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The authentic spaghetti Bolognese recipe of Bologna

The authentic spaghetti Bolognese recipe of Bologna

There are two recipes for spaghetti Bolognese.

One belongs to the local tradition of Bologna; the second one originates from overseas.
Spaghetti Bolognese of Bologna is pasta seasoned with tuna sauce, an American cousin with meat sauce.

Both recipes were born in the place I love the most: the home kitchen. And from here, with different fortunes, their story begins.

The first recipe is little or not known (even) in the rest of Italy. The second recipe is much more famous, even for the controversy about the fake.

In Bologna, egg tagliatelle -not spaghetti- calls for Bolognese ragout (HERE is the recipe from tradition and my home).

But when millions of people cook and eat that dish, I think it exists. Although the name refers to the local ragù sauce, it does not belong to the true Bolognese tradition.

It is an Italian-American adaptation linked to the Italian immigrants who, even today. And yet, I feel sympathy, even tenderness, for this dish was born in a kitchen geographically and sentimentally distant from home (where home means family affection and homeland).

However, that dish contains a technical error. Durum wheat long pasta shape does not collect the meat sauce, which unfortunately slips off without sticking to the spaghetti.

If you want to make a version of Bolognese that works and does not disappoint your idea of Italian cuisine, I suggest you dress the spaghetti with tomato sauce and little meatballs.

Finally, if you are touring Italy, please do not order spaghetti bolognese at restaurants. It is for tourists and made with little love. 

The authentic spaghetti Bolognese recipe from Bologna
Spaghetti Bolognese of Bologna


The real spaghetti of Bologna exists and is with tuna.
The decision of the Academy of Italian Cuisine to register the original recipe at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (2018), along with ragù and tortellini, is an explicit admission of the popularity of the dish.
Since Bologna is far from the sea, you might think that this is a gastronomic anomaly. But there is a historical reason. You should know that Bologna used to have a system of navigable canals like Venice. In Bologna, fish arrived from the Adriatic Sea and the lagoon of the Po Delta.

The Bolognese people cooked tuna, cod, and eel since the Middle Ages. However, we must wait sometime before mentioning a recipe from Bologna that involves spaghetti and tuna.

In the late 19th century, Frenchman Appert invented airtight cans to market tuna in oil, which was cheaper and easier to cook than dried tuna. At that point, distinct elements converge to create a new Bolognese recipe in the early 1900s.

The main factors that contributed to the spread of the dish are the low cost of ingredients, their easy sourcing, and the need to follow the Catholic precept of abstinence from meat on the days prescribed by the rites.
The simplicity of that homemade preparation has not found acceptance on the menus of the local restaurants. And in this way, they limited the knowledge of the dish outside the territorial borders.


The authentic spaghetti Bolognese recipe of Bologna

A home recipe

The strength of this recipe? It is an easy and affordable dish that every family has interpreted. In Bologna, some use tomato sauce, and others do not.

At home, it was the dish of Christmas Eve and the Lenten season. My family’s version was white, without tomatoes. Grandma would slowly cook a sauté of chopped onion and capers before adding the tuna drained from the oil and crumbled with a fork. She would cook just for a few minutes. Before seasoning, she would add a generous ladleful of the pasta cooking water to the sauce.

This recipe speaks of Bolognese home cooking since the recipe incorporates familiar customs and flavors.

Spaghetti Bolognese sauce has other peculiarities. In addition to tuna, the base is made with tomato sauce and onion, which is typical of friggione, a versatile and ancient recipe of peasant tradition.

The choice of spaghetti is also not accidental and therefore referred to right from the title as a constituent element of the dish.

The explanation again has historical reasons since numerous chronicles dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries report how the Bolognese were great consumers of vermicelli, that is, spaghetti before spaghetti.

I leave you with one last curiosity about this dish.

In town, there are many admirers of the plain version without tomato sauce.

Cook with me

Pancotto is a traditional Romagna recipe typical of Lent (HERE is my recipe).

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The authentic spaghetti Bolognese recipe of Bologna

Spaghetti Bolognese, recipe of Bologna

Spaghetti Bolognese exists even in Bologna, but the local recipe calls for tuna sauce. That dish was born at the beginning of the 1900s
Course First Course
Cuisine Bolognese
Keyword #pasta, Spaghetti Bolognese, tuna
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings 4 servings


  • 1/2 pink or white onion
  • 30 g of butter
  • 60 g of olive oil
  • 1 anchovy fillet in olive oil or a pinch of salt
  • 150 g of tomato sauce
  • 50 g of water
  • 180 g of tuna in olive oil
  • 320 g of spaghetti
  • fresh chopped parsley to taste


  • Cut the onion into thin slices.
  • Melt the butter in the olive oil in a pan.
  • Add the onion, stir, and season with a pinch of salt or an anchovy.
  • Sauté the onion gently over a low flame and small heat until translucent or for about 5 minutes. If necessary, add a few tablespoons of water.
  • Pour the tomato sauce, water, olive oil and continue cooking on low heat for about 15 minutes.
  • At 5 minutes from the end of cooking time, add the drained and crushed tuna with a fork and stir.
  • Cook spaghetti al dente in boiling salted water. Drain, season, and serve.

Food tip

  • The original recipe allows two variations: a touch of flavor given by one anchovie. Or from chopped parsley, you can sprinkle fresh on the ready dish.

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