Ragù alla napoletana (…I really love Italians)

So it was Mother’s Day in Australia on Sunday, and rather than take our Mothers out for an average meal at a local pub, where the quality never quite matches the cost and the waiter forgets your drinks because everyone else decided to take their Mum out for a pub lunch as well – we decided to have the families over and cook for them. Not only cheaper, but more relaxed and far more enjoyable. This was our gift to our Mothers; quality time and quality food.

My wonderful Italian friend Kristen always makes this dish, and every time she does I imagine her having slaved over a hot stove for hours. Alas, when I read through Gennaro Contaldo’s recipe (since he is the master of traditional Italian food) – I was a little suspicious at how easy it looked. Kristen always insisted it was, but I figured she was just being humble, not wanting us to feel guilty for slaving away in the kitchen for us. My nerves were soon calmed when the local Italian butcher asked me after ordering topside, pork ribs and thick Italian sausages if I was from Italy and was I spoiling my Mum with a traditional Italian lunch for Mother’s Day – needless to say I am not Italian, but took it in my stride that he was so impressed with my knowledge of a traditional ragù – boy did I have him fooled.

So Saturday night went a little like this; bottle of red wine (majority used for personal consumption), a couple kilos of meat, tomatoes, good company (with diligent sous-chef Ollie at my side) and 15 minutes worth of cooking effort…….so how does such a simple list of ingredients yield such a rewarding end result? I believe it’s all in the quality of the meat. I made sure I got to the butchers early and got the best of everything – there’s nowhere to hide average meat in this dish – it’s the main attraction. Good quality beef and pork is essential – they may still need slow cooking to realise their true potential, but it’s essential they start off as quality animals. Also – Italian butchers know how to do proper Italian sausages – if you cant see the chunks of fat in the sausage then its not worth your time. You should use the fatter, thick Italian sausages for this dish – the thin ones will break down too much.

What I love about this ragù most is its versatility, it can be served with pasta, polenta, on top of crusty toasted bread or eaten on its own – it’s really up to you. Also, do yourself a favour (as we did) and make a bigger batch than necessary as it freezes really well – meaning you can save individual portions for when you’re too tired and lazy to cook. You’ll thank yourself – trust me!

Also, I apologise for the lacklustre efforts of photography – my guests were hungry and it didn’t bode well to leave them impatiently waiting for their lunch!

Serves 6 (with plenty of leftovers)

One big pot of awesomely good Ragù alla napoletana

One big pot of awesomely good Ragù alla napoletana

The list:

2 Tbsp tomato paste

100 ml red wine

100 ml extra virgin olive oil

3 small onions, finely chopped

600 gm topside of beef, chopped into medium-sized chunks

650 gm pork ribs (cut into 2 rib portions)

400 gm Italian pork sausages, cut into thick chunks

3 400 gm tins chopped tomatoes

1 handful of basil leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper


The method:

  1. Dilute the tomato paste in the red wine.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onion and cook until softened.
  3. Add the beef, ribs and sausages and seal well all over (you may need to do this in batches).
  4. Increase the heat, stir in the diluted tomato paste and reduce by a third.
  5. Add the tomatoes and basil, season with salt and pepper and stir well. You may also need to add a can of water – the meat should be covered.
  6. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook very gently for about 2 hours, until the sauce is thick and silky.
  7. Stir from time to time, checking that there is enough moisture; if necessary add a little more water.
  8. Remove from the heat and serve with pasta, or on its own with lots of good bread to mop up the rich tomato sauce.

We served ours alongside green beans, a bitter green leafy salad and a lot of red wine…I hope you do the same. Enjoy!

One hearty plate of meaty goodness

One hearty plate of meaty goodness

I'm so glad we made enough to have leftover for another lunch and dinner for ourselves

I’m so glad we made enough to have leftover for another lunch and dinner for ourselves

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