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Is there really no garlic in a traditional Bolognese sauce?

I'm looking at a few recipes including Marcella Hazan's -- no mention of garlic in the ingredients list. Can that really be?

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  1. Not all Italian food has garlic. All the Bolognese recipes I've used contain no garlic.

      1. The way I was taught was without garlic. And no tomato sauce. The only tomato product is 30g. double-concentrate tomato paste.

        3 Replies
        1. re: velochic

          That sounds a lot like the Mario Batali recipe -- no tomatoes, just paste.

          1. re: CindyJ

            The Mario Batali recipe I use calls for tomato paste only, but it includes one clove of garlic as well. With such a small amount of garlic, there is no discernable garlic flavor, but I feel that it subtly elevates the other flavors. I prefer the Batali recipe to the Hazan recipe - the Hazan recipe has a much higher proportion of tomatoes/tomato product and the resulting sauce is much more acidic.

            1. re: CindyJ

              No, I learned this in Italy from a professional (Italian) chef. It was in Tuscany, but the chef was from Bologna. This was the real deal. (As with all recipes, though, I'm sure there are as many authentic variations as there are grandmas in Italy.)

          2. That is why you use recipes as guidelines. If you like garlic, the food police are not going to come knocking at your door. I would even go so far as to say Marcella Hazan will not wake up and sense the ripple in the force and come find you.

            13 Replies
            1. re: Hank Hanover

              Yep! Don't tell anyone, but in addition to the chopped garlic, I also added some oregano to the pot I've got gently simmering on my stove.

              1. re: CindyJ

                Well, you can always call it Cindy's secret sauce.

                1. re: CindyJ

                  well those changes take it away from the flavor profile of the classic bolognese ragu
                  it may be a good ragu in the italian tradition but not a typical bolognese style.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    "classic bolognese ragu"

                    There are about as many recipes for bolognese as there are for bouillabaisse and cassoulet. There is no single "classic bolognese" recipe. Yes, there are certainly narrow swim lanes that define a bolognese, but within those lanes there's room to wander.

                    I would be surprised that anyone would tell Georgio Locatelli that his bolognese recipe, which calls for sage, rosemary, and garlic, isn't a traditional bolognese, given his upbringing and culinary style and talents.

                    1. re: foreverhungry

                      Well, Sgr Locatelli is not necessarily aiming for typicality with that one, which is his right as someone from near the border of Lombardia and Piemonte who has spent most (all?) of his career afield of Bologna. Let's just say that, if I was able to notice those herbs in a dish described as a having a ragu bolognese but without detail, I would wonder what was up and I would definitely ask the server about it if I planned to communicate with anyone else about that dish in the future. (Again this is not an issue of authenticity so much as clear communication - that words and phrases invite meanings and associations that are not boundary-less.)

                      FWIW,, the food folks of Bologna 30 years ago did decree a canonical recipe as the reference point.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Yes, in general I agree with your point. A recipe with a certain name is understood to be a certain way, even if within some defined bounds. I'm certainly not arguing that bolognese can have anything in it and still be called bolognese. On the other hand, Locatelli's provenance, other than the fact that's he's Italian and accomplished, shouldn't play much into whether his recipe is "authentic" or not. One doesn't have to be from Bologna to make an authentic Bolognese.

                        I agree that if one can notice herbs (or garlic) in bolognese, then it's not done correctly. But if those herbs (and garlic) add a subtle depth of flavor, while at the same time being un-noticeable as herbs (much in the same way that on a base level, a proper seasoning level perks flavors but without a dish being noticeably salty), then I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that.

                        Can you point me to a reference for the canonical recipe? I'd be very interested in seeing it.

                        FWIW, Locatelli has several Bolognese recipes; the one I use has no herbs.

                        1. re: foreverhungry


                          This is Saveur's redaction of the 1982 canon:


                          Lynne Rossetto Kaspar also refers to this in her extensive discussions of this sauce.

                          In any event, it's a helpful reference point for communication purposes.

                          I would suggest that while bay and thyme can be used on "deep background" (by which I mean that you would notice their absence more than their presence), the rosemary in the Locatelli is much harder to pull that off, especially in sprig form, unless he's just using the very tender and mild end sprigs of leggy rosemary grown in pale winter light on the windowsill.

                          While Locatelli's provenance is not dispositive, it's not irrelevant in the issue of typicality for such a localized item.

                          Hey, I am not even from Italy, so the much-referenced version that I posted 10 years ago (linked elsewhere on this thread;10 years ago, my preference for the tomato paste - which the canonical version does prescribe - was still novel in the US versions of this sauce, so I flagged that with disclosure at the time) on this site can be discounted likewise!

