The art of bolognese sauce: Cooking in Bologna

August 20, 2012  |  By Liz SanFilippo Hall
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The art of bolognese sauce: Cooking in Bologna

Not many tourists consider the region of Emilia-Romagna when planning their travels to Italy, but it truly is the ‘food basket’ of the country. So many traditional foods hail from this region, from tortellini to aged Parmesan cheese, that it should not be overlooked when planning an Italian culinary vacation. One such culinary treasure is Bolognese sauce, which originates in — you guessed it — the university town of Bologna.

In the valley below the Apennine Mountains, Bologna is, in part, famous for being the home to the oldest university in the world, which was established in 1088 and where Dante once lived and studied. Clearly history is so much a part of this medieval urban center; it thrived under the Etruscans, exponentially grew under Roman rule, and survived bombings during World War II. If the history doesn’t draw you to this city full of basilicas and arcades, the gastronomical wonders and cooking classes will.

Learning about bolognese sauce in an Emilia-Romagna cooking class
The bolognese sauce in America is just considered a meat sauce. But in Italy? It’s so much more.

Originally conceived in the late 18th century in a small town just outside Bologna by Pellegrino Artusi, bolognese sauce traditionally includes celery, onions, carrots, pancetta, ground beef, milk, white wine, and, of course, tomatoes.

But unlike in the U.S., the tomatoes aren’t a big component; rather they’re used for just a bit of taste. The milk too is important as it gives the sauce a bit of an orange color rather than red. The vegetables make the sauce aromatic and the flavors a bit more subtle. The sauce, often paired with wide and flat tagliatelle pasta or lasagna, is much more delicate than the Americanized version, in part due to a long simmer — think four to five hours — of many of the ingredients.

The International Kitchen’s Italian cooking vacation “A Food Lover’s Adventure in Bologna” includes a gourmet tour of much of what Emilia-Romagna has to offer visitors, and that includes learning about a traditional bolognese sauce. On day three of this itinerary, visit an agriturismo in a beautiful country setting; here, a signora (Italian grandmother) teaches students how to create tagliatelle with ragu alla bolognese, among other traditional dishes. When you return home, you’ll know how to share with friends and family what a true Bolognese sauce really is.

By Liz SanFilippo Hall
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