Neapolitan Ragù is a classic Italian dish that has stood the test of time, bringing families together over generations. Passed down through the ages, it has become a staple in all Neapolitan households and a symbol of comfort, warmth, and love.
6 h 30 min
About this Recipe
By: Silvana Lanzetta
Whenever I think of neapolitan ragù, my mind immediately goes to my grandmother Rosa. Every Sunday during my summer stays at her house, she would spend the day before preparing the meat, puncturing it and adding lard to make it extra tender. I can still picture myself sitting at the kitchen table with my grandfather, talking and laughing while the heavenly aroma of meat cooked in tomato sauce filled the air. And on Sunday mornings, I would wake up to that same tantalising smell of slow-cooked meat and tomato – a smell that truly defined my childhood. It’s a nostalgic reminder of lazy Sundays spent at my grandma’s house, listening to the nearby church bell toll, and eagerly awaiting the moment when the neapolitan ragù was finally ready to be savoured.
- Taurasi DOCG
- Aglianico Campania IGT
- Primitivo di Manduria DOC
- Granito Terre del Volturno IGP
- Falerno del Massico DOC
- Barbera Castel San Lorenzo
Recommended Pasta Shapes
- Ziti lunghi, snapped into sections of 7-8 cm long
- Occhi di Lupo
Naples – San Gregorio Armeno
The Rich History and Evolution of Neapolitan Ragù
It’s a sauce that has a long and storied history, with many changes and developments over time.
Believe it or not, the ancestor of Neapolitan ragù is a very ancient dish that dates back to mediaeval Provençal cuisine. The dish was called “Daube de boeuf,” which was a stew made of beef and very leathery parts, mixed with vegetables and cooked for a long time in a clay container. This dish appears to date from the thirteenth or fourteenth century.
Later on, the French created their own version of stew with vegetables, called ragout. The French term ragout comes from the adjective “ragoutant,” which means tempting, appetising, or delicious. This type of French preparation started appearing in Neapolitan cuisine from the eighteenth century, but it was a dish for rich canteens made with quality beef or veal and still without tomatoes.
Neapolitan Ragù in writing
Vincenzo Corrado was one of the first people to write about this delicious stew in his book “The gallant cook,” which dates back to the first half of the eighteenth century. Ippolito Cavalcanti also wrote about the stew in the first editions of his “Theoretical Practical Kitchen,” which dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century. He also mentioned for the first time macaroni served with stew sauce and grated cheese.
In subsequent editions, Cavalcanti sometimes called the stew sauce “red broth,” without explicitly mentioning the tomato among the cooking ingredients of the stew. Finally, in one of the latest editions, he mentioned the word “ragù” for the first time, referring to macaroni served with meat sauce or meat sauce broth.
Carlo Dal Bono, on the other hand, was the first to talk about using tomatoes in ragù in his work “Usi costumi di Napoli” dating back to 1857. He described the distribution of macaroni by tavern makers, and the use of tomatoes in ragù.
The Legend of Neapolitan Ragù
It all started in Naples at the end of the 1300s, with the Company of Whites of the Justice. They travelled the city on foot, preaching “mercy and peace” to the people. They arrived at the “Emperor’s Palace” on Via Tribunali, which was the residence of Charles, emperor of Constantinople, and Maria di Valois, daughter of King Charles of Anjou. At the time, the building was inhabited by a rude and cruel gentleman who was the enemy of everyone.
Despite the Company’s efforts, the gentleman refused to make peace with his enemies, even when his three-month-old son cried out “Mercy and peace.” The nobleman was blinded by anger and held onto his grudges.
One day, in an attempt to soften him, his wife prepared a plate of macaroni for him. But providence filled the plate with a sauce full of blood, a sign of the grudges that still lingered. However, moved by the miracle, the stubborn gentleman finally made peace with his enemies and put on the white tunic of the Company.
To celebrate this unexpected decision, his wife prepared the macaroni again. But as if by magic, the mysterious gravy had a strange and inviting scent that was very good. The Lord found that it was really tasty and named it “raù,” the same name as his child.
Neapolitan Ragù is a deliciously rich and flavourful dish that is best enjoyed as an occasional indulgence as it is high in calories, fat, and sodium. To maintain a balanced and nutritious diet, it is recommended to enjoy this dish in moderation and pair it with lighter side dishes.
