You’d be hard pressed to find a more traditional comfort meal than homemade spaghetti bolognese. It’s a classic across many cultures, and we’ll talk about how the dish spread across the world later. This mouth-watering meal couldn’t be simpler to make and is packed full of that Yum Yum Get Ya Sum! Just make sure to whip up some pull apart garlic bread or asiago cheese bread.
Spaghetti is the plural form of the Italian word Spaghetto which is a modified version of Spago which means thin string. Our first records of spaghetti came from the Talmud (The central text of Jewish religious law) in the 5th century which refers to a dried pasta that was cooked through boiling. It’s believed by some that Arabs introduced pasta to Europe during their conquest of Sicily. Over time, it’s believed that standard pasta could have been worked into the thin long forms we love around the 12th century in Sicily. As Muhammad al-ldrisi attested to this in the Tabula Rogeriana, an atlas commissioned for Norman King Roger the 2nd in 1138. In this text, Muhammad reported that this thin pasta had become something of a tradition in the Sicilian kingdom.
However, it wouldn’t be until the 19th century that the popularity of spaghetti spread throughout Italy after the establishment of spaghetti factories, which enabled the mass production of spaghetti. The dish would carry over to the United States around the tail end of the 19th century, and would be referred to as Spaghetti Italienne. Originally the dish in America was noodles done al dente with a tomato sauce flavored with bay leaves, garlic, and cloves. Not too far off from modern standards, but oregano and basil wouldn’t be incorporated heavily into the sauce until later down the road around World War 2.
The story of bolognese sauce doesn’t begin in Italy, but rather with the French. In 1796, Napoleon invaded Italy and among the many things the invasion brought, the one we’re focused on was ragoût, a meat stew that formed the basis for the pasta. The word ragù comes from the French verb ragouter, which means to add flavor. Many of the more affluent Italians were captivated by French culture, and their cuisine was of particular focus.
The first record of ragu as a sauce was created by the Cardinal of Imola’s cook, Alberto Alvisi. This original recipe was a mixture of browned meat, onion, and tomato flavored with pepper and cinnamon. It would slowly spread over Italy as time went on but it wouldn’t be the second World War that it would be brought to Britain and the United States with soldiers returning from service in Italy helping to spread it. Outside of soldiers’ influence, the dish was further championed by Italian Immigrants. We’ve discussed in the past (see chicken piccata) that meat was a luxury in Italy, so when Italian Immigrants came to America, they were taken by the cheap price of meat. This led to many immigrants to begin adding meat to many traditional Italian dishes, and this led to the birth of spaghetti bolognese in its modern form.