Classic bolognese

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Spaghetti bolognese – it’s an old standby, and as such has become one of the most used and abused recipes under creation. Outside of its hometown of Bologna in Italy, bolognese has become a catch-all name for any meat-and-tomato sauce quickly slapped together and served over pasta, which is almost invariably spaghetti.

But start investigating bolognese and you’ll find out some interesting things. In traditional Bolognese cooking, ragu alla bolognese is rarely served with spaghetti (usually it goes with tagliatelle); it contains very little tomato (eschewing the pound can or two of tommies that many people dump into the saucepan); there are no herbs in it (so rack off home with your shaker of dried oregano); and one of the key ingredients is time (not the herb – the stuff in your wristwatch).

Most surprisingly of all – to me, at least – the key to a lovely rich bolognese is a goodly portion of milk.

Until a little while ago I knew none of these things. A friend was over for dinner and wanted to make spaghetti bolognese. It’s a dish I usually steer clear of, simply because I don’t find mince doused in tinned tomatoes very appetising. I whipped out the Joy of Cooking (as much as you can whip out this tome without spraining your wrist) and we delved into the pages for a recipe.

It was an enlightening journey (jeez that sounds wanky). Despite the small amount of tomato puree involved, it still comes out a nice reddish-orange. Possibly the colour leaches out of the carrot.

I have now become a bolgnese purist. Lenny, on the other hand, thinks it is quite acceptable to mess with this classic, adding tinned tomatoes, herbs and even mushrooms.

But that’s not bolognese. It’s not.

Watch the video for further discussion and share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

– Waz

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20 Responses to “Classic bolognese”

  • Need toms in that without a doubt!

  • Yay, I’ve waited so long for a new video!

  • Hey Waz and Lenny,
    Your itunes podcasts are so original, funny, and convenient to download! My friend introduced me to Crash test kitchen a week ago and I’ve watched most of your videos. I really enjoy them. Waz, you’re hillarious and Lenny, you’re sensible and informative. Just thought I should drop by your site and leave a comment! Great job and please continue making videos. I have all your podcasts on my ipod. =)

    Camille (writing from FLORIDA)

  • Looked great. Thanks for posting a new video! Nice and informative, too.

    I like to alternate tomato-based sauces with no-tomato sauces, myself, and I love cream/milk sauces on pasta. It looks like Lenny just doesn’t like Bolognese sauce, which is cool. It’s a meat-based sauce, as Waz points out, and something with a lot of tomato would not be Bolognese. So, even though you probably shouldn’t call it Bolognese if it has significantly more tomato, I say make your sauce how you like it.

  • has anyone realised that Lenny looks really pretty in this episode?

  • Hello. I just came across your podcast and I absolutely love it. It’s nice to see a food show where the ‘casters are not professionals and where the results are not always picture perfect or desired [like the chicken that was cooked on the hibachi (common US term for the grill you were using) on Cape Breton].

    And Waz- you’re right. Add tomatoes and it’s no longer a bolognese sauce. It can be very tasty, but it’s not technically a bolognese. I’ve been looking online to see if there is a traditional Italian tomato and ground meat sauce recipe, and I’ve not found it yet (but will keep looking).

    ~Millie (from New York, but not the city with that name)

  • Hi Great Episode!!!

    I prefer tomatoes and fresh herbs mostly to increase the nutrients in the meal and if means not the traditional recipe, so be it. I try to avoid just meat and carbs but I know my fiance would love it this way :)

    Nat a montreal

  • Florian from Berlin

    Hi there,

    a friend of mine was quite proud of his Bolognese, he made quite a fuss about it – his method was similar. He stressed finely grating the carrot, adding whole cloves of garlic (taking them out later), using red wine. Pretty important seemed also the browning of the meat. The pan had to be very hot and you should fry all the water out of the meat. When it’s dry, it will break apart more, so this should take care of lumps. He took over 4 hours to make his sauce – he would do other stuff besides but would regularly add wine, something like half a bottle in total.

    I don’t think a few fresh herbs would do any harm, you could just throw in a twig of thyme and rosemary and fish it out later, no?

