Bolognese sauce (ragù alla bolognese in Italian, also known by its French name sauce bolognaise) is a meat-based sauce for pasta originating in Bologna, Italy. Bolognese sauce is sometimes taken to be a tomato sauce but authentic recipes have only a small amount of tomato.
The people of Bologna traditionally serve their famous ragù with freshly made tagliatelle (tagliatelle alla bolognese) and their traditionally green lasagne. Less traditionally, the sauce is served with maccheroni or other durum wheat short pasta.
The recipe, issued in 1982 by the Bolognese delegation of Accademia Italiana della Cucina, confines the ingredients to beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, meat broth, red wine, and (optionally) milk or cream. However, different recipes, even in the Bolognese tradition, make use of chopped pork or pork sausage, while chicken or goose liver may be added along with the beef or veal for special occasions, and today many use both butter and olive oil for cooking the Soffritto of small amounts of celery, carrot and onion. Prosciutto, mortadella, or porcini fresh mushrooms when in season may be added to the ragù to further enrich the sauce. Milk is frequently used in the early stages of cooking to render the meat flavors more "delicate" but cream is very rare in the everyday recipe and only a very little would be used. All agree that the longer Ragù alla Bolognese cooks the better, a 5 or 6 hour simmer is not unusual.
Traditionally white wine is used, not red. The sauce is supposed to retain some acidity, and remain more meat-coloured than tomato.
Spaghetti alla Bolognese, Spaghetti Bolognese, or Spaghetti Bolognaise in a form popular outside of Italy, consists of a meat sauce served on a bed of spaghetti with a good sprinkling of grated Parmigiano cheese. Although Spaghetti alla Bolognese are very popular outside of Italy, it never existed in Bologna, where ragù is served always with the local egg pastas tagliatelle or lasagne. Spaghetti is a durum wheat pasta from Naples, and the Naples Ragù of a meat flavoured thick tomato sauce clings much better to slippery spaghetti than Bologna's ground beef ragù.
In recent decades, the dish has become very popular in Sweden and Denmark as spagetti och köttfärssås, in Swedish, and spaghetti og kødsovs in Danish, especially among children. It is also popular in the United Kingdom (where it is colloquially abbreviated to spag bol or spag bog) and has become a staple of the British dinner table. In the United States as well, the term 'bolognese' is often applied to a tomato-and-ground-beef sauce that bears little resemblance to ragù served in Bologna.
Chinese people often use the term "Western zhajiang mian" to refer to spaghetti bolognese, alluding to its superficial similarities with the traditional Chinese noodle dish of zhajiang mian as both are dry noodles covered with a thick ragù mainly made of minced meat. This provides an interesting symmetrical perspective to Westerners referring to zhajiang mian as "Chinese spaghetti".