Italy's food purists rage over America's 'white bolognese'

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In the traditional Italian dish, ragù alla Bolognese, tomatoes are very much an essential ingredient. Photo: Sharon Mollerus/Flickr
10:04 CEST+02:00
A recipe for a tomato-free bolognese published by the New York Times (NYT) has caused a stir in Italy, with scores of simmering Italians taking to the major newspaper's website message board to blast its recipe for ‘Rigatoni with white Bolognese’.

In the traditional Italian dish, ragù alla Bolognese, tomatoes are very much an essential ingredient and their exclusion has upset food purists, who are tired of seeing ‘Bolognese’ used as an adjective to describe any kind of pasta dish served with minced meat.

“White ragù sauces do exist, we even teach them in our cooking class in Venice,” food blogger and cookery instructor, Monica Cesarato, told The Local.

“What’s wrong is calling them ‘bolognese’ – it’s a simple as that."

But Italian food purists were not so forgiving.

“Our suggestion is that you organize a trip to Bologna so you can understand the cuisine,” wrote Giovanna and Valentina underneath the offending recipe. “The ragù you describe is terrible, so please stop inventing recipes.”

“I can only suppose that this recipe is for people who are intolerant of tomato,” wrote Salvo from Sicily.

“If you are not allergic to tomato, please use the original recipe which is delicious and absolutely unique,” he urged.

“Call this recipe what you want not Bolognese,” wrote another user, who branded the dish a ‘sacrilege’.

The New York Times's recipe is made using ground beef and pork sausage meat; it excludes tomato but takes the unorthodox step of including porcini mushrooms.

Otherwise, it is fairly faithful to the original recipe.

It is by no means the first time a foreign interpretation of a traditional dish has upset Italian foodies, who tend to be highly protective of their cuisine.

Indeed, in a bid to protect the authentic ragù alla Bolognese, the Italian Academy of Cuisine archived the ’true’ recipe with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce in 1982.

The original recipe is made by frying carrot, onion and celery before ground beef, pork and pancetta are added. After that, wine and, crucially, tomatoes, complete the ensemble.

Despite attempts to protect the dish from foreign corruption, ‘Bolognese’ is now used worldwide to describe any kind pasta served with ground meat, much to the chagrin of Bologna restaurateurs, who are tired of hearing tourists ask for a ‘spag bol’.

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Bolognese, they say, is only ever served with Tagliatelle, and so ‘spaghetti Bolognese’ quite simply, doesn’t exist. 

The problem has become so bad that last month Bologna's airport felt compelled to send a tweet to the low-cost airline, Ryanair, telling them to stop using 'spaghetti Bolognese' when promoting flights to the city.

Although the tomato-free Bolognese recipe published by The New York Times might have offended some Italians, it currently has a five-star rating after being rated 590 times by readers, many of whom call the dish ‘delicious’ and ‘wonderful’.

“It might be good, but please do not call it Italian,” wrote one Italian.

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