Conventional Italian wisdom

Ask most northern Italians and they will tell you ragù alla bolognese is traditionally served over tagliatelle. More specifically, ragù alla bolognese should be served over the April 16th 1972 tagliatelle recipe, as recorded by “Camera di Commercio Industria Artigianato e Agricoltura di Bologna” (“Bologna Chamber of Commerce”). The recipe is a simple mix of ‘tipo 00’ flour and egg. However, to meet the standards set by the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, each tagliatella must be 8mm wide when cooked.

Tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese

Tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese

Pappardelle is considered a reasonable alternative to tagliatelle, as is lasagne when using the meat sauce for lasagna bolognese.

Conventional Italian wisdom also states that ragù alla bolognese should never, under any circumstances, be served over spaghetti.

Spaghetti bolognesi

There is, however, a subculture of Bologna’s inhabitants that disagree with this conventional wisdom. They claim that there has been been a Bolognese tradition of serving ragù alla bolognese over dried durum wheat spaghetti for centuries.

In 2016, Piero Valdiserra, an ex-marketing executive born and raised in Bologna published the book “Spaghetti alla Bolognese: L’altra faccia del tipico” (“Spaghetti Bolognese: The other side of tradition”) with evidence and personal experience of spaghetti bolognese regularly being consumed in Bologna.

Piero Valdiserra

Piero Valdiserra

Later that year a new collective was formed, headed up by lawyer Gianluigi Mazzoni and chef Stefano Boselli called “Comitato per la Promozione della Ricetta originale degli Spaghetti bolognesi” (“Committee for the Promotion of the Original Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe”).

Importantly, neither Mazzoni nor Boselli claim spaghetti bolognesi is a replacement for tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese for anyone with a choice. Spaghetti bolognesi was historically the reserve of the city’s peasants, who could not always afford tagliatelle. Even peasants who could afford tagliatelle would often indulge in this treat for public holidays but stretch the leftover ragù over days, with each subsequent serving mixed with the cheaper alternative of spaghetti.

Il Comitato propose their own version of spaghetti bolognesi. A notable difference between this recipe and the “official” 1982 “l’Accadamia Italiana Della Cucina” (“The Italian Academy of Cuisine”) recipe is the high pork content. This is significant, as pork has traditionally been a cheaper meat in northern Italy as compared to beef. Their dish is also filled out with peas.

Spaghetti bolognesi

Spaghetti bolognesi prepared with the 2016 recipe.

L’Accademia Italiana Della Cucina’s reaction

Gianluigi Mazzoni has stated that l’Accademia have been against their spaghetti bolognesi movement from the outset. L’Accademia did, however, propose their own version of spaghetti bolognese. Their version is created not with beef and pork, but with tuna. “Spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese” (“Spaghetti bolognese with tuna”) now has a permanent place within their archives.

The backstory to this dish is based on catholic doctrine. Jesus Christ died on a Friday, and as an act of penance, followers are expected to refrain from meat on Fridays and holy days. According to l’Accademia, this lead to a Bolognese tradition of consuming spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese on special occasions, most notably Christmas Eve.

Spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese is a simple dish, prepared with tomatoes (often tinned as fresh are not available over Christmas), onion, tinned tuna and oil. L’Accademia allow for the addition of either anchovies or parsley.

Spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese

Spaghetti con il tonno alla bolognese prepared with the 2018 recipe

Many in Bologna follow this tradition, although question whether the city has any exclusive claim over the dish. Ada Boni’s influential 1929 cookbook “Il talismano della felicità” (“The Talisman of Happiness”) contains a very similar recipe for “Spaghetti al tonno” (“Spaghetti with tuna”) which is recognised as a Roman dish.

So, to answer the question: Yes, spaghetti bolognese is an Italian dish. Whether you believe the authentic version should be loaded with tuna or pork might depend on whether you consider yourself to be rich or poor.

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