The north and south of Italy are so very different, particularly when it comes to cuisine and ingredients. In the north you have the classic Bolognese which hails from Emilia Romagna and uses butter, white wine, milk and tomato paste (no tomatoes!). The ragu Napoletano is the south's version of the Bolognese and it is truly spectacular when executed well and cooked slowly for 5-6 hours.
Ingredients (serves 6-8 as a first course):
-1 pound of fresh tagliatelle or parpadelle egg pasta or best quality dry pasta such as Rustichella
-2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
-1 yellow onion, chopped
-1 can (28 ounces) of San Marzano tomatoes (crushed by hand into a bowl)
-1 pound of ground beef
-1 pound of ground pork
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Salt & Pepper
-Parmigianno Reggiano for grating
Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add your carrots and onions and a bit of salt and sautee for 8-10 minutes or until soft (not browned). Take your meat and break it into small pieces and add to the pan. Stir occasionally to lightly cook all sides of the meat (approximately 5 minutes), breaking the meat up further using a wooden spoon. Add your crushed San Marzano tomatoes and stir to combine. Fill your empty can of San Marzano tomatoes with water (this is going to allow us to cook our sauce for a very long time) and add to the pan. Once everything has reached a boil, turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Cover with the lid slightly ajar and cook for at least 4-5 hours. Stir the mixture every 10-15 minutes to ensure even cooking. The sauce should be gently bubbling the entire time. Add salt and pepper along the way.
Once the sauce has come together turn off the heat. Adjust seasoning as needed. Bring your pot of pasta water to a boil and add 4 tablespoons of salt. Drop your pasta and cook according to the package instructions, remembering to remove it at least 30 seconds to 1 minute prior so that it remains al dente. Drain your pasta and add it back to the same pot you cooked it in. Ladle a bit of sauce over the pasta and stir gently to combine.
To plate, take add a bit of pasta to each plate. Ladle over additional sauce and pieces of meat as desired. Grate fresh Parmigiano Reggiano over each dish and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately. Buon appetito!
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com