This is one of those recipes that makes your Sunday special 🙂
It’s probably the most typical pasta sauce of Naples area (and incredibly quite unknown in the rest of Italy), we can say it’s a recipe that has a “ritual” in it, and traditionally it’s a recipe that gathers the whole family (several people I mean, especially in the past).
The name means “at the Genoa style”, but as we said it’s a recipe from Naples. There are several legends behind the name, but none of them is perfectly clear.
One story says that some centuries ago, in the harbor of Naples, there were many dives hold by chefs from Genoa, and there the sauce was born. Another story says that a chef from Naples created this recipe, and his nickname was “‘o genoves”. And another story that I found tells of a monzú (the French chefs cooking for nobles people in Naples) of Geneva (therefore “Genovese”) who introduced this variant of the “soupe d’oignons” in the court of some aristocratic family. But there are some more stories 🙂
Probably we will never get a real answer to this question, but what really matters is that this recipe is very good 🙂
It’s a very long recipe to make, something that we can prepare only on Sunday usually, when we have all the time 🙂 indeed, it has to cook many hours at very low heat: some people, the more traditional, will cook it also for 8-10 hours long (someone cook it 4 hours already on Saturday evening and then other 4 hours on Sunday morning)! But nowadays less and less people do it for so long (also because there are more tender beefs available nowadays). I think it depends on how many onions you use, how much meat and which cuts, and how tender is the meat. But to melt well the onions I think that 4-5 hours are needed. We must obtain a creamy brownish sauce, and I noticed that only after about 4-5 hours the sauce starts to get the perfect color and texture. I suggest to start on early morning 🙂 or the evening before, as I wrote above.
The ingredients are not too many, but there are some details to take care, as always 🙂
Which meat? Beef. Or veal. (probably in the past also old cows and oxen were used, as in many of these long time cooking traditional recipes). But someone add also some pork meat, like the chops or the thigh.
Which cuts? The best choices are the muscles of the back legs with their gristle, the beef round and the rump. But someone use also the brisket. But also the cheek can be perfect, or the neck. Then someone prefer to cut the meat in medium size cubes and cook them until they fall apart inside the sauce, someone cut them instead in bigger pieces and serve them after the pasta, and someone else cook a whole piece of meat and take it out from the cocotte/pot after 3-4 hours, to serve it sliced after the pasta, as a second course.
Which onion? The white onions and the young/spring onions are not the best choice for this recipe. Just to know it for curiosity, in Naples they use “cipolla ramata di Montoro“, but since these onions are not available everywhere we can say that the best onions to choose are the golden onions. Someone use an onion-meat rate of 1:1, someone use 1,5:1, someone else use 2:1 (and I read of someone using even up to 3:1).
Which type of pasta? The tradition wants “candele” or “ziti” (ziti were traditionally used in weddings, “zita” means “bride” in the local dialect), broken one by one with hands. They are a traditional type of pasta typical from the area of Naples, they are produced in very long shape (usually about 50 cm), following traditional methods to dry the pasta very slowly, and to break this pasta on Sunday morning it is/was also part of this “ritual” in the families of Naples 🙂 but since to find this pasta it’s not easy everywhere, also “mezzani” or “rigatoni” can be a very good choice, or in alternative also “tortiglioni“, “maccheroni” or”penne“. Also “paccheri” or “mezzi paccheri” would be great.
The recipe I’m going to show is just one of the many recipes about this dish, indeed we can say that probably every family in the area of origin has a personal recipe 🙂 someone use the white wine (the most common choice), someone the red wine, someone even the Marsala wine and someone else don’t use wine at all. Someone add some tomatoes. Someone use certain spices, someone prefer other spices. Someone add also meat from pig thigh and also Neapolitan salami. Someone use just extra virgin olive oil, someone use the lardo too (or the “sugna”). Someone use also some pancetta/guanciale . But the procedure it’s always about the same, and the main ingredients are these.
INGREDIENTS (5 people):
- 800 g of beef meat (the cuts explained above)
- 1,2 Kg of onions
- 500 g of pasta (as explained above)
- 1 rib of celery
- a big carrot
- extra virgin olive oil (to cover all the bottom of the cocotte/pot, about 100 ml)
- 1 spoon of lard (optional, you can use just extra virgin olive oil)
- 2 glasses of dry white wine
- thyme (actually wild thyme, traditionally), but also other aromatic herbs at your choice (I use also fresh sage leaves, 1 bay leaf, and fresh basil leaves at the end)
- 4-5 small tomatoes or a spoon of triple tomato concentrate (optional)
- some nutmeg (optional)
- freshly ground black pepper
- Pecorino cheese, freshly grated (or Parmigiano Reggiano if you prefer)
- The first thing to do is to cut the meat into big pieces, about 6-8 cm large.
- Then clean the onions and cut them into thin slices (not too small, it’s enough to cut the onions in half and then you cut slices from the half onions), and put them in a bowl with some little salt (few pinches), and give a very fast mix..
- Now take a cocotte/high pot, put inside all the extra virgin olive oil (and the lard), and heat it up. When it’s hot add all the meat inside and sear it well on all its sides, at high heat, for about 10 minutes.
- Once the meat is seared, remove it and keep it aside, then in the same pot add the carrot and the celery, finely chopped, and the aromatic herbs tied together, and give a mix. Let it go at medium/low heat for 15 minutes, and then put all the onions inside (or do it in two times, if they are too many, so wait that the first half reduce its volume and 10-15 minutes later add the second half). After other 20-30 minutes add back the meat, add also 1 glass of wine and reduce it at higher heat. After the alcohol has gone, from now cook at medium heat for about 1 hour/1 hour and half, until the onions have lost most of their liquids and got a bit thicker. Add now the tomato if you want to use it. Keep it controlled, the onions must not attach on the bottom.
- After this time add the second glass of white wine and set the heat very low. Cook very slowly for at least other 2 hours. Then control and add some little water if needed, and cook for another 1 hour at least. While simmering control and give a little stir sometimes. It has to cook until the meat gets very soft, and the onions have to melt into a darker cream, with a brownish color. As I said, 4-5 hours is a good time.
- In the case you managed to find the pasta called “candele” or “ziti” you can already break it in pieces of about 5-6 cm long, for later.
- When you see that the sauce is ready, unless you decided to eat the meat after the pasta as a second course, squeeze the meat with a wooden spoon or a fork, and break it in small pieces. You must be able to do it with no power, the meat has to break apart very easily. If you would like, now you can add a little bit of grated nutmeg (just a little bit, take care).
- Check the salt, and season with freshly ground black pepper. Add also fresh basil if you would like.
- Now take another pot and boil the water, with salt. When it starts boiling, put the pasta to cook.
- Meanwhile, in the case the cocotte/pot you used for the sauce is not large enough, take a large sauté pan and put some of the sauce inside, and heat it up at medium heat.
- When the pasta is “al dente” (follow exactly the time written on the package), drain it and put it in the pan with the sauce, and let the starch of the pasta to mix well with the sauce, for a couple of minutes (you can add also a ladle of the boiling water while the sauce is cooking these 1-2 minutes with the pasta).
- Finally is ready 🙂 serve it in the dishes, and grate some Pecorino on it.
- Beef usually requires a red wine, but because of so many onions also the pairing with a white wine is ok 🙂 Enjoy!
Beef: Angus from “Terra Pannonia”
Pasta: Candele lunghe from Pastificio Gentile