Just like they eat it in Bologna, right?

Like Italian food?

Then you’ll certainly be familar with the classic ‘spaghetti bolognese’. Mmmm! Just like they eat it in Bologna, right?

Well no, actually.

The famous ‘ragù alla bolognese’  is used in lasagne, people eat it with polenta, but mostly, it’s served with tagliatelle. NOT with spaghetti. (If you must, you can find out more about spaghetti here)

What are tagliatelle? Yellow sheet pasta, less than 1 mm thick, cut into long strips around 7-8 mm in width.

According to the Italian cooking website giallozafferano.it, tagliatelle were invented in 1487 by Bolognese master chef Zefirano on the occasion of the wedding of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.

He was apparently inspired by the bride’s long blonde hair. The cook, that is, not the Duke.

How to make tagliatelle

Here’s how to make fresh Italian pasta in your own kitchen.

Use this recipe to amaze your friends (or just keep your kids busy on a crappy November evening when it’s dark and raining outside.)

The recipe’s for four people.

It takes up to an hour and can be quite messy. And frustrating. But you don’t need any special gear. Just a good rolling pin, a large flat surface, and:

  • 300 g flour (00 if you can get it)
  • 3 eggs

Simple, huh? You better believe it!

Start by pouring the flour onto a flat surface so that it makes a mound. Make a hole in the centre of the mound with your hands and crack the eggs into the hole (see the picture below right).

Add the eggs to the flour

Using your fingers, gradually mix the eggs and the flour, until you have a dough, hopefully using up all the flour. That’s the messy part.

Don’t panic: unless you have a humidity problem at your place, or were mean and bought the smallest eggs you could find, the moisture in the eggs should be just about right for the amount of flour you’re using. Don’t be tempted to add water to your dough – that way lies madness.

Assuming you’ve now got all the bits to stick together, knead the “dough” thoroughly until it has a nice even color and consistency.Form a dough

Leave your dough to rest for ten minutes or so, while you clean up. You could pop it into a plastic bag, so it doesn’t dry out.

OK, you thought that was the hard bit?


Get your rolling pin and gradually roll out the lump of dough.

A sturdy wine bottle will do if you don’t have a rolling pin, even a full one – you can always wash the flour off before you open it and drink the wine.

As your dough becomes gradually flatter,  it’ll form a sheet, which will hopefully come to occupy more and more of your table.Roll out the dough

So make sure you have plenty of space before your begin. If necessary, you can cut your growing sheet into two or more pieces, then roll out each piece in turn.

Your objective is to create a sheet of pasta “thin enough to read a newspaper through”. Good luck with that, but you should at least be able to make out the headlines, or it’s going to be much too thick when cooked (in which case, better not invite guests.)

Read your newspaper through the dough

When (if) your sheet of pasta is nice and thin and flat, as in the picture, roll it up until you have something that looks like a floppy scroll, then slice it at 8 mm intervals with a sharp knife, unrolling the resulting strips into something which looks like the picture below.

Don’t know how much 8 mm is? Not to worry. A finger’s width will do… Which finger? You choose.

OK, now you’ll want to arrange your strips into little piles a bit like birds’ nests. This stops them from sticking together to form an inedible lump.

Your birds’ nests can then be put aside until you’re ready to cook them, or left to dry and used another day, if you want.Make little birds's nests

Finally, you cook the tagliatelle by dropping them into (heavily) salted boiling water.

Cooking time is very brief: when they float to the top, they’re ready, though you might want to wait a minute or so more, just to be sure.

Beware: tagliatelle tend to absorb liquids, so avoid sauces which are likely to be too dry…

(Many thanks to Sharon Mandell who took the photos and generously shared them with us.)


P.S. You’ll find the recipe for ragù here . Making a great ragù takes hours and hours. It’s worth it, but you might want to do that on a different day then just warm it up when you need it (ragù keeps well in the fridge or freezer). Make the ragù another day...

P.P.S. Don’t forget that ‘pasta words’ like spaghetti and tagliatelle are plural in Italian, so when speaking Italian say “THESE tagliatelle ARE great!” not “THIS tagliatelle IS great!”

P.P.P.S. Don’t speak Italian worth a damn? Horror! Find out more about Italian courses in Bologna. We can even arrange some cooking lessons for you while you’re here…


  1. This brings back great memories of our time in Bologna and Madre Lingua scuola. Here’s a link to my blog post about a cooking class the school arranged for us. And it includes due ricette. http://fishandpeaches.blogspot.com/2011/06/la-cuoca.html
    Ciao, Roberto