Photo Credit: Aubrie Pick
Bolognese is a beloved classic dish here in the ‘states, but what kind of bolognese would you come across in Italy? Let’s take a tour!
It’s no secret around here that we love bolognese (all the ways!), and our very own Jade considers herself a connoisseur of the dish – when in Italy, she’ll try bolognese from practically every restaurant! While we have a pretty solid definition of what bolognese means to us here in the US – we basically consider Giada’s recipe to be the gold standard! – it takes on many different forms in Italy. Quite a few popularized Italian dishes vary throughout the regions of Italy, and bolognese is no exception.
While no region is equal in how every eatery will prepare their dishes, there are general differences in cuisine based on location due to history, climate, culture and more. There is one constant, though – bolognese is not served with spaghetti… unless you’ve hit a spot that’s catering to its American clientele! You’ll much more often see bolognese be served with heartier noodles like tagliatelle, papardelle, or short tube-shaped pastas like rigatoni or penne. Also note that many restaurants won’t even necessary refer to the dish as “bolognese,” but rather a pasta with “ragu” in the name, or sometimes something different entirely.
And without further ado, here are the many types of bolognese in Italy!
Where better to start our virtual bolognese tour than the town of its origin, Bologna? The earliest documented recipe of a bolognese-type dish was near Bologna in the 1700’s (though this is a widely disputed fact!), and it was quite similar to the French dish of “ragoût” which is essentially stewed or braised meat into a sauce-like consistency. In Bologna now, you’ll see bolognese on the menu as “Ragù Classcio Bolognese” or “Ragù alla Bolognese“.
The north of Italy has a less temperate climate than the south, so you won’t see as many tomato-forward dishes on north Italian menus. Due to this, bolognese in Bologna has barely any tomato product at all. If anything, it might have a bit of tomato paste or something similar, but it’s definitely a meat-forward dish. You might not always see the meat be ground up in the way that we’re used to in the ‘States – often, the meat will be diced into small cubes, and stewed for hours until tender and delicious.
For a northern-style bolognese, try Giada’s Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragu!
In Florence, one of the most popular regional dishes is the Bistecca Fiorentina – AKA, Steak Florentine. This region has a heavier influence on meat than others, and because of that, the bolognese you’ll come across will be very meaty. While Florence is 2 hours south of Bologna, it’s still considered a northern Italian city, and you’ll come across more meaty ragoût-style sauces than tomato-based ones. However, bolognese sauces in Florence will likely have more of a tomato presence than the dishes from Bologna. In Florence bolognese dishes, you’ll often see that the ground beef is in larger pieces as opposed to a smoother sauce that coats every pasta noodle.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that Florence is a popular hub for tourism, which means there will be quite a few restaurants that cater to the American palette, so you could easily come across a very American-style bolognese. Like anywhere in Italy, do a bit of research before popping into any ol’ place – you could just as easily come across a gem as you could come across a not-so-great tourist spot.
For another northern-style bolognese that brings on the meat flavor, try Giada’s Spicy Lamb Bolognese!
Because Giada grew up in Rome, that’s where a lot of her culinary influences come from – including her classic bolognese. Rome is where you’re likely to more often see bolognese as we know it here – a rich tomato sauce with finely ground meat, and often a presence of aromatic vegetables like onions, carrots and celery. Rome is still technically considered “north Italy,” but it’s much lower on the map than Florence and Bologna – and tomato dishes are much more prevalent.
Rome is a very large metropolitan city, and you’ll come across a wide variety of restaurants that will all prepare food a bit differently. While there are some spots in Rome that Giada and Jade love to get bolognese from, the 4 main pasta dishes of Rome will rule the menus in most eateries. Additionally, like Florence, Rome is an incredibly popular destination for tourism – so there will surely be plenty of restaurants serving up American favorites as well.
For a Roman-style bolognese, try Giada’s Simple Bolognese!
Naples has a signature regional specialty known as “Neapolitan ragù,” which is essentially a bolognese sauce as we know it: onions, tomato sauce and meat. It also contains red wine, a fat such as olive oil, lard or butter, and generally a lot of fresh basil. This Neapolitan version of the sauce has a lot more tomato product than the varieties from Bologna and Florence, as tomatoes are very abundant in the region.
The dish in Naples is prepared with whole cuts of meat, which will vary from place to place – often, the sauce is made with a combination of beef and pork of different cuts, but sometimes it’s a purely beef sauce. It simmers for hours on end until the sauce becomes extremely rich and concentrated. Sometimes, the meat will be served separately from the rest of the sauce as a second course to the pasta.
For a southern Italian-style bolognese, try Giada’s Rigatoni with Pork Ragout.
Sicily is the largest island in Italy, and because its the southmost region in the country and so coastal, tomatoes are a huge part of the cuisine. A Sicilian tomato-meat sauce is far more delicate than the super decadent and concentrated version in Naples. The ratio of tomatoes to meat is much higher than the other forms of the dish we’ve discussed, and will often simmer for a total of just an hour or so, as opposed to the laborious 4-hour Neapolitan ragu. It’s also common to see a presence of vegetables that are hardly found in other versions, such as peas, mushrooms and even potatoes.
However, because Sicily encapsulates such a vast region, you’d be sure to find all sorts of versions of a “bolognese” type dish. The food in Sicily is absolutely divine, and Giada has always considered it to be one of the most underrated places to eat in Italy.
For another southern-style bolognese, try Giada’s Pappardelle with Sausage Ragu!
After this deep dive into bolognese in Italy, we can tell you one thing – we’re hungry. Check out some of Giada’s different bolognese and ragu recipes below to go on a journey of your own!