Bolognese Versus Ragu. Learn The Difference.

It was Rome that ruined me.

Almost nine years ago, I went there for my first honeymoon. (The Husband and I go somewhere every year, and call it our "Perpetual Honeymoon.") We loved it there. The food anywhere in Rome is excellent. Yes, it's Italian food every day. But it was wonderful. I'd never tire of eating plates of thinly sliced proscuitto and pasta dishes filled with Bolognese - a savory meat sauce - over gnocchi or fettuccine.

Yes... Rome ruined me.

Now when I go to a restaurant and see a Bolognese sauce on the menu, I have to order it. No exception. But that is where the trouble lies... As I have been to an alarming number of North End (Boston) "Italian" places and Yorkville (Toronto) "Italian" places and been served what is definitely not a Bolognese sauce...

Yes. To the inexperienced eye, this may look like a Bolognese sauce. It's red (which should really be your first clue that it's not legit) and there is meat in it. But the ratios are completely backwards!  Additionally, this picture's version - which was served to me at Cafe Nervosa in Yorkville - does not contain everything a true Bolognese should:

  • Minced Carrot
  • Minced Celery
  • Minced Pancetta (or bacon, even)

No... The picture above is a Ragu. True, a meat sauce. But it tends to be more tomato sauce than meat. And when you have a Bolognese lover, and you try to pass off a Ragu as a Bolognese... Well, then shame on you for calling yourself "Italian."

A true Bolognese sauce should be more meat and minced elements. It is made with wine, and tomato paste and beef broth. And usually a little bit of heavy cream or milk poured in it to lighten the color and enrich the flavor. There are no large chunks of tomato in it (eww!). And as one friend said, "It should look like tiny pebbles" upon inspection.

So last night, despite having the bad Bolognese just two nights before, I made myself a proper one...

Notice the color? See the minced meat and veggies? The long green things in it are the zucchini I thinly sliced to eat it with, since I was making it "paleo-friendly." No pasta. But the color has a hint of red. It's not overwhelmed by tomato.

I couldn't finish the bad Bolognese sauce at Cafe Nervosa. I made The Husband finish it on top of the awesome pizza he ordered. (Note: If you go to Cafe Nervosa, order the pizza. It is very good.)

If you want good Bolognese over pasta in Toronto, my recommendation is you eat at one of these places, as it is divine: