What Is the National Dish of Italy?

A classic ragu alla Bolognese sauce served with tagliatelle pasta.
A classic ragu alla Bolognese sauce served with tagliatelle pasta.

Ragu alla Bolognese, also known simply as Bolognese, is recognized as the national dish of Italy, and it enjoys widespread popularity by Italians both domestically and abroad. Ragu alla Bolognese is a meat-based sauce prepared through the sweating, sautéing, and braising of its ingredients, which include meat (either pork, beef, or veal), onions, carrots, pancetta, and butter. The cuisine traces its origins in Bologna, Italy, the city from which the meal gets its name.

History of the Dish

While the meal has been enjoyed in Italy for more than a century, the earliest written record of Bolognese was a recipe dating back to the 18th century, which was found in Imola, a town near the city of Bologna. Pellegrino Artusi, renowned 19th-century Italian chef, is credited with writing a recipe for the meat sauce in his 1891 publication. Artusi named the meat sauce “Maccheroni alla bolognese,” which is believe to have signify the origin of the sauce in Bologna. In his book, Artusi states that the key ingredients in the preparation of Bolognese were lean veal fillet, butter, carrot, onion, and pancetta. These ingredients were cooked with butter and later with broth.

Authentic Ragu Alla Bolognese

Authentic Ragu alla Bolognese prepared in Bologna is supposed to be served with tagliatelle, which is a pasta made of soft wheat flour and eggs. If tagliatelle is unavailable, certain types of pasta can be used as alternatives, including fettuccine, rigatoni, pappardelle, and penne. However, use of the more popular pasta, spaghetti, as the accompanying meal with Ragu alla Bolognese is discouraged by traditionalists of Bologna. Italian chefs are known for using Ragu alla Bolognese together with béchamel in the preparation of the lasagna, which is traditionally baked in the local Bolognese style.


In addition to the authentic Ragu alla Bolognese prepared by traditionalists in Bologna, the meal is also prepared in other distinct variations across Italy. The cuisine has evolved throughout the years since Chef Pellegrino Artusi wrote his famous recipe in the late 19th century. For example, in recent years tomato puree or tomato concentrate paste has become an essential ingredient in the preparation of the dish, which was absent in the traditional preparation of Ragu alla Bolognese. Another variation is the use of beef as the main ingredient in the preparation of the cuisine, which has replaced lean veal among modern Bolognese chefs. Other contemporary chefs use pork instead of lean veal. The other significant alteration in the traditional preparation of the dish is the addition of milk and white wine. In recent years, the use of spaghetti as a replacement for tagliatelle has been embraced by contemporary chefs in Italy, and the dish is known as spaghetti Bolognese.

Standardized Recipe

Ragu alla Bolognese is distinct from other cuisines in Italy, primarily because its preparation method involves several processes, including braising, sweating and sautéing. This long process is prone to alterations by professional chefs or home cooks to suit their preferences, such as changing the ingredients (using pork or beef instead of veal) or the process, which has led to the development of many different recipes of the dish. However, most Italian chefs recognize the recipe published and registered by the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina in 1982 as the most authentic recipe in existence.


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