Mayor of Bologna, Italy, on crusade to expose fake spaghetti Bolognese

The mayor of the northern Italian city of Bologna wants you to know that what you probably think is spaghetti Bolognese is nothing like the pasta and meat sauce made famous by the city.

Does your recipe include garlic or cream? How about oregano, basil or parsley? And what about spaghetti itself?

Guess what? You're not eating spaghetti Bolognese — or at least not the original recipe known in Italy simply as pasta al ragu or pasta with meat sauce.

The real thing is a slow-cooked sauce made with small chunks of beef and pork, bits of celery, carrots and onions with a dash of tomato sauce and a long simmer in wine. And it does not go with slippery smooth spaghetti, but a rougher, flatter noodle — tagliatelle or pappardelle — that the sauce can adhere to.

"Dear citizens," Mayor Virginio Merola recently tweeted in Italian. "Regarding fake news, I am collecting photos of spaghetti Bolognese from around the world," urging followers to share images with him.

Geoff Howe/Canadian Press

Italians living in countries from Slovenia to Ireland posted bastardized versions of the Italian recipe, along with their amused comments.

One Italian woman in England posted photos of plastic-wrapped Bolognese with mushrooms and seasonings, declaring, "Someone has to do something!"

Another Italian from Ireland ironically said of a microwavable version with the sauce on top, "Can't wait to eat this."

Other versions included dehydrated packages with ingredients of zucchinis, mushrooms and what looked like asparagus.

"Spaghetti Bolognese doesn't actually exist; yet, it's famous the world over," Mayor Merola complained to Italian public radio RAI, referring to the fact that no one in Italy has heard of a dish by that name.

"What we'd prefer the world to know is that Bologna invented tagliatelle, tortellini and lasagna," he said. "We did not invent [these versions of] so-called spaghetti Bolognese. Sure, these versions have brought us attention, but in terms of gastronomy, there are a lot better dishes here than that."

How to make the real stuff

Ragu alla bolognese is one of the most famous dishes of the central Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. While slight variations exist, the official recipe for the sauce was deposited at Bologna's Chamber of Commerce by a local delegation of the Academy of Italian Cuisine in October 1982. This recipe recommends using a rather fat cut of meat locally called cartella or folder located on the belly of the cow. For a less fatty sauce, leaner meats are often used, with bacon replacing the sausage.

Ingredients for recipe from the Academy of Italian Cuisine

  • 250 ml of meat broth
  • 50 g of butter
  • 250 g of ground beef
  • 250 g of ground pork shoulder
  • 100 g of ground bacon
  • 100 g of carrots (1 carrot)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 50 g of celery
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 glass of wine
  • 500 g of tomato pulp
  • 100 g of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste


Finely chop onions, peeled carrots and celery; sauté with olive oil and butter.

When the butter is melted and the ingredients browned, add the pork and brown it, stirring occasionally. Then add the bacon (or sausage) and beef. Pour in the glass of wine and let it evaporate. Dissolve the tomato paste in a little beef stock; add it to the meat and mix well.

Add salt, pepper, tomato pulp and some water. Stir well and cook the sauce for about two hours, gradually adding the remaining stock.