Ragù alla Napoletana (Sunday Sauce)

Ragù alla Napoletana (Sunday Sauce)

Neapolitan Ragu.jpg

Getting Sauced

The first time I experienced Neapolitan ragù was after attending a three hour long Sunday procession of the Madonna in Agerola, i.e. middle of nowhere in provincial Napoli.  While I enjoyed the mass, this dish felt like the ultimate reward for my three hours of Sunday penance parading behind a very large, disturbingly life-like statue of the Virgin Mary.  

Ragù is a typical Sunday dish throughout Southern Italy, and now that I have learned to make it, Giuseppe and his family have, against their better judgement, entrusted me with its preparation every Sunday. (I think they are secretly testing me.)Of course what they don't realize is that making this dish is the perfect excuse for not attending three hour long masses.  

I make the ragù with Giuseppe's 88 year old mother and we watch mass on TV.  She usesIt's the perfect solution for everyone. The family eats, and thanks to the national television broadcast of Sunday mass in Italy, my eternal soul is not in jeopardy.   

Neapolitan ragù is one of my foundational recipes in that it can be easily adapted to utilize many types and cuts of protein, contains pantry staples and can be repurposed for other dishes such as pasta al forno, a recipe I will also share.  Once you have learned this technique, you can adapt it to what is cheap, seasonal and available at your market.

This dish differs from Bolognese style ragù in two main ways.  First, it contains whole chunks of meat rather than ground meat and second, it uses a greater amount of tomatoes as the tomato season in Naples lasts far longer than in Bologna, which is further north.  Both share the same quality of being a true peasant dish.

Long simmering breaks down the tough cut  of meat, making it fork tender and the perfect accompaniment to ridged pasta  or tubed past such as penne rigate or ziti.  For the ziti, I prefer the long kind that break into quarters by hand before boiling.  This type is more difficult to find in America but regular ziti and penne are perfect as well. JUST- Don't serve with spaghetti! EVER!

Ragù alla Napoletana (Neapolitan Style Ragù)

Serves 6 as primo


  • Salt

  • Ground pepper

  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 lb beef stew meat such as beef chuck, cut into 1" cubes

  • 2 pork ribs

  • 1 finely diced white onion

  • Red pepper flakes to taste

  • 1 cup red wine

  • 2lbs tomato puree (San Marzano is best of course)

  • 1lb penne rigate or ziti (In America, I prefer de Cecco brand. In Italy, Voiello or Garafalo. DON'T USE BARILLA!)

  • A few healthy gratings of Reggiano Parmesan (or Grana Padano which is less expensive but similar in texture and flavor)

  • 6 fresh basil leaves cut into ribbons chiffonade style for garnishing


  1. Heat olive oil in a large 6qt heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat.

  2. Pat the beef and pork dry with paper towels, removing all excess moisture.

  3. Season with salt and ground pepper.

  4. Brown in batches (about 5 minutes per side).

  5. Once all browned, remove last batch and place in shallow bowl to collect accumulated juices.

  6. Turn the heat slightly down to medium and add onion.

  7. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent burning.

  8. Once the onion is golden, slowly add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits.

  9. Reduce wine by one half.

  10. Return the beef, pork and accumulated juices to the pan and add the tomato puree.

  11. Add salt and red pepper flakes to taste.

  12. Stir the beef to coat with sauce mixture and bring to a boil.

  13. Once ragù boils, lower the heat to a faint simmer, cover and cook for five hours.

  14. Occasionally stir the ragù with a wooden spoon.

  15. When ragù has simmered for about four hours, bring your pasta water to a rolling boil.

  16. Add salt to the boiling pasta water. (For most Italians, the rule of thumb is 1 liter of water for every 100 grams of pasta, and add to that 10 grams of salt (known as the 1000/ 100/ 10 ratio of water/pasta/salt).

  17. Once the salted pasta water is boiling, add the pasta, stir with wooden spoon to prevent sticking.

  18. Boil to al dente (about 10 minutes.)

  19. When pasta is al dente, drain it immediately and reserve five tablespoons of pasta water.

  20. Uncover ragù, remove parmesan rind.

  21. Add the drained pasta and the reserved pasta water immediately.

  22. Raise the heat to medium high and stir with a wooden spoon to coat pasta with sauce.

  23. Plate your ragù in a wide shallow bowl, add a generous grating of Parmesan and garnish with basil.

Pasta al Forno (Baked Pasta)