Ragù Napoletano {recipe}

This entry is part 12 of 31 in the series My Italian Kitchen

italian-kitchen-bannerThe ragù Napoletano is similar to the Bolognese one in that it consists of the same three parts: soffritto, meat, and tomato puree. However, some major differences exist between the two.

The Bolognese version uses ground meat, whereas Neapolitans use whole pieces of meat which are then served as a second course (Those Napoletani! Always stretching the purse!) Also, the Neapolitan soffritto is only onion rather than the celery/carrot/onion trifecta in the Bolognese variety. In Naples, red wine is used in place of white, and lots of basil  perfumes the sauce whereas Bolognese ragù has either marjoram, or in some instances, no herbs. Milk is never used in the southern version. And lastly, The Neapolitan ragù is heavy on tomato sauce which is probably due to the plethora of tomatoes the south’s longer growing season provides whereas the northerners prefer a minimal amount of tomato.

In Naples, the ragù is THE Sunday dinner but since it requires a long cooking time, it is often made the day before while the housewife takes care of other chores around the kitchen. Again, each woman would have her own variation of the sauce but below is the one I learned from my mamma, confirmed with my favorite Italian cookbook.

You know that cliche’ spaghetti sauce that cooks all day? Yeah. This is it. You will need hours to make it come out right so budget your time accordingly.

Ragù Napoletano


  • 2 cups onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb meat (beef, can use either stew meat or a roast)
  • 1 lb pork meat (or mild Italian sausage)
  • 6 T onions
  • 1 cup red wine (oh yeah, baby!)
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 2 large cans tomato puree [Pomi’ is a good brand]
  • 4-5 large basil leaves


Step One

If using a large piece of meat, tie it with baker’s twine. Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add onions to the pan, placing the meat on top. Allow the onions and meat to brown together. You need to stay by the stove at this point so that you can stir often and not let the meat stick or the onions burn. Keep an eye on it, giving it a stir every so often. You must have patience for this sauce! (This took me about an hour just to give you an idea.)

The onions need to sweat while the meat browns. When it begins to stick, add a few splashes of wine and keep stirring. Continue doing this until your meat has turned a nice brown color.

Step Two

When the meat has browned nicely add the tomato paste. It’s easier to remove the meat temporarily so you can work. You’ll add it back in later. Mix the tomato paste with the oil/onion mixture, stirring until the tomato turns dark. Add two cans of water and stir. When this mixture begins to stick a little, add a little more wine, or when you use up all the wine, you can use a little water. Take care not to let the mixture burn! At this point you can add the puree, mixing everything well. Taste for salt and add if needed. Add the meat back into the pan, place the wooden spoon on the rim and place the cover on top, allowing steam to escape.

Step Three

Now you need to let the sauce thicken. Cook on low, stirring occasionally so the sauce on the bottom doesn’t stick and burn. You can wander away for a short bursts of time (go reboot the laundry, check the mail, do a few dishes.) Keep an eye on it, letting it cook slowly for several hours. It should go down in quantity as it thickens.

ragu napoletano

In this picture you can see how much the sauce has cooked down by the “high water mark” on the side of the pan. By the way, your house will smell divine as you cook this all day long! Oh, and at the very end of the cooking time, add 4-5 basil leaves and stir in. This is the final touch. The cherry on top.

You will want to serve this with large tube pasta, like rigatoni, so all the saucy goodness can get into the holes. You can sprinkle a good parmiggiano cheese on it (skip the green bottle) and serve with lots of good crusty bread like a boule, ciabatta or sourdough for sopping up all the sauce left in the plate.


ragu napoletano

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About Sheila @ Making the Most of Every Day

I'm a wife, mom, and a homeschool teacher. I'm always behind on housework and paper pile sorting. I'm fond of this crazy life but not of melted cheese. I want to follow hard after God, making each day really count. I like to run, read, cook (and eat!). Thanks for joining along on my journey!

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