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Apr 1, 2012 09:40 AM

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 :-)