During our trip to Italy in 2012 we visited Bologna, the largest city (and the capital) of the Emilia-Romagna Region.
We hired a car after our visit to Siena, as we wanted to see a few more things that weren’t easily accessible by train or other public transport. While although it was fabulous having complete independence it was also rather stressful at times. Driving in to Bologna itself was one of the most nightmarish experiences we had on the trip, as we got lost, had trouble speaking Italian and even ended up buying a data package in order to be able to use Google maps on our phone, but the package didn’t really work or last long as our explantation seemed to get lost in translation.
Arriving a little later than scheduled, we finally checked in to our hotel so we could explore all the city had to offer in our short period of time we had there, which was basically the afternoon and evening.
Bologna is renowned for its culinary tradition. It has given its name to the well-known Bolognese sauce, a meat based pasta sauce called in Italy ragù alla bolognese but in the city itself just ragù as in Tagliatelle al ragù. Situated in the fertile Po River Valley, the rich local cuisine depends heavily on meats and cheeses. As in all of Emilia-Romagna, the production of cured pork meats such as prosciutto, mortadella and salami is an important part of the local food industry.
We took time to relax over some delicious local delicacies and wine, while perched on some old oak barrels overlooking a main street. This was exactly what we needed after the stresses of trying to find the city in the first place! The flavours were incredible and to be sitting among locals enjoying an afternoon glass of wine and snack made it even more enjoyable. It was how we pictured our time in Italy, basking in the local culture and soaking up the atmosphere around us wherever we were.
After wandering around the city for the afternoon taking in the breathtaking architecture and monuments we settled on a quaint little risotrante to enjoy the famous Tagliatelle al ragù.
In Bologna ragù alla bolognese is customarily paired and served with tagliatelle, made with eggs and northern Italy’s soft wheat flour. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a slowly cooked sauce, and its preparation involves several techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. In Italy, ragù alla bolognese is often referred to simply as ragù. Ingredients include a characteristic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped meat (generally bovine, including beef, and possibly pork, such as pancetta), wine and a small amount of tomato concentrate. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine, or with short tube shapes, such as rigatonior penne.
The earliest documented recipe of an Italian meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna. In 1891 Pellegrino Artusi first published a recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being “bolognese”. While many traditional variations do exist, in 1982 the Italian Academy of Cuisine registered a recipe for authentic ragù alla bolognese with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (incorporating some fresh pancetta and a little milk).