                          1. re: Karl S

                            I'd agree with just about everything you said. I wasn't able to access the Saveur article, it came up with an error. The canonical version is very close to the recipe I use, though I don't use milk, and use more wine. I agree that bay and thyme are more subtle, rosemary harder to pull off. I agree also with nutmeg (I actually used a dash of nutmeg often in a variety of recipes to add depth), and I'd say the same with a minced clove of garlic in a large volume, and when the garlic is slowly cooked with the soffrito to add some depth, rather than garlic flavor.

                            We can agree to disagree with Locatelli's provenance's importance. If we're talking a home cook that never left a particular area, then yes, provenance is obviously important. But when we're talking about a world caliber chef, I'd expect him/her to understand the regional nuances.

                            FWIW, I'm not Italian either, but my mom is French, as is most of my family. Having spent a considerable amount of time there, I understand well regional differences in both ingredients and dishes, differences on that scale that are largely (but not completely) lacking in the US.

                          2. re: foreverhungry

                            Does Marcella's addition of a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg fall within the parameters of authenticity?

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              Nutmeg is not untypical, let's put it that way - but, you see, you're never supposed to use enough nutmeg to notice it (what it does is highlight some of the flavor notes of the other ingredients). Cinnamon (which I once encountered in a highly-regarded Boston-area Italian restaurant, despite their protestations it was nutmeg....) is untypical.

                  2. re: Hank Hanover

                    Do not count Marcella Hazan out on that score.... You never know with her. Or Madeleine Kamman. They are tough, wise cookies.

                  3. I've never cared for bolognese until I saw on foodnetwork Anne Burrell making a bolognese. It was the 'technique' that sold me on trying it. It 'does' use garlic, tomato paste, and red wine - and I don't even care for red wine in meat receipe.


                    I'm not sure whether she learned this technique at a restaurant in Italy, or an Italian cooking school, or either/or in the U.S. She is the sous-chef that was on a few of Mario's Iron Chef competitions. Whatever/wherever this recipe came from, it is certainly a winner for me.

                    I know this doesn't answer your question re 'traditional.' But I'm wondering if a tradiitonal bolognese would mean 'back before' there were even tomatoes in Italy :-)

                    1. No garlic (too strong a flavor, obscures the point of the sauce). No basil or oregano (waaaaaaay ditto). No crushed red pepper. No pecorino cheese. Not much tomato. It's a specific family of subtle meat sauces (the meats can vary a bit, including rabbit and liver, for example, and the dairy/wine/stock reductions can also vary) that are rich in collagen and fat so that they lightly* glaze pasta (especially fresh pasta), not a tomato sauce of the kind Americans tend to know and love. If you want to make a different sauce, that's fine. But it will be a different sauce, not this one.

                      Oh, and there is no cream in carbonara.... This is not the authenticity police but the communication editors. Having terms relate meaningfully to their intended meaning reduces equivocation and increases comprehension. The good news is that we are free to invent our own sauces and call them something new that doesn't confuse people.

                      * It's a genuine condiment kind of sauce that is by nature so rich (for example, a half cup serving of the fairly rich and luscious Rao's marinara runs 80 calories, but a half cup of the Hazan or Kaspar ragu bolognese might run 225 calories, with 2/3 of the calories coming from fat) that you don't use a lot of it for each serving; again, a concept that is foreign to the kinds of Italian pasta sauces that Americans tend to know and love.

                      14 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        So with this deliciously unctuous sauce, what's the best way to combine it with the pasta?

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          just serve small portions. 2 or 3 oz. of pasta per person, not drowned in sauce.


                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            Bingo. It's a sauce that is rich enough to dull the palate if served in larger quantities. It's not meant to be a one-dish meal, but a course in a multi-course meal.

                            Oh, and do serve it in properly warmed bowls/dishes. Lightly dressed pasta sauced with sauces that congeal when tepid are reduced to mediocrity (at best) when this step is omitted; recipe writers typically omit this part, because they assume even idiots know this (when in fact most American readers won't...)

                            And it's not meant to be tossed with the pasta and then refrigerated and then reheated.

                            1. re: Karl S

                              I'm curious now. Are there any Italian pasta sauces that are meant to be tossed with pasta, then refrigerated, then reheated? ha ha :-)

                              1. re: prima

                                You laugh, but my lasagna is so much better on the second day that I now deliberately make it at least one day before I want to serve it. Of course, as a half-Irish Jewish girl from Philadelphia, I guess none of my recipes are terribly classically Italian...

