Few things are more contentious in the cooking world that fights
over authenticity. People become incensed when a chef adds,
substitutes, or omits ingredients in a recipe that they view as
sacrosanct. Whether it's cream in carbonara or peas in guacamole,
you can expect a bitter war of words on social media. Beloved BBC
food host Mary Berry recently found herself embroiled in such a
controversy when her "unusual ingredients" in a ragù bolognese sparked heated debate.
Berry's alleged offenses were using white wine, adding a touch
of double cream, and using Italian herbs. All of these ingredients
prompted social media outrage. Detractors tweeted their
displeasure, saying things like "Shocked and appalled about Mary
Berry adding double cream to her bolognese" and "this is NOT
ragu Bolognese." Many of Berry's fans came to her defense, however,
saying things like "Mary Berry is channeling Elizabeth David.
1958 recipe, adds cream, white wine, chicken livers, and
Are these ingredients really that controversial? Of the over 950
bolognese sauce recipes in the EYB Library, 156 include cream as an
ingredient, including recipes from Domenica
Marchetti, Nigel Slater, Claudia Roden,
Rossetto Kasper. It's not a new concept, either; Elizabeth
David included heavy cream as an ingredient in her Ragu
Bolognese from the classic Is There a Nutmeg in the
Concerning the white wine issue, more bolognese recipes in the
Library specify white wine than red wine (246 vs. 232). Again, respected Italian cooking
authorities like Marcella Hazan and Mario
Batali are among those who recommend white wine in the
The herbs that Berry adds - thyme, bay leaves and basil
- might be a bit less traditional, although over 190
bolognese recipes in the Library call for basil, and over 201 specify oregano. However, Batali, Hazan and other
noted Italian cooks do not include these herbs in their recipes.
One interesting side note is that Lidia Bastianich and others call for bay
leaves in their bolognese.
What do you think? Is it a no-no to use heavy cream, white wine,
or herbs in ragù bolognese, or are you a bit more laissez-faire
about which ingredients are appropriate?
Photo of Bolognese
ragù with pappardelle from BBC Food by Mary Berry,
indexed by an EYB Member