Want to make the ultimate classic pasta dish? Try Italy’s tagliatelle al ragu, the original “spaghetti Bolognese” and a globally beloved pasta dish.

What is it?

Ask any local from Bologna, where the dish known and loved as “spaghetti Bolognese” is said to have originated, and they’ll tell you the world has got it wrong: Bolognese sauce (ragù alla bolognese) is best served with flat pasta, not straw-like spaghetti. Whip up a bowl of traditional tagliatelle al ragu yourself, and see which iteration of the famous dish you prefer.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 tbs butter 
140g (5oz) pancetta, cut into small cubes 
2 celery sticks, finely chopped 
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped 
½ small onion, peeled and finely chopped 
300g (10½oz) ground beef 
½ cup dry white wine 
5 tsp tomato paste 
1 cup whole milk 
salt and pepper, to taste 
fresh egg tagliatelle 
shaved parmesan cheese, to serve

A classic traditional Italian dish, ragu all bolognese, with tagliatelle in a white bowl
A classic traditional Italian dish © Timothy Budd / Getty Images

How to cook

Step 1: Melt the butter in a pan and add the pancetta. Cook gently until the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.
Step 2: Add the celery, carrot and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Step 3: Add the ground beef and cook while stirring, until lightly browned and starting to sizzle.
Step 4: Add wine and cook until evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Step 5: Mix the tomato paste with a little water and add to the pan.
Step 6: Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, adding the milk little by little and adjusting the seasoning.
Step 7: Bring some salted water to a boil in a large pan and cook the tagliatelle until al dente.
Step 8: Toss the pasta with the ragù and serve with the parmesan.

An aerial view of the old town streets of Bologna, Italy.
Turn your kitchen into a traditional trattoria by whipping up a bowl of tagliatelle al ragù © Damien Tachoires / 500px

Tasting notes

Here in Bologna – “la Grassa” (the Fat One) – beats Italy’s gastronomic heart. The immense popularity of its most famous dish has led to infinite variations so, in a bid to establish first principles, in 1982 the Bolognese chamber of commerce set down an official recipe (our recipe here hews closely to it). While it may surprise some (no tomatoes! milk?) it’s more like what you’ll find in a Bolognese kitchen than in the world’s red-sauce restaurants – a savoury bomb of meatiness, concentrated by long, slow cooking and complemented perfectly by silky smooth egg pasta. To try it at its best, get yourself invited to the home of a local nonna. If that fails, choose a traditional trattoria and make sure you ask for tagliatelle al ragù – not spaghetti Bolognese. 

Other recipes: 

Mexican tacos
French macarons
Greek avgolemono

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Bowl Food.

This article was originally published in April and updated in October 2020. Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

This article was first published Apr 17, 2020 and updated Oct 2, 2020.

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