In a November 1939 column in the New York Sun, drinks and food columnist G. Selmer Fougner gave a recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese.
You may read it here.
A reader had asked Fougner for the recipe to Macaroni with Bolognese Sauce, served at the Italian Pavilion restaurant at the New York World’s Fair. Macaroni typically is a dried pasta, as spaghetti is.
Fougner answered that the sauce was undoubtedly the same as for Spaghetti Bolognese, the recipe for which he was given two years earlier when in Italy. Fougner then printed the recipe.
Neither milk nor bacon of any kind features in Fougner’s version, yet both are common in today’s recipes for Bolognese sauce. There is also no garlic, or herbs. A prime cut of beef is used, vs. the ground beef commonly seen today.
For years now I’ve been reading that Bolognese sauce, or ragù, is never served with spaghetti or macaroni in Italy, much less Bologna. Rather, a few fresh pastas are, especially tagliatelle. The Mayor of Bologna, in well-publicized remarks last year, sputtered that spaghetti Bolognese wasn’t a genuine dish of the city.
And yet, another native of the city, Pierro Valdissero, as reported four years ago in the Guardian, disagrees. He researched the dish in-depth and declares, to some local discomfiture one supposes, that it is an authentic dish of the area. He states that for hundreds of years some families served spaghetti with the ragù, notwithstanding that dried pasta is more typically a staple of the south.
This arose, he said, since fresh pasta was not affordable by families of average means except for special occasions. He argues that a higher-echelon version of the dish made with fresh pasta emerged in local restaurants that attracted a more monied clientele, and in time the connection with dried pasta was forgotten.
Seemingly, the debate rages on, but here is my point.
Surely the Fougner column supports Valdiserro’s account. After all, why would the Italian Pavilion, sponsored by the Italian government, serve a non-authentic dish in its restaurant, one meant to showcase national culture? It would have been no trouble to make fresh tagliatelle every day surely for the crowds.
Second, what motive could Fougner have had to misstate the nature of the dish? As an experienced gourmet he had to know the difference between fresh pasta and dry.
Would he have cavalierly substituted spaghetti for an approved fresh pasta and not tell his readers? It’s true that spaghetti was on its way by 1939 to being if not already a national American dish, and hence relatively familiar to readers (vs. fresh pasta), but I don’t think he would elide the fresh pasta without mention.
Fougner was a well-known and successful journalist and author by this time, and tended to stress authenticity when discussing food and drinks. To my mind Valdiserro’s conclusions gain credence when viewed in the light of Fougner’s recipe.
It’s really an old story, that culinary or drinks memories can be surprisingly short, or incomplete. The quotidian can, in a few short years or under new conditions, seem never to have been.
It would be preferable to find the menu of the Italian Pavilion to see exactly how the dish was described. A few menus of the national restaurants are available digitally (I discussed beer on the British menu earlier), but can’t find the Italian one.
Note re images: the second image above is copyright of Sven Manguard, and is used pursuant to Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0. Image was sourced from Wikipedia’s article on Bolognese sauce, here. The first image was sourced from the Fougner column identified and linked in the text, via Fulton Historical Newspapers.