6am of a Sunday morning. I read the news, the world seems to be doing better and better every day… I check my calendar, I literally have nothing scheduled for today. Time for a day in bed, eating all the crisps I have in the house, watching questionable TV shows and thinking about nothing. Sounds great!
I sit on my bed, I can hear the two ladies on the screen talking about their manicure, but my mind is not focusing on this critical matter, it is actually thinking about… sunshine? And my internal battle begins: “let’s open the curtains and enjoy this beautiful day!” “what about…no?” “tomorrow you are so going to regret that you wasted your day watching these women talking about hair and nails” “well, I can live with that”. Fun conversations in my little brain, I know.
So the wise version of me, decided to actually make the effort to get up and have some breakfast. The fridge door for me always reveals an entire new world full of surprises, as if I am not the one that went to the shop to get groceries, and this time it didn’t fail its magic: surrounded by a mystical light (probably due to the actual light in the fridge), the special meat I got today for the most sacred Sunday ritual in Italy: ragù.
Ragù is a meat based sauce, usually served with pasta.
There are several varietes of ragù, but the most famous ones are the neapolitan and the bolognese. These two sauces are very different from each other, and this is also true about the history behind their creation.
Today I will focus on the neapolitan ragù, as this is the sauce that my family usually makes on a Sunday.
The word ragù comes from the French ragoûter, which means “to revive the taste”. There is actually a French dish called ragout, but it is made with mutton. The French dish that inspired the Neapolitan ragù is called daube de boeuf, and it is made of beef slow cooked with vegetables.
The French cuisine has strongly influenced Naples during the the domination of Ferdinand IV and his wife, Maria Carolina of Austria. In the 18th and 19th century, a new professional figure became popular, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies: professional cooks were called Monsù (or Monzù), the name was an abbreviation of the French word Monsieur. The Monsù was in charge of merging the culinary aspects of the French and Neapolitan traditions, and this is why the South of Italy and France share some gastronomical affinities, that have been maintained over the years and are still very much alive in both areas.
The original recipe for ragù was only made of meat and vegetables – it was only in the second edition of “L’Apicio moderno”, written by Francesco Leonardi originally in 1790, that tomato sauce is mentioned for this dish.
Like most of the Italian traditional dishes, there is a legend about ragù: in 1300, a group of predicators called “Compagnia dei Bianchi di Giustizia” used to walk across Naples with the aim of encouraging enemies to make peace, asking for “mercy and peace”. Apparently, they managed to convince the entire city to follow their lead, except for one grumpy man. The compagnia went to his home, to convince him to bury the hatchet, but he refused. Even his three months old kid begged him with the words “mercy and peace”, but he stood on his ground. His wife, quite fed up with his attitude, decided to make for him a delicious plate of maccheroni, that instantly became red like blood. This convinced the grumpy man to join the company, and his wife decided to celebrate making maccheroni again, which turned again red and had a wonderful and delicious smell. The event had such a huge impact on the grumpy man, that decided to call the dish Raù, like his son.
My personal takes on this story:
-when I was 3 months old, I was still surprised when I looked at my own hands
-if my pasta changes colour all of the sudden, surely enough I am not going to eat it
So this is the story of ragù, the recipe is not too complicated but it is a long process that I promise, is all worth it.
The secret for the best result is the “peppiatura”, which in dialect means “the noise from the pipe”; basically the sauce is cooked for several hours (minimum five) at low temperature, to make the meat tender and juicy. While cooking, small bubbles come to the surface of the sauce, that when bursting make a noise similar to a pipe.
The recipe will be different in each household of Naples and the South of Italy, so what I am writing here is what we usually do in my family.
-Beef shin dices, 700g
-pork ribs, 350g
-pork sausages, 350g
-white onion, 1
-red wine, half a glass
-olive oil, 6 tablespoons
-tomato sauce, 700g
-pinch of salt and pepper
- Chop the onion finely and let it cook in the olive oil at medium temperature
- Add the meat and let it cook until golden for 7-8 minutes
- Add the wine and let it evaporate
- Add the water, the tomato sauce, salt and pepper
- let it cook for minimum 5 hours at low temperature
Today, I had it with a lovely pasta typical of Orroli, Sardinia, called “spizzulus“, which translates as “pinch”. Here is a video of how I made this pasta: