Just like Mamma used to make…

While I was being pestered awake this morning by Radio 2, I heard a rather interesting story about that good old favourite, Spag Bol. Apparently, according to research (unspecified…hmmm), there are approximately 16.3 million recipes in Britain for this most beloved of dishes. This research works on the theory that there are around 19 million people making it, and most of them have their own versions, whose ingredients range from chocolate (surely they’re confusing it with chilli con carne?!), chutney, and, somewhat singularly…yoghurt. Where they got this figure from, I’ll never know (and neither, interestingly, did Moira Stewart), but I have a feeling they’re not far off.

The Italians aren’t happy about this. They get frightfully upset at the thought that there are people out there bastardising one of their most revered dishes, and, horrors, actually enjoying it. In fact, they’ve been frightfully upset for a while. So much so that in 1982 the Bologna Chamber of Commerce set out a definitive recipe for how a traditional Ragu alla Bolognese should be made. And it doesn’t have yoghurt in it.

The traditional recipe should include beef mince, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, tomato puree, stock, white wine, and milk or cream (quite a hefty amount of it). And never, ever spaghetti -the sauce slides off its slippery tendrils. Instead, if you’re really going for the authentic feel, you should use the more adhesive egg pasta tagliatelle, precisely 8mm wide. That’s positively Germanic in its exactitude.

Funnily enough, for all their bellyaching that nobody makes it properly, I haven’t been able to find a single Italian chef whose recipe matches the definitive version. Some make it with a mixture of pork and beef mince, others with veal, some even add spicy sausage and porcini mushrooms. And if they’re not going to adhere to it, I’m pretty sure that Average Joe, emptying his Dolmio into some value mince isn’t going to think twice about whether or not his soffritto is sufficiently transluscent.

But then, the Italians have always been a capricious bunch about their cuisine. Fiercely loyal to the regions they grew up in, they cannot understand why you would want to make a risotto if you’re not in Milan, or pasta al pesto if you’re even semi-far from Genoa. That was one of my staples at university, and you can’t get much further from Genoa than Leeds.

While I admire this outspoken passion for their culinary traditions, I can’t help but think it’s all a little over the top. Having read the official recipe, frankly I prefer mine. I like to dispense with the stock and just use red wine instead – if you buy good quality mince it should have enough meaty flavour on its own. And I don’t add pancetta, and nowhere near as much milk as you’re supposed to. (The milk helps to cut through the sharpness of the tomatoes, and also renders the meat, making it more delicately flavoured). Cooking to me should be about giving yourself and whoever’s at your table pleasure. And if you like to put yoghurt in your Bolognese so be it. Just please hold off on my invite to supper.

Oh, and one more thing. I was amused, while trawling through the internet for Bolognese facts to see that in January of this year, Italian chefs all over the world cooked authentic tagliatelle Bolognese from the official recipe, just like Mamma used to make. Most of the nationals picked up on the story, and every single one of them used a stock image of Bolognese served over…spaghetti. Some things in England will never change.

For the 1982 Bolognese recipe, click here.



Filed under Musings, Recipes, Savoury, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Just like Mamma used to make…

  1. lynden

    Dont we all love spag bol but I have noticed that when its cooked for you at a friends house it always tastes that bit better!! I do hate seeing bits of carrot in it though!

  2. Lovely Risotto

    Interesting that the ‘proper’ recipe has milk in it- I’ve made it like that! But I do love the way that the Italians have such ancient traditions when it comes to food. I went to the Almalfi Coast a couple of years ago and I have never tasted food like it! I also love the fact that Italians are not ashamed to embrace their love of food- it’s very refreshing!

  3. Dani

    Spag Bol has to be one of my favourites – such comfort food and is the perfect antedote to a stressful day, the perfect winter warmer. I have always added a touch of milk to mine, it just seems to bring it all together.

  4. EmF

    Spag Bol has always been one of my favourite ‘comfort food’ dishes and i make it more than i should probably admit to! I love adding lashings of red wine, a little milk and a touch of nutmeg to mine!

  5. Marsha

    I think I’m with you on the yogurt front TF- yuk! My recipe is normally whatever’s in the fridge as I consider spag bol to be a quick dinner on the days I can’t be bothered being more creative. Sure the Italians would be apPauled at that! I love trying friends spag bol though, of course always consider mine to be better secretly. I alwayS put a splodge of honey in to take sharpness off but I do have quite a sweet tooth…

  6. Lynoo

    Spag bol was the first thing I learnt to cook so I made it for myself and my boyf at least twice a week for about three years. I still love it though and force-feed him it about once every two weeks now. Yum. I put grated carrot, red wine and ketchup in it as my secret ingredients! I usually have it with fusilli, is this deeply upsetting for Italians too?

  7. Emma MT

    OMG! I had spag bol for dinner last night and have a lock and lock here in the fridge at work for my lunch (it always tastes better the day after doesn’t it!) How funny that that should be your topic today. I’m veggie so we have Quorn spag bol and I have tons of cheddar on it – I’m not so keen on parmesan. My husband makes it and it tastes different every time, which is great. Last nights was a big winner – but I will never put yoghurt in it – or milk!

  8. Emma

    Yummo, I do like tagliatelle with my spag bol but also penne and sometimes even a bit of gnocchi. But please do not tell the in laws as they are Italiano and I am most definitely sure that this would not go down very well at all.
    Hmmm interesting tip with the milk/cream – I think I shall try that next time I make it. Also great point on the mince, has to be good stuff!

    Think I know what will be for supper tonight now…

  9. tsi

    We grew up calling Spaghetti Bolognese, Spaghetti Blow-your-nose, but this never put me off this delicious dish. However, I can’t this make it very well myself, so will definitely try your ideas and recipes. My friend makes the best version and I love going to hers for a simple meal like Spaghetti Blow-your-nose.

  10. Rosie MacLeod

    I love spaghetti so much (and not so keen on tagliatelle), I couldn’t bear to eat spag bol without it. And I always add a sprinkling of herbs from the garden to my recipe.

  11. Abbi

    I love this too! I have been informed that tonight for dinner spag bol is being cooked for me, I will be very interested to see how this one is made and may print off the 1982 recipe to support a conversation I might start about spag bol, the variations and the original dish. An interesting article which has sparked off an interest in spag bol. mmm hungry now.

  12. Izzy

    I love this!
    Everyone has their own recipe indeed. I argue with my boyfriend about how it should be made, we both think our versions are the best. Although to be honest, I’m not too fussed, just as long as it has mountains of parmesan on top!

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