Oh dear, Mary Berry. Since Mary offered her own version of Bolognese sauce a couple of nights ago in the second episode of her new BBC series, Mary Berry Everyday, it’s been less of a storm and more of a volcano erupting on Twitter, TV and in national newspapers with fiery, incensed remarks flying in her direction. I was a bit taken aback by Mary’s recipe myself (I even discussed it with my daughter Nicola while eating in a favourite local Italian restaurant last night), but in Mary’s defence – and even Giorgio Locatelli has risen to defend her with the same argument – there is no authentic recipe for a Bolognese sauce. Her mistake was to call it ‘Bolognese’ rather than ‘ragù’, or even, simply, a meat-based pasta sauce. What she did get right – again as Giorgio points out – is not serving it with spaghetti. She chose pappardelle, though the more popular Italian choice is tagliatelle. These are both ribbons of pasta and that’s the correct kind of pasta for a thick meat sauce so it can cling to the pasta.
I was less concerned about Mary adding white wine (which is common anyway) instead of red, than to see her put it in so late, after the tomatoes and passata, whereas I would say you have to add it after the meat has browned and allow it to be pretty much absorbed (for a full, rich flavour) before adding anything else. Another thing she got wrong – if she was claiming any Italian heritage to her dish – was just spooning it on top of her pasta. I have to confess that my own Bolognese ragù post from 2011, just a couple of months after starting the blog, shows me doing the same – hence photo above! (For which I apologise to all Italian friends, but especially Antonio who suggested I write about this.) Now, I would never plonk any kind of sauce on top of pasta but follow the Italian way of adding the sauce to the cooked pasta in a pan and stirring it through well before serving. But I’ve learned a lot in the last 6 years of food blogging! I also know that the Italians would put in much less sauce that we Brits traditionally do – it should be more pasta with some sauce rather than sauce with some pasta. This makes sense when you remember that simple traditional dishes like this were created as ways of making a little meat go a long way to feed a big family for little money.
Antonio Carluccio made a big fuss last year about the Brits ruining Spaghetti Bolognese. But then if the dish doesn’t exist as such, how can we ruin it! His grievance was the adding of herbs, but then other people get upset about which colour wine – red or white – is used or the addition of tomatoes (the northern Bolognese wouldn’t add tomato but further south they probably would). Ragù, a meat-based sauce, varies according to the part of Italy you live in or are eating in. Italian food is very regional and the Italians tend to be very passionate about their own regional version, for example, see my post on different kinds of focaccia (click here) or even pizza (click here). I wouldn’t claim my own version of Ragù Bolognese is authentic at all (click here), although I did do a fair amount of research when writing about it. What I do claim is, like Mary, I think of it as an ‘everyday dish’, something I cook frequently and think of as a favourite family meal. It’s turned out to be one of my 2-year-old grandson’s favourite things so whenever I make it, I freeze little portions for him. But I’d be rather wary of serving it to an Italian!