Is Bolognese the same as meat sauce? (The Ragu Bolognese)

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Is Bolognese the same as meat sauce? We will discuss the recipe and use of the Ragu Bolognese sauce, highlighting the differences between a simple meat sauce and this original Italian pasta sauce.

Is Bolognese the same as meat sauce?

Bolognese is not the same as the simple American meat sauce, usually made with a few pieces of meat and canned tomato sauce. Bolognese is a pasta sauce made with beef and large meatballs cooked in tomato sauce and traditionally served with spaghetti. It is made from meat and is simmered for many hours. 

Bolognese sauce originated in Bologna, where on October 17, 1982, it was registered with the Chamber of Commerce as an original recipe. It is generally used for broad pasta such as tagliatelle, but in their absence, we can use fettuccine or pappardelle, but with great success for lasagna.

The first attestation of the recipe appeared in the cookbook of chef Pellegrino Artusi in 1891. Being a popular dish worldwide, many adapted the recipe according to the country or local ingredients. There are many variations of this recipe, more or less close to the original.

The Ragu Bolognese sauce 

Traditionally, this sauce is called Ragú Bolognese. It is not a sauce itself, but a tasty mince of various meats that, since the distant Middle Ages, the students of the famous University of Bologna, ate when their wealthy parents visited them.

Ragù in Italy is a wide range of pasta sauces, usually but not always made from meat in tomato sauce, used to mix pasta or to bake pasta. Here are some examples of ragù.

  • Ragù alla Bolognese is prepared with a mixture of ground pork and beef, relatively little tomato paste, butter, and a little milk, and cooked for 2-3 hours. The original recipe is preserved in the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, and only preparations made by it should be called Ragù alla Bolognese.
  • Ragù alla Napoletana is usually made with a selection of pork and beef meats cut into large chunks and cooked in tomato sauce for 6 to 8 hours, until the meat begins to fall apart. The pasta is garnished with the sauce minus the beef served as a second or more (and will be served for a family meal).
  • Ragù “con le bracioline” is made with large horse meat rolls stuffed with lardo (a piece of very fat bacon) or sausages, herbs, and a bit of aged pecorino cheese (recipes vary significantly from town to town), cooked for 3 to 6 hours in a tomato sauce.
  • Vegetarian ragout is a pasta sauce made with diced carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and mushrooms, plus some dried porcini sausages, cooked for a couple of hours in tomato paste and milk (I said vegetarian, not vegan), sometimes a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano is added to the sauce near the start of the cooling process (after scraping off the waxy coating from the crust) to add depth.
  • Ragù “con le polpettine” is made with small meatballs made with a mixture of meats, sausages, grated parmesan, breadcrumbs, and egg. The meatballs are covered in flour, pan-fried, and briefly boiled with wine. Once the wine loses its acidity, the meatballs are recovered, and a tomato sauce is prepared in the same pan. The pasta is garnished with the sauce; the meatballs are served as a second with some vegetables.
  • Genovese is a Neapolitan white ragout with lots of onion, spices, and some meat (usually beef jaw muscle or leg meat). The sauce should simmer for about 4 to 6 hours.

The word ragú comes from the French ragout, which comes to be the concept that we have in Spain of this stew, that is, a stew of meat with vegetables, and that in Bologna, because in some way it was modified to that form of minced meat, But it should always carry a lot of vegetables and flavorings, which is what gives it its personality.

The date on which the tomato broke into Italy is not precise, because, in Spain, it was already popularly consumed in the seventeenth century and, therefore, also in the entire southern half of Italy, which were the kingdoms of Naples and Dos Sicilies, which in turn they belonged to the Spanish crown.

Whatever the time, the fact is that tomato sauce revolutionized Italian cuisine to the point that today a Bolognese sauce without tomato would be unthinkable!

Final thoughts

Bolognese, ragú, or whatever you want to call it, this sauce is ideal to accompany all types of pasta, whether it is spaghetti, fresh, long, short, even stuffed cannelloni or lasagna!

A good Bolognese sauce is not the same as a simple meat sauce. Bolognese sauce has revolutionized many dishes, so do not be afraid of experimenting with it. This sauce is worth it!

What great recipes with Bolognese sauce do you know? 


Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.

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