La genovese

La genovese (Neapolitan Beef and Onion Pasta Sauce)

In Campania, pasta, primi piatti by Frank47 Comments

Besides ragù alla napoletana, la genovese is probably the most iconic of all Neapolitan pasta sauces, and yet it is little known outside Italy or, for that matter, little seen outside Naples itself. And, for reasons I cannot quite figure out, it did not seem to survive the trans-Atlantic voyage; in my experience, la genovese does not form part of the Italian-American repertoire. All of which is really a shame, because this has got to be one of the most delicious sauces ever devised for dressing pastasciutta.  The dish requires long, slow cooking but can simmer unattended for most of the time.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1.5 kilos (3 lbs.) onions, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
  •  1 kilo (2 lbs) beef for stewing, like chuck
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) salumi (salame, pancetta and/or prosciutto)
  • White wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil or lard

 Directions

Cover the bottom of a large pot, preferably either terracotta or enameled cast-iron, with a generous amount of olive oil or, if want true authenticity, melt a heaping wad of lard. I usually compromise and melt just a spoonful of lard in olive oil to give it that special savory flavor.

Then add lots of finely chopped onion to the pot, along with a carrot and a stalk of celery, both chopped finely as well. Then add a nice, large piece of stewing beef—my favorite is chuck, for its rich flavor—and some finely chopped bits of salumi (salame, pancetta and/or prosciutto) along with a glassful of white wine or water. Season the ingredients well with salt and pepper.

Cover and allow this mixture to simmer over very low heat for about 3 hours, uncovering the pot and stirring from time to time, and adding a bit of water if needed to keep the mixture moist, until the meat is fork-tender and the onion is well reduced and melted into a kind of ‘cream’. At the last, raise the heat and allow the onions to caramelize until they are nice golden brown color—but be sure not to burn them.

Remove the beef for another use, possibly as a second course. The remaining onion cream is your sauce. Use the onion sauce to dress ziti or other stubby pastas. If you like, serve with grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. (I prefer the former over the latter.)

La genovese

Notes

Recipes range in the ratio of meat to onion, from almost 1:1 (usually a bit less meat than onion) to 1:2, with most calling for 1:1.5, as indicated here.

The most common variation of this dish, much used for