                                1. re: StrandedYankee

                                  actually, it is absolutely to be recommended to assemble the lasagna the day before. I have this on the authority of a genuine bolognese stickler.

                                  1. re: mbfant

                                    It's good to know that I got it right, then! I need to throw a party soon so I can have an excuse to make my lasagna.

                                  2. re: StrandedYankee

                                    None of my recipes are classically Italian, either. I'm not good at following recipes to a T, and I add dried thyme, dried oregano, crushed chilies and/or garlic to almost everything.

                                    I just can't imagine any sauce recipe reading "toss pasta with sauce, refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight, reheat, enjoy!" ;-)

                                    I agree, lasagna is often better the next day. But I'm usually not organized enough to make lasagna a day in advance. ;-)

                                    1. re: prima

                                      "and I add dried thyme, dried oregano, crushed chilies and/or garlic to almost everything. "


                                      not everything in italy is supposed to be flavored like pizza. it was a revelation when a few years ago i stopped using garlic as heavily as i did most of my cooking life.

                                      1. re: prima

                                        And while refrigeration is good practice for sturdy Italian-American lasagne, a typically Bolognese lasagne made with fresh pasta, bechamel and a ragu is not as happy being refrigerated before eating. The Italian approach is generally to make only enough as will be eaten upon the completion of preparation; it's very different from the American make-a-week's-worth-of-meals-then-eat-some-and-refrigerate-the-rest-and-zap-for-successive-days approach (oh, and never let that lasagne or a ragu bolognese see the inside of a microwave oven unless it's mediocre eats you're after)*

                                        * The current American "peasant" style of cooking and eating ensures that Americans eat more interesting fare than the typical daily fare of pre-industrial peasants (which was largely porridges, gruels, stale breads, soups, starchy tubers and condiments consisting of some vegetables and scraps of meat), it also ensures that most American meals are mediocre compared to what they could be.

                            2. re: Karl S

                              You say,
                              "No garlic (too strong a flavor, obscures the point of the sauce). No basil or oregano (waaaaaaay ditto). No crushed red pepper. No pecorino cheese. Not much tomato. It's a specific family of subtle meat sauces (the meats can vary a bit, including rabbit and liver, for example, and the dairy/wine/stock reductions can also vary) that are rich in collagen and fat so that they lightly* glaze pasta (especially fresh pasta), not a tomato sauce of the kind Americans tend to know and love."

                              Do you have a recipe or example of recipe that you use or reccommend? Or are you speaking of a specific recipe in one of Hazan's books?

                              1. re: Rella

                                Rella, Karl S posted these detailed instructions/recipe on a thread nearly 10 years ago and they have served many of us well. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/1424...

                                There is also an extensive and highly educational thread from 2009 on this topic, contributed to by many of this board's wisest cooks which I have linked here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584266 Really, this 2009 thread includes so much of what makes the Home Cooking board such an invaluable resource.

                                1. re: GretchenS

                                  LOL: thanks for remembering that! It's been a couple of years since I last made it; maybe I will make it after Lent is over!

                                  1. re: GretchenS

                                    Thanks for answering. Karl gave me an answer on this thread that worked for me:


                              2. If you always put garlic in your pasta sauce, it might be worth it to make the dish without adding garlic to the recipe.....it's worth it to try it just once as it was meant to taste.

                                  1. Marcella's bolognese is a mystery, and I will have to get to the bottom of it. There is NO garlic in bolognese and NO tomato except a little tomato paste just for color. It is a very rich sauce that could stand on its own as a meat dish. It's best, and most typically, served on tagliatelle (egg noodles) or spread in layers with bechamel in lasagne bolognesi. There is no oregano, no basil, no hot pepper, nothing. Just onion, celery, carrot, oil (though I would bet you could up the pork fat and do without and be even more genuine), pancetta, prosciutto, wine, milk, a tablespoon of tomato paste, and meat, which is, classically, pork, beef, and chicken livers. It's a common misconception (I deduce) that bolognese is some sort of generic meat sauce to which you can add what you like. If you add what you like, it is no longer "bolognese," which belongs to a particular place.

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: mbfant

                                      Bolognese is indeed a mystery. I just looked in the EYB that I own and it shows 85 receipes for Bolognese by these authors and in other books:

                                      Hazan, Kasper, Bugialli, David, Scicoloni, della Croce, Lida B., Saveur Italian, Professional Chef 8th edition, Bittman, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Cooks Illustrated books, Dean & Delucca, Larousse Gastronomique, Silver spoon.

                                      No doubt there are more recipes in many more books on the quest for Bolognese (garlic or no and tomatoes or no).

