ONE of my favourite things about Italian cuisine has to be the absolutely fascinating and often hotly contested origin stories.

Behind each dish, and each family recipe, there are often a whole mixture of factors that influence what we eat and how we eat it.

First of all, recipes can go back thousands of years, and often originate from historical and religious events. Dishes may have been prepared - for the first time - for a royal, religious or military figure, often being created to meet a particular practical need or satisfy a particular craving.

With some of the dishes being so old, many of them have adapted over the years, and then there are the regional differences.

Many dishes are often completely different from one region to the next (or sometimes even from town to town), and, of course, most Italian families will have their own tried and tested recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, and these dishes can vary from household to household.

So, really, you never really know exactly what you’re getting from a dish, which can have its pros and cons. Luckily, we all stick to similar blueprints these days, but looking at earlier versions of famous Italian dishes can be especially interesting.

Take spaghetti Bolognese, which isn’t just a staple in Italian cuisine, it is widely prepared and enjoyed in households throughout the UK.

When we think of spaghetti Bolognese we think of spaghetti, obviously, with minced beef in a tomato sauce, covered with cheese. It’s a classic. But does this modern version honour the traditional recipe?

As is always the case the origins of this dish as hazy, but most agree it can be traced back to the 18th century.

Originally it is thought not to have contained any tomatoes – even today, the more traditional takes on the dish often only use as little tomato as possible, only just enough to bind the sauce together. It is generally agreed today that there is no one recipe that is correct, but discussion of what is right to each individual can result in quite the debate.

So the traditional ragù Bolognese recipe may well be one of the most hotly debated and controversial pasta dish of all time, with many an Italian chef lamenting the way the dish has been changed around the world, but many can agree on a few guidelines for the most authentic version possible.

Although the recipe will vary from family to family, it is thought that the traditional ragù Bolognese recipe includes finely chopped carrots, onions and celery, pork mince or pancetta, beef mince, dry red or white wine, butter and tomatoes. Interestingly, while garlic is a frequently used ingredient in Italian cooking, there is much debate about whether or not it actually has any business being in a traditional Bolognese.

Another surprising fact is that in Bologna, where the dish comes from, it is served with fresh tagliatelle – never spaghetti like in the UK – and always plenty of Parmesan.

Try this version for yourself and see how it compares to your own take on the dish. Is it similar or different? Either way, if you do it well, it doesn’t matter which version you prefer. Just try not to bring it up at Italian dinner parties if you don’t want a debate.

Ragù Bolognese


300g of beef mince (15% fat)

150g of pork mince

50g of unsalted butter

50g of onion (finely chopped)

50g of carrots (finely chopped)

50g of celery (finely chopped)

125ml of red wine

125ml of whole milk

30g of tomato paste

500g fresh Tagliatelle

Salt and black pepper to taste

Freshly grated parmesan


1. Place a large, thick-bottomed saucepan (one that has a lid) over a medium heat. Add your pork mince to the pan and cook until all of the liquid from the meat has disappeared. Next add the beef mince to the pan and cook until golden, stirring frequently while it cooks. Transfer the meat to a bowl and set to one side.

2. Return the pan to a medium heat and add the butter. Next finely chop the onion, carrots and celery and add to the pan with the butter. Cook until the onions soften and turn translucent. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally throughout.

3. Return the meat to the saucepan with the vegetables, turn up the heat, and pour in the red wine. Cook over a high heat for two minutes before reducing the heat to low and covering the pan with the lid. Leave to simmer gently for at least three hours. Around 40 minutes before serving pour in the milk.

4. When you’re ready for your pasta, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook your fresh tagliatelle in accordance with the instructions on the packet. Remember to cook for a little less time if you like your pasta al dente, or more if you prefer it softer.

5. Drain the pasta, then return to the pan with the sauce and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and top with parmesan cheese.

6. Tip: Bolognese tastes even better the next day. You can reheat the sauce the next day by simply adding a little milk and cooking over a low heat.