Ragù Napoletano and Grits
Neapolitans take their ragù VERY seriously. Though I have never followed a recipe to make this special sauce, and always followed the direction of my husband, who got his recipe from his mother, I did a little reading on ragù for better insight. The best piece that I read was in Jeanne Caròla Francesconi’s La Cucina Napoletana, which is an ode to ragù napoletano, I have translated it below:
it is not a simple sauce, it is much more. A ritual which is celebrated every week by every family who deigns to call themselves Neapolitan, to honor, with this act of love, the sun and the sea, beauty and the aromas of our earth.
Wow! I may be Southern, but I can’t deign to call myself Neapolitan, though I am trying for honorary citizenship through my kitchen.
In a great marriage of two cultures, my mother-in-law will use polenta (which is strictly Northern Italian) as a base for the meat and the sauce of a ragù. I decided to use grits as my base, the consistency is a little bit different, but the idea is the same. They went beautifully together, despite the terrible pictures.
Ragù Napoletano adapted from Arthur Schwartz’s Naples at Table
- 4 sweet Italian pork sausages
- ½ lb meaty pork ribs
- ½ lb well-trimmed chuck or shoulder, cut in large chunks
- 1 medium onion, peeled and left whole
- 3 cloves
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup hearty red wine
- 2 28-oz cans peeled plum tomatoes (not drained) or tomato sauce
- 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
- salt to taste
In a 4- to 5-quart pot or stovetop casserole, combine the meats (except sausage, that is added later), the olive oil and stick the cloves into the onion and add to the pot. Place over medium-high heat and sear the meat. It will immediately exude juices. Keep cooking, stirring frequently, until the meat juices have evaporated and the meats are light brown, at least 10 minutes.
Add the wine and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the wine evaporates. The meat will be a much darker brown now.
If you are using plum tomatoes pass them through a food mill – directly into the pot if you like – and stir them into the meat. Add salt and stir again. Simmer gently for 5½ to 6 hours. Stir every 15 minutes or so, but after about an hour, before stirring, skim any fat off the surface that you consider excess. (If the meats are lean, there is usually no more than a couple of tablespoons of fat, and you’ll want to leave it in the sauce.) Also, every time you stir, remember to stir down any sauce that will have condensed on the side of the pot just above its surface. When done, the ragù will have a dark color and a thick consistency.
Let the sauce cool slightly, but strain out or pick out the meat while it is still warm. Check for salt and pepper.
Serve the sauce very hot on pasta or use it in other recipes as indicated. The meat can be served as a separate course, or on another day. Both the sauce and the meat can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, much longer in the freezer. After a week of refrigerator storage, if it is necessary to keep the sauce longer, bring it to a simmer, then refrigerate it again. It will need to be re-seasoned when reheated for use.
*I made a number of adjustments to Arthur Schwartz’s recipe, he indicates to finely chop the onion instead of leaving it whole with the cloves stuck in it. I learned to do this from my mother-in-law, I also use less meat than Mr. Schwartz, add tomato paste and simmer the sauce for about 3 more hours than he recommends.
Despite the fact that my husband usually makes the sauce, I always joke with him that Southern Italians love this sauce because it keeps women in the kitchen, 6 hours of stirring seems a bit ridiculous, but once you have had it, you will understand the love and stand by that pot for 12.