- Proteins 20% 20%
- Carbs 11% 11%
- Fats 69% 69%
There are so many variations of this dish, and the types of meat used can vary from family to family. One thing that’s constant is that the meat is not minced, but cooked in large pieces, anywhere from 500g to a whole kilo, stuffed with various ingredients like raisins, pine nuts, cheese, salami or lard, nutmeg, and parsley. It’s like a giant meaty present, tied up with string!
Traditionally, beef and pork are used. The beef muscle, like beef shank or skirt steak, is a great option, along with pork ribs, rind roll, meatballs, and braciola. Braciola is a beef roll stuffed with garlic, parsley, pine nuts, raisins, and diced pecorino cheese. Yum!
You can use any meat cut you prefer, but make sure it’s fatty. This recipe requires long cooking times, and only fatty meats will be able to withstand the process. So go ahead, pick your favourite fatty cut and get ready to cook up a delicious and hearty ragout!
This recipe calls for lots of tomato passata – a whopping 2 litres to be exact! But don’t worry, it’s all worth it in the end. You’ll slow cook this sauce until it’s rich, thick, and super creamy. The best part? The sauce will be infused with all the delicious juices from the meat, adding that extra punch of flavour. And once it’s all done, you’ll have a mouth-watering sauce that’s perfect for topping off a big bowl of pasta. As we Neapolitans say, this sauce is so good, it’ll give any pasta dish the dignity it deserves!
When adding wine to your Neapolitan ragù, you want to go for a dry red wine that’s rich in tannins. Merlot is a great option, but make sure to choose a young wine, so that you can get those fruity notes infused into your meat.
Make sure that you stick to the script and use onions instead of garlic. I know, I know, garlic is amazing and you love it, but trust me on this one! For the perfect onion, go for a brown or white one, and don’t overdo it. Just one onion will do the trick!
- Total Time: 375 minutes
- Yield: 4 portions 1x
Indulge in the Rich Flavours of Neapolitan Ragù: A Hearty and Savoury Meat Sauce Perfect for Comforting Meals
600 grams of beef skin
2 pork ribs
500 grams of pork shin (preferably on bone)
1/2 glass of red wine
2 litres of tomato passata
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
4 tbsp of extra-virgin oil
salt to taste
Cut the meat into pieces or ask your butcher to do it for you.
Slice the onion and saute in a large pan
Heat a pan over medium-high heat and add the meat. Sear all sides until browned, then deglaze with red wine.
Add the tomato paste to the pan and let it melt in with the meat.
Pour the tomato puree over the meat and season with salt. Reduce the heat to low.
Allow the ragù to simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it reaches the desired consistency. The Neapolitan term for this simmering process is “pippiare”.
Cover the pan with a lid, but not completely, and let the ragù cook for at least 6 hours on low heat.
Cook pasta according to package instructions.
Serve the pasta topped with the Neapolitan ragù, sprinkled with pecorino or grated Parmesan cheese.
The meat cooked in the sauce can be served as a second course. Enjoy!
This recipe is a simplified version of the traditional Neapolitan ragout. The original recipe includes various types of meat such as sausages, meatballs, and braciole, which are taken out of the pan at different times depending on their cooking times. In this simplified recipe, we use tough meat such as shin, which can withstand long cooking times without dissolving. By using shin, you can enjoy a hearty and delicious ragù that is easy to make and doesn’t require complicated preparation.
In the traditional Neapolitan ragout recipe, the cooking process begins on Saturday evening. The sauce is allowed to simmer on low heat for several hours before being placed in a warm oven overnight. The following morning, the cooking process resumes, allowing the flavours to develop even further. This slow cooking method ensures that the meat becomes tender and flavorful, and the sauce achieves a rich and complex flavour profile. While this method may take more time and effort, it results in a delicious and authentic Neapolitan ragout that is worth the wait.
You can further simplify this recipe by using a slow cooker.
- Prep Time: 15
- Cook Time: 5-6 hours
- Category: Pasta
- Method: slow cooking
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: Beef Shin, Skirt Steak, Tomato Puree, Onions, Sunday Lunch, Hearty Meal, Slow Cooking, Red Wine