition of rich, luxurious foods featuring lots of dairy and pork products—it’s also the home of prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and mortadella. Long before the tomato arrived in Europe, Bolognese chefs were long-simmering beef, pork, or veal with aromatic vegetables like onion, celery, and carrot, creating an unctuous sauce to be served over wide tagliatelle.

bison bolognese

Even after the introduction of the tomato, which arrived in Europe from the Americas via Spanish explorers in the 16th century, a classic ragú Bolognese might contain only a few tablespoons of tomato paste to amplify that meaty flavor. It might also achieve that flavor boost with dried porcini mushrooms, wine, bacon, or pancetta—there are as many types of ragú Bolognese as there are chefs in the city. Like so many great Italian dishes, it’s about making the most of the ingredients you have on hand. With time and care, they’re transformed into a meal that’s truly iconic.

Inspired to try a new Bolognese tonight? Check out some of Giada’s favorite variations on the dish, including versions made with bison, chicken, and lamb, a vegetarian version, and a lush white Bolognese that skips the tomato altogether.

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