One of the biggest ‘impostors’ in ‘faux’ Italian cuisine is Spaghetti Bolognaise. In Italy you find ragu of all differing qualities and varieties. They are divided into meat ragu, fish ragu and vegetable ragu. Among the meat ragu the best known ones are beef, pork, veal, lunganega, pigeon, duck, lamb, deer, boar and many others. The most popular well-known one is ‘Beef Ragu alla Bolognese’, which is abbreviated as ‘Ragu alla Bolognese’. With regard to pasta in Italian cuisine you find hundreds of different types and they can be grouped into dry pasta, egg pasta and regional specialties. The most famous type of pasta is spaghetti.
We are told that at the beginning of the 1950s an English businessman who was the owner of a few hotels and restaurants scattered all over the United Kingdom, became, during a holiday in Italy, enthusiastic about Italian cuisine. One he decided to return to his home country he decided to add a few Italian dishes to the menus of his restaurants, and because he did not want to get it wrong, he chose the most famous pasta in Italy – spaghetti pasta. Then he chose the most famous ragu, the Bolognese ragu. He decided to use them together which made Spaghetti Bolognaise, thus creating, without realize it, one of the most famous impostors in Italian cookery abroad.
Unfortunately, he did not take into consideration a culinary technical problem: spaghetti pasta is smooth and therefore not at all suitable to be served with ragu. In fact, what happens when we eat spaghetti with ragu is that the ragu ‘slides’ away from the pasta and you end up eating spaghetti with practically no condiment. Most of the ragu inevitably ends up at the bottom of the plate. Indeed, ragu requires a porous pasta or preferably egg pasta, which is not smooth and can retain ragu. Tagliatelle, fettuccine, pappardelle pasta are the most suitable types, or, if you really must use dry pasta, rigatoni and pasta shells are possible alternatives. Among all types of pasta, spaghetti is certainly the least suitable. In fact, in Italy nobody eats spaghetti with bolognaise ragu and you certainly don’t find it on any serious Italian restaurant menu.
Whereas the false aspect of Fettuccine Alfredo is in the concept of the dish, the false aspect of Spaghetti Bolognaise is the combination of pasta shape and sauce. However, this dish was hugely successful in England and soon it went from a small chain of English restaurants to international chains of Americans hotels and consequently to the rest of the world. Spaghetti Bolognaise, hand in hand with Fettuccine Alfredo, have invaded all international restaurants outside of Italy. They are known, they are recognized and they are ordered and eaten as Italian dishes. As is always the case, they are written about abroad by cookery magazine and included in recipe books. And on supermarket shelves, next to the various Fettuccine Alfredo concoctions you can now find the whole spectrum of products for both Spaghetti Bolognaise and Bolognaise Ragu. Fortunately, these products, like the other ones illustrated, never made it to Italy.
Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call this dish ‘Spaghetti Londinaise’? And wouldn’t it be better to leave it in England, where the dish was conceived, and export the correct and more appropriate Tagliatelle al Ragu?
In Italy if you order ‘Tagliatelle al Ragu’ without specifying the type of ragu you automatically get ‘beef ragu alla Bolognese’ because tagliatelle pasta is a Bolognese specialty (from the region of Emilia Romagna where Bologna is the principal city) as much as ragu is. Consequently, tagliatelle with ragu, which has been prepared and eaten together for centuries, have been separated abroad and exported with the label of Spaghetti Bolognaise. But the combination is London-inspired and certainly not Italian.
What must be taken into account is that the recipe of this ragu is the object of endless discussions with regards to the use of ingredients, the type of tomatoes used and the cooking methods. There are also endless debates about the possible variations between recipes in different cities and villages in the same region, and even when prepared by differing families. The only sure fact is that spaghetti pasta is never used with ragu.
Drawn from Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognaise & Caesar Salad by Maurizio Pelli.
For info: The Culinary Clinic by Maurizio Pelli.