Diet Recipe: Ragù alla Bolognese – the Real Spagbol

What is life without a good Bolognese? Here’s one that won’t bust your diet. – 296 cal / Syn Free /  6 Smart Points
What we call spagbol is actually known as ragù in Italy. There are many recipes and while the Chamber of Commerce for Bologna holds the official recipe, every family has its own take. This is one of those family recipes, adapted to be diet friendly.

In Italy the shape of pasta is chosen to match the type of sauce or dish it’s used with. For example penne (small tubes) or fusilli (spirals) are used for runny sauces as the pasta shape means it’ll carry more sauce into your mouth. Ragù is only ever eaten with long flat pastas such as linguine or tagliatelle, never with long round pasta like spaghetti. So let’s stop calling it spagbol and call it linbol, or tagbol. Or maybe just call it Ragù alla Bolognese (ragù for short) like the Italians.

That said, shall I tell you a secret? I once ran out of linguine and had several open packets of various shapes pasta to finish. I had my Ragù with some penne, some fusilli AND some spaghetti thrown in to boot. It tasted just fine. Just don’t tell your Italian friends!

This is a slow cook recipe and should simmer for 3 – 3 1/2 hours to fully develop the flavours. It can be stored and heated up later, so this is a great recipe to make on a weekend to have later in the week when you need a quick meal. If you’re pressed for time, instead of simmering with the lid on at the end you can cook on a higher heat without the pan lid on. This will speed up the reduction process to about 20-30 minutes. It won’t be quite as good, but it will still beat anything out of a jar hands down for both flavour and calories!

Preparation time
15 min
Cooking time
3-4 hrs
Total time
4 hrs


This recipe uses some UK names. Hover over the translation icon or use the Translations for Cooking Terms, Ingredients and Measures page for US equivalents.

Buy fresh
500 g Beef mince US: Ground beef
250 g Pork mince US: Ground pork
75 g Lean back bacon
1 Carrot
2 Celery sticks
1 Yellow onion
2 Rosemary sprigs
100 g Mushrooms
From the pantry
1 Garlic clove
2 tins Chopped tomatoes
2 tsp Marmite yeast extract
1 tbsp Soy sauce
Low cal. spray
Salt and pepper

Diet friendly

This is an updated version of my earlier recipe, which is now Syn Free on Slimming World and only 6 Smart Points on Weight Watchers! For the calorie counters among you, it’s less than 300 calories!

Diet Recipe: Ragù alla Bolognese (spagbol) Nutrition: 296 calories, 0 Syns, 6 Smart Points
Nutrition for the Ragù alla Bolognese diet recipe: 296 calories, Syn Free, 6 Smart Points

Method – brief

  • Finely chop the onion, rosemary and garlic. Soften in a large pot over medium-low heat.
  • Slice the bacon into chunks and add to the pot together with the pork and beef. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the meat is browned.
  • Add the vegetables, tomatoes, Marmite and soy sauce.
  • Cover and simmer for 3-4 hours until the desired consistency has been reached.

Method – detail

Preparing the ingredients

  • Finely chop the onion.ragu-alla-bolognese-cooking-1
  • Mince the rosemary and garlic.
  • Trim any visible fat off the bacon. Slice the bacon into small chunks of about 2-3cm (1 inch).
  • Finely chop the celery.
  • Chop the carrot into bite-sized chunks.
  • Slice the mushrooms.


Pictures in a slideshow at the bottom.

  • Spray a large lidded cooking pot (lid off for now) with cooking spray and set over a medium-low heat.
  • Add the rosemary, garlic and onion. Cook until fragrant and the onion starts to go translucent, approx. 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the bacon, pork and beef, increase the heat slightly and cook, stirring frequently, until browned. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the remaining vegetables – celery, onion, carrot and mushrooms.
  • Add the tomatoes, soy sauce and Marmite and stir to mix all the ingredients.
  • Cover the pan with the lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 3-4 hours until the sauce has reached the desired consistency.

Tip: If the sauce goes to dry, add a little water. When you’re ready to serve, if the sauce is still too runny, take the lid off and increase the heat stirring frequently, to reduce the sauce further.

  • Serve your Bolognese with a flat pasta like linguine or tagliatelle – or with spaghetti for a spagbol, just don’t tell anyone!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Like traditional Ragù, this recipe makes a very meaty sauce. If you want it more like typical spagbol, create a simple tomato sauce when serving and add it to the Bolognese. For example finely chop some garlic, rosemary and shallots, soften in a pan and add some tomato passata US: Tomato purée. Heat through and serve.

The Marmite and soy sauce are added because they will boost the meaty flavour of the other ingredients. A full explanation can be found in J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s amazing book The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, look for “umami bombs”.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks, you saved me from a long and frustrating evening. Much Appreciated.

    1. RobVK says:

      Thanks! I hope you liked it, it’s definitely my favorite ragu recipe!

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  2. Thanks for the points shared in your blog. Another thing I would like to mention is that weight-loss is not about going on a fad diet and trying to reduce as much weight that you can in a couple of weeks. The most effective way to lose weight is by using it slowly and gradually and following some basic guidelines which can allow you to make the most out of your attempt to shed pounds. You may realize and already be following many of these tips, but reinforcing information never damages.

    1. RobVK says:

      Absolutely! I follow Slimming World and they try to change your relationship with food, rather than give you a fad diet. It can still be a challenge to keep up sometimes, but it’s worked very well so far – I’m 42 pounds lighter!

      And having delicious recipes helps 😉

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