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Neapolitan ragù (‘O rraù, in the Neopolitan language) is one of the most significant recipes from Neapolitan cuisine. Usually, this sauce, which reveals so much about Naples, is prepared only once a week. The reason? The preparation requires care and attention, and it’s such a big deal, it is reserved only for Sunday morning. You will understand after reading this article.
For Neapolitans, the meat sauce is an institution. Trust me, the long preparation is worth the wait. According to legend, Neapolitan ragù was born in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It’s the symbol of Sunday for all Neapolitan families.
The meat? You can use only beef or beef and pork, and the majority of the meat pieces come from beef muscle, sausage, pork rind roll, meatballs, and pork chops.
This recipe seems simple, but it is not. The ragù is not just meat with pummarola or tomatoes, but to be really tasty, it must be cooked for a long time. It must pippiare or simmer very slowly, for at least 6 hours. Only when it has reached that intensity of flavor and color will it be ready to season the rigatoni.
The secrets to making an excellent Neapolitan ragù
First, there’s the meat. Whereas the Bolognese ragù calls for fresh ground meat, the Neapolitan one is prepared with chunks of meat. Everyone can make their own choice of ingredients: pork, beef, or lamb (in some recipes), but the most important task is to use cubes of meat, pieces large enough to dip in the sauce.
Another essential requirement is the size of the cooking pot, which should be spacious and tall. The meat and the abundance of sauce need to cook for a long time. The ingredients need enough space to cook calmly.
The sauce should simmer slowly. It is advisable to partially cover the pan, leaving an opening for the steam to escape. The ragù and the pieces of meat will cook this way for three or four hours. At the same time, you should be careful to stir the sauce often to prevent the contents of the pot from sticking to the bottom and burning. To check on the cooking process, look at it and dunk in a piece of bread. Spread a little bit on the bread, and if it melts in your mouth and you say yummy, then it’s perfect. When it’s dark red and a bit brownish, it is time to turn off the heat and serve.
Neapolitan Ragù is to die for
- 1½ lb of brisket (600g)
- 10 oz of pork ribs (300g)
- 10 oz of high-fat pork; pork sausage is also good (300g)
- 33 oz of tomato sauce (10dl)
- 1 tbsp of tomato paste
- a glass of red wine
- 1 yellow onion
- 4 tbsp of oil
- Salt and pepper
- Extra ingredient: 3-4 basil leaves
- Peel and coarsely chop the onion;
- With a sharp knife, remove the fat from the brisket and cut all three types of meat into bite-size pieces;
- In a large dutch oven, sauté the onion with a little oil over low heat until completely translucent and the liquid has evaporated;
- Add the meat;
- Sauté the meat for 6-7 minutes until golden brown on all sides, until no more red is showing;
- Simmer until the wine is reduced; then add the tomato sauce;
- Add a little water and season with salt;
- Cook over very low heat for 5-6 hours. In case it gets too thick, add some more water. In Naples they say pippiare or pappuliare, which means that the ragù must simmer very slowly;
- Cover the saucepan with a lid, but leave a small opening to let the steam out;
- Add the basil to taste;
- Stir occasionally; be careful so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan;
- Interesting fact: In same parts of Naples, they add 70% dark chocolate (in the ratio of 1 cup or 150 g per 5 liters of ragù) in order to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
- After at least 6 hours when the meat is tender and all the flavors have combined evenly, your ragù is ready. Enjoy it!
A few suggestions to make it more Napoletano, or Neopolitan (from Naples)
- The cooking time is very long, at least 6 hours. You should prepare it the day before, on Saturday for instance, then transfer it into a ceramic bowl. Cooking it the day before will make it even more flavorful.
- As this ragù goes best with large pasta shapes, try it with maccheroni or rigatoni in Italy or rigatoni or penne in the U.S.
- You might stuff conchiglioni or large shells, with ragù, topped with fresh mozzarella and plenty of Parmigiano. Baked in the oven this becomes a rich and delicious dish.
- Sprinkle each serving of pasta and ragù with plenty of Parmigiano or even better, Pecorino cheese and black pepper.
- In Naples after eating this dish, they eat friarielli or fried broccoli rabe, seasoned with garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes. Since this is not very common outside of Naples, it may be replaced with chard, spinach, Chinese brocoli, kale, or stewed potatoes.
- Store the ragù in the fridge for up to three days in an airtight container, or freeze it in glass containers.