What if Spaghetti Bolognaise were made with tuna?

If there’s a topic that inevitably brings up some debate this is (the very existence of) spaghetti bolognese. A false myth for some, an Italian delicacy for most non Italians, the sole mention of this dish has the typical Bolognese person (me included) scream with indignation: «Spaghetti Bolognese don’t exist!». And this is indeed true, the above mentioned dish being a simplified version of “tagliatelle al ragù”, where ragù is the real “bolognese sauce” and tagliatelle the only respectable long pasta to go with it: this fresh, hand-made, egg-based pasta, larger and more porose than spaghetti, is the perfect complement to a ragù, being able to absorb it and kind of make love to it, whereas the slippery, dry spaghetti are made for more liquid sauces and simpler, more Mediterannean recipes (try a delicious and super simple aglio olio e peperoncino and you’ll let me know)


But back to spaghetti bolognese, if it is true that they don’t exist in Bologna in the fashion they have been reproduced all around the world, aka the simplified, faster version of tagliatelle al ragù, they do seem to actually exist, but with a twist (rhyme not on purpose). According to a recent article I’ve just read on economy newspaper Il sole 24 ore, there’s a trademarked recipe called “Spaghetti alla Bolognese” that has recently been deposited at Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce* (yes, we take our food seriously: didn’t you know that already?) and that involves… tuna!


Apparently, the only possible spaghetti bolognese option for a bolognese is this very classical, yet far less famous, recipe. It is indeed classical for two reasons. First, it is an easy, cheap dish that any student on a budget can reproduce, and actually do. Second, it is a Christmas eve tradition, the typical “primo” that you serve in this dinner where meat is banned. As a matter of fact, I regularly forget the existence of spaghetti al tonno (tuna spaghetti, or Spaghetti Bolognaise if you will) since it has been quite a while since I was a student, and regularly get reminded of it on Christmas eve. I’m not crazy for it but it screams tradition, and now that I am writing about it I am developing a little craving.


Back to the article, it seems that this dish became popular in Bologna when tuna, a typically Southern ingredient, started being distributed in cans and also on northern regions such as Emilia Romagna. Some people commenting on my Facebook page also started reporting old stories of tunas actually being fished in a Bologna’s canal (notably the Beverara canal) during the good old times. This I really cannot confirm, but a series of old recipes and written accounts seem to all agree that this tuna version is the only possible one for a true Spaghetti Bolognaise. Deal with it. Or rather, try it: here’s the recipe, translated from the original one. Buon appetito.


Spaghetti al tonno alla bolognese
serves four

320 gr. of spaghetti
180 gr. of canned tuna (even better if conserved in glass)
1 pink onion (ideally from Medicina, a small village outside Bologna)
700 gr. di fresh tomatos freschi (or a can of tomato puree, 400 gr)
Salt and olive oil

Chop the onion in thin slices and brown it on a pan with the oil, until it becomes transparent. Add the peeled and chopped tomatoes and let it all cook at low heath for about a half hour, until they are perfectly blended. Ten minutes before the cooking is done, add the tuna, that was previously drained and made in pieces. In the meantime, cook the spaghetti al dente, drain, add up the sauce and serve.

* The Chamber of Commerce is right on Piazza della Mercanzia, just between Piazza Santo Stefano and the Two Towers, inside a beautiful palace. Go visit it if you want to read the original recipes of tortellini, lasagne etc. Yes, we take our food seriously

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