A taste of Bologna – a traditional Ragu alla Bolognese

Elegant yet without being ostentatious, Bologna is a haughty but gritty place, a beautifully colonnaded medieval city. It is Europe’s oldest university town (founded in 1088) and has been a haven for intellectuals and creative types since its inception. 


It is a city of two halves; one side is for the bourgeoise – a hard-working, high-tech city located in the super rich Po Valley which is full of high-end restaurants, regal theatres and high value property, whereas the other side is a more honest, humble, obstinate and liberal city which is famous for its art, music, and its graffiti-embellished piazzas rife with musicians, hipsters, late night bars and clubs.

No small wonder Bologna has earned so many historical monikers. La Grassa (the fat one) celebrates a rich food legacy (ragù or bolognese sauce was first concocted here). La Dotta (the learned one) doffs a cap to the city university founded in 1088. La Rossa (the red one) alludes to the ubiquity of the terracotta medieval buildings adorned with miles of porticoes, as well as the city's long-standing penchant for left-wing politics.


 Bologna street


‘La Grassa’

Bologna also has been given the moniker ‘La Grassa’, meaning ‘the fat one’ due to its rich and celebrated food culture. Ragù alla Bolognese (or simply‘Ragù’)is a famous dish which originated from the tratorrias of Bologna, and first appeared in a cookbook by Pellegrino Artusi, published in 1891. Since then, the Ragù alla Bolognese has permutated into a range of forms and recipe variants, including the English classic mealtime stalwart: Spaghetti Bolognese.

 A taste of Bologna 

At the time of writing this article, the world is in shutdown due to Covid-19 restrictions, and it is not possible to travel. Therefore, I want to bring the taste of Bologna to you with this Ragù alla Bolognese recipe. It’s closely based on the original and should hopefully quell your gastronomic ‘FOMO’ at least for the time being!

Ragù alla Bolognese


Ingredients (serves 5-6)

  • 400/500g of Parpadelle/Tagliatelle/Fettucce/Penne Rigate/Paccheri pasta
  • 50g cubed pancetta
  • 200g Beef mince
  • 200g pork (or veal) mince
  • 1 large onion finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 100 ml milk (optional)
  • 175ml of quality dry red/white wine (I tend to use Chianti or a bone-dry Riesling)
  • 500ml of beef/chicken stock (more may be required, depending on the cooking time
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Freshly grated Parmesan (Parmiggiano Reggiano)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh Rosemary (optional)
  • Two Bay leaves (optional)
  • Sea Salt and Black Pepper




  1. Firstly heat a little olive oil and the butter in a large, deep pan on a medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the meat starts to brown
  2. Add the onion, celery and carrot and fry until they soften. This should take around 3-4 mins. Then crumble in the mince and turn up the heat, cooking until all the meat is browned
  3. Next, add in the wine and cook off the alcohol, this should take 2-3 minutes. Add the milk (this helps tenderise the meat) and then the tomato puree and stir
  4. Add about three of four ladles of stock to the pan. Once the mixture is starting to bubble, turn the heat down to a simmer
  5. Taste, season and add the rosemary and bay leaves if you wish. These are inauthentic additions, but I believe they help enhance the flavour
  6. Simmer for 1hr 30 at the least (traditionally this is done for over 4 hours), adding a little stock at intervals if the sauce looks dry
  7. Place the pasta in salted boiling water and cook until al dente.
  8. Before serving, add a little of the pasta water to the sauce to make it less thick. Once you are satisfied with the consistency of the sauce, take it off the heat. Add the parmesan (to taste, but lots if you are like me and love it) and stir in your pasta. Serve with an extra topping of freshly grated parmesan, and season with salt and black pepper. Enjoy!


 Bologna street