There are two main sauces used in Neapolitan cooking. One is ragu’ alla Napoletana which uses plenty of tomatoes, and there is salsa alla Genovese which uses plenty of meat but no tomatoes, quite unusual in a sauce that has pasta as the other main food partner – beef, onions and a few simple ingredients which when slow cooked, the ragu’ becomes creamy. Served on pasta with a generous topping of pecorino romano it makes for a filling meal.
It seems that the dish had its origins in the 15th Century, when Genoese sailors and citizens located around the port district of Naples brought with them their local sauce which had beef mixed with vegetables, and cooked very slowly, almost resembling a thick soup.
However, the name salsa alla Genovese was probably attributed to this sauce in the 19th Century – a century which saw the unification of Italy, and with it, the longing and desire to attribute a dish or recipe to a particular region to this new country.
With the sauce having two homes – one in Genoa and one in Naples, both sauces became different during the 20th Century. The Neapolitan version included some cuts of pork such as pancetta, whilst the Genovese version saw an increased use of onions in the recipe.
1kg/2.2lbs rump beef
500g/1.1lbs thinly sliced pancetta/un smoked bacon
10 slices of prosciutto or other type of dried ham
3 medium scraped carrots
2 large celery stalks
1.3kg/3lbs of white onions
10 sprigs of Italian parsley leaves
5 basil leaves
4 sage leaves
1 peeled clove of garlic
1 tablespoon of rosemary
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
85g/3 ounces of unsalted butter cut into squares
Salt and pepper
Large pinch of grated nutmeg
1 bottle of dry white wine – preferably from the Campania region
1L/1.75 pints of lukewarm chicken or beef stock
Wrap the beef with 6 slices of pancetta and tie it with string so that the meat resembles a salami. Cut the remaining 4 slices of pancetta into very small pieces, and with the prosciutto slices, line the bottom of a large flameproof casserole up to half way.
Chop the basil, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, parsley, rosemary and sage into fine pieces, placing half of the chopped ingredients in the casserole. Add the oil and butter to the casserole. Arrange the meat on top, and then cover with the rest of the chopped ingredients and bay leaves. Cook over a medium heat for about 20 minutes until all the vegetables and herbs are a dark golden colour.
Season with salt and pepper and add the nutmeg. Add the wine 250mL at a time, covering the casserole and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. Then start adding the stock 250mL at a time so the meat remains covered. Cook until the sauce is rather thick and the meat is very soft which would be approximately for 1hour and 30 minutes.
Transfer the meat to a separate flameproofed casserole, removing the string and cook uncovered over a medium heat for 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. You can vary the sauce’s thickness by gently heating the sauce for a while, or passing the contents through a food strainer. Serve with your favourite tubed pasta such as rigatoni.