                                      1. re: Rella

                                        Just be suspicious of any recipes that have bold flavors, significant amounts of tomato, don't require multiple slow reductions, don't require different kinds of meat and fat, et cet. It's a family of sauces with very definite characteristics, and variations within those boundaries.

                                      2. re: mbfant

                                        I use a recipe by Bugialli that uses a full can of tomatoes, as does the one from Saveur. There is more than one opinion on Bolognese when it comes to the tomatoes.

                                        1. re: escondido123

                                          Yes, but remember Bugialli is Tuscan, not Emilian... I have a suspicion that he tailored his recipe to be more inviting to American expectation with tomatoes and considerably more heavy cream; it would be interesting to hear how folks in Bologna would judge the *typicality* (not the deliciousness) of this take on this ragu.


                                          Compare to Saveur's receipt for the "classic" version:


                                          Btw, in neither of these does one find garlic, oregano, peperoncini, et cet....

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            So now Tuscan is somehow not Italian? Let's just agree to disagree on this one since I'm looking at another Saveur Bolognese that uses a can of tomatoes. I'm sure we could go all day looking, and finding, recipes that vary in kind and proportion of ingredients--Italians are not monolithic.

                                            1. re: escondido123

                                              Tuscan is not Emilian, that's all. Just like the difference between North Carolina and Memphis BBQ, shall we say; there are families of sauces and families of BBQ styles, and gradations of typicality that will be fought over like trenches in a battlefield. Italians are not monolithic, but they tend to be more passionate about typicality and nomenclature having specific meaning than Americans, so being fussbudgets about this is part of the terrain. In both cases, the cooking of grandparents is salient, but Italy waited longer than the US to have the locality of its ingredients and styles being blown out of the water by nationalized market forces.

                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                My husband is Italian-American so I understand there are differences....of opinon, on virtually everything Italians cooks....and on basically everything else too. So whoever says they have the definitive recipe for anything in Italy had better watch their back.

                                                1. re: escondido123

                                                  Yes, but in America that theme results in meaninglessness in communication in a way it doesn't tend to in Italy; I think it's better for Americans to hew to tougher boundaries than Americans would prefer (America is rife with home cooks who complain about recipes because they didn't work with substitutions and alterations that betray a lack of understanding about the nature of the dish involved).

                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    I truly don't understand what you said or at least what you meant. Sorry.

                                            2. re: Karl S

                                              Anna Nanni, whose recipe appears in the Saveur article you cite and includes tomatoes, is from Emilia-Romagna, not Tuscany, so using tomatoes or not isn't necessarily an E-R vs. elsewhere distinction. Her recipe also omits milk and cream, which gives the sauce a brighter and slightly more acidic character. I doubt that the local customers at her well known and respected restaurant near Bologna would consider her bolognese to be non-traditional. I've made Nanni's recipe and like it at least as much as, if not more than, others I've tried, including Hazan's.

                                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                True, but the proportion of meat in her recipe is greater than in less typical versions that use the same amount of tomato. What's more interesting is that her's does not involve as many long reductions, but really one very long reduction of tomato puree.

                                                I have to say that, when I came up with my 2002 version, it arose because I did a lot of variations to compare results among classics: I find the results of the milk-reduction followed by wine reduction followed by stock & tomato paste reduction retains the most silken and succulent texture of the meat compared versions where the meat cooks in acidic ingredients earlier in the process. (I was hoping it wouldn't matter, but it did.) And that succulence was what had struck me most about the ragu when I had it in Italy in the 1990s, so that's been my lodestar.

                                          2. re: mbfant

                                            Perhaps Hazan has more than one Bolognese recipe, but the one I used calls for 1.5 cups of whole canned plum tomatoes to 3/4 lb of meat - I found it too acidic for my taste, which is why I prefer the Batali recipe which calls only for tomato paste (and one clove of garlic, which to me didn't make the sauce garlicky in any way).

                                          3. My understanding of Bolognese (and I am of Northern Italian descent) is that there is no garlic.

                                            The other absolute about Bolognese is that it is cooked for a very long time (6hrs+).

                                            The one non-traditional thing I add is a bit of Star Anise, to make the meat taste meatier. Very nice.

                                            1. I was in Italy on vacation recently, and I did notice that the food was much less garlicky than North American Italian food. Saltier, though, interestingly enough.

                                              And the Hazan recipe is amazing. I do a big batch about twice a year, and freeze the extras.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                Do you recall if the Hazan recipe you use is from "Essentials" and if it is the only bolognese recipe that she has in her books. Thanks.