But where does Ragù come from and where do its two most famous versions (the Neapolitan one and the Bolognese one) come from?
It is common practice to trace the origin of the term Ragù to the French equivalent “ragout“, a term with which were defined stews of meat and vegetables cooked over low heat for a long time.
The ancestor of what we now know as Ragù was in-fact a preparation of the French medieval popular tradition of the XII-XIV, which consisted of pieces of meat, vegetables or even fish stewed slowly. It could have been both a rich and a poor dish, depending on the cuts of meat, spices, and garnishes that were used and, obviously, at that time it did not include the use of tomatoes.
From France to Italy, this type of preparation spreads through the kitchens of the Neapolitan Bourbon court and those of the Vatican, but it was still a method of cooking meat with significant variations and ingredients, depending on the area of Italy.
In 1773 Vincenzo Corrado in his book “Il Cuoco Galante” describes for the first time a dish it could be defined a kind of the first Ragù, but the ingredients were not yet defined (it could, in fact, provide for the use of vegetables, various meats, prawns or eggs) and the cooking still made in broth with vegetables and aromatic herbs.
But in the meantime, the recipe had become part of Italian gastronomy and spreads throughout the national territory finding changes and new ingredients such as the use of tomato, which appears for the first time in 1790 in the “Maccheorni alla Napolitana” recipe, contained within the cookbook “The modern Apicius” by Francesco Leonardi.
But the Ragù, even if famous, was still considered a meat dish in sauce, and this is how Puccini remembers him, who in his Bohème still mentions it with this meaning.
In the following years, versions of the same dish will alternate with or without the addition of tomato and only during the twentieth century with the spread of tomato sauce and pasta will this recipe take on the side dishes of the Ragù that we still appreciate today.
At the same time, however, throughout the 19th century, Ragù spread throughout the Italian peninsula with the introduction of local variations, such as the use of pork meat, the preparation of small meatballs (as in the Neapolitan and Abruzzese tradition) and the combination with local types of pasta, such as the handmade pasta in Bologna.