Spaghetti bolognese was pronounced the UK’s favourite family meal in a 2018 survey. That luscious red tomato sauce, mixed with beef mince and poured over delicious strands of pasta is the ultimate Italian crowd pleaser for grownups and kids alike.
As a nation, we are also partial to chicken tikka masala, but for most home cooks this tends to be a dish left to the professionals. By contrast, spaghetti bolognese is the ultimate DIY job. It feels personal because we make it ourselves.
One of the many charms of a bolognese is that it often represents a journey. It’s a journey that, for most British home cooks at least, starts with a jar.
Where that journey takes you is a personal choice. Some will checkout early. It might not be at the first jar - the more curious have plenty of other jars to choose from in the competitive bolognese sauce industry.
The next cohort of intrepid adventure transcends the jar and builds a bolognese off their own backs.
This is where things really start to heat up!
Each bolognese is a progression of the last - whether you’re searching for the authentic flavour or the secret twist - bolognese is the gift that keeps on giving.
I’ve been cooking bolognese for almost two decades and considered myself to be in the second camp. I thought I knew a thing or two about this Italian classic and after years of randomly adding a pinch of this and a dash of that, I decided I wanted to understand the dish on a deeper level.
So I set out on the next bolognese journey. I wanted to know what could officially be called the original and authentic bolognese. This turns out to be a challenging opening position as “authentic”, “original” and “official” are often conflated to mean the same thing, when in fact, they can each tell their own story.
From the outset, I couldn’t have imagined I’d learn so much about Italian cooking, culture, class, ingredients and cooking techniques. I didn’t anticipate the bolognese story would be so enlightening and so enjoyable.
It might seem unintuitive for an Englishman to be writing about another country’s food in such depth, but being an outsider looking in carries certain advantages.
My naivety at the outset is most likely matched by many millions around the world - it’s the price bolognese pays for being a global phenomenon. The bolognese story is packed full of open secrets but without a single source outside of Italy to reveal them.
I’m hoping the words that follow will give the reader a new found appreciation for this family favourite.
We start where it all began. In a glass jar.