Bologenese's saucy beginnings
Unlike the thick mince-and-tomato medley we’ve come to know and love; in Bologna, ragu alla Bolognese is a rich, meat-based sauce made with chopped beef, bacon, a few vegetables and way less tomato than you’d probably expect.
What’s more, garlic in ragu is to the Bolognese what pineapple on pizza is to the Neapolitans: high treason.
Ragu purists even go as far as to specify the type of pasta with which it is acceptably served... and it’s not spaghetti. Fresh tagliatelle, the flat, egg-based pasta, is ragu’s traditional accompaniment. And, according to original Bolognan pasta law, it should be exactly eight millimetres wide.
So bastardised has bolognese been by its omnipresence in global gastronomy that, in 1982, Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce submitted the official recipe to the Italian Academy of Cooking in order to clarify, once and for all, the true recipe for the sauce that bears its name.
The birth of bolognaise
Though ours might not be the most authentic interpretation, the significance – and deliciousness – of bolognese is not lost on Victorians. We have been paying homage to the pseudo-Italian staple since 1952, when the Australian Women’s Weekly published a recipe for a pasta-inspired casserole called ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise’. (The French spelling should have been enough to tip off the local pasta authorities that something was NQR.)
This dinner-party crowd-pleaser called for the addition of highly prohibited ingredients such as Worcestershire sauce, garlic and non-specific cheese (parmesan – or parmigiano reggiano – to be precise, is the only cheese permitted in ragu alla Bolognese), and suggested it be baked until “bubbly and brown”. Because if there’s one thing we love more than spaghetti, it’s a shortcut.
Despite its less-than-authentic origins, the highly controversial and widely debated Italo-Australian dish has been a mainstay of mid-week mealtimes for decades and it’s precisely its versatility, and ability to add your own flavour, that has made it one of the most-loved recipes in the world.
“It doesn’t matter how you make it – it’s delicious,” Guy says. “It’s one of those things you put in your mouth and every time it feels like home. For me, it makes me immediately think of Sunday lunches and family. It’s comfortable and exciting and has this lovely richness and depth of flavour that is heart-warming. It’s warm emotionally as well as physically.”
Even among Australia’s foodie literati, there is little agreement about what goes into the ultimate bolognese. Matt Preston’s recipe calls for the addition of anchovy fillets and soy sauce, George Calombaris gives his a Greek twist with lemon and cinnamon, Donna Hay uses bay leaves for flavour while Neil Perry adds pork to the beef and bacon base.
But despite what the traditional sauce cognoscenti would have you believe, the beauty of bolognese is that there are myriad ways to make it, all of which produce a delicious pasta-topper that is, even if only loosely, based on a true story.
Pasta has been a staple on the menu at Guy’s long-standing CDB eatery, Grossi Florentino, for nearly two decades but, in reality, he has been cooking it for far longer than that. Having grown up in an Italian family (both of his parents migrated from northern Italy), with his father a chef, Italian cookery was in his blood.
In 1996, he was even awarded the prestigious L’insegna Del Ristorante Italiano by the presdident of Italy, for his dedication to championing ‘La Cucina Italiana’ in Australia.
Having spent a lifetime learning the art of Italian cookery, Guy is a consummate connoisseur. And, though he says there is no one ‘right’ way to make bolognese, his version comes pretty close to pasta perfection.