    At an italian delicatessen there are a number of ragouts in glasses on sale, using different varieties of game, like hare, wild boar and so on. Maybe you should research the ragout side of the sauce a bit more and neglect the Bolgnese side, avoiding all the definitory trouble over tomatos.

    Anyway, it looked quite yummy…
    Now I’m hungry again.


  • I tried a version by Mario Batali. No doubt that it’s a bugger to make, with long stirring sessions and a bunch of different meats, but boy oh boy, it’s really damn fine. Not really that different from the one you make here, but the slow and steady cooking of each individual stage just builds up this flavour that is quite astonishing. I warn you that the total cooking time is up around 3 hours though.

    Video and recipe:

  • Sorry Waz, I agree with Lenn- need more tomatoes. My bastardised version of spag bol is a winner with the biggest food critic i know- Ben the toddler:
    – mince (bash it up with the wooden spoon as you brown it to avoid lumps- I’m with you on that one Waz)
    – finely chopped carrot, zucchini, onion and red capsicum
    – passatta
    – red wine
    – stock
    – milk
    – pinch of nutmeg, pinch of sugar
    – garlic
    Any good pasta that’s in my cupboard.

  • Gee, Pearl, thanks a million! Best CTK comment ever, in my book. Though, I have to say, I wasn’t really encouraged by the subseqent deafening silence of other CTK viewers. I mean, I would have thought at least my Mum could leave a message! Ho hum.

  • yipes, don’t put that tupperware in the microwave!
    great recipe otherwise, great podcast, love it!

  • I watched your video with interest and remained completely loyal to my version of bolognese sauce even though it is more tomato’ee. I use crushed tomatoes and not puree so the taste is milder, and I use fresh herbs (sometimes this sometimes the other) green pepper and bay leaves.
    I do cook it for at least 90 minutes and it is flavorful and lovely.

  • Great episode. Don’t see what all the fuss is about though, Waz likes bolognese sauce and Lenny likes a tomato sauce with meat, whatever. How about tomato bolognese sauce for a title? I must say having also just watched the crumble episode that Lenny’s preferences usually win out (loose crumble for instance, among others), and so it was nice to see Waz’s for a change. Must also note that some people use dried herbs because of the cost, not necessarily because they are culinarily inept. Keep up the great podcast!

  • hi i’m giacomo from italy!!!
    i’m watched we with Adobe Media Palayer!!
    Your ragù is not original!!!
    byut Your web tv is nice
    bye bye

  • I’m with Len! Even though not a traditional bolognese sauce, I like to bastardize this recipe with lots of goodies including semi-sundrieds and olives, and yes lots of tomatoes! To be honest, it just looked kind of boring with just the mince and no herbs/extra veggies…

    Although I think on presentation (the sauce on top of the pasta), I’m with Waz… something just not quite appetizing about having it all mixed up like that.

  • I don’t understand why waz always worries about lennys salt intake, she doesn’t even take that much. And she eats healthy and she is beautiful and the perfect size.

  • hey guys

    I think this looks great, and agree with Waz on the sauce distribution.

    With the celery – keep the base tightly cling-wrapped. this keeps it crisp for at least an extra few days.

    When using tomato paste, i find that you get more flavour by waiting until the liquid has evaporated from the meat before adding the paste and then frying the combinedmeat and tomato paste for a minute or two, with the gas turned up to 11. Also, if you are adding tomatoes, a little sugar will help release even more of the tomato flavour.

  • You 2 need to get along when cooking.

  • First time here, because I was looking for a recipe for bolognese without tomatoes. You complained at the end that your meat was kind of clumpy. I tried a recipe today that was similar to this one, except it was incredibly easy, and you didn’t brown the meat. SHOCKING, I know. You put the meat, vegetables, milk, and red wine in a pan and cooked until the meat lost its pink color. Then add some broth and simmer for 3 hours. It hasn’t been 3 hours yet, so I don’t know…but I was shocked that there were no tomatoes, which is how I came to be here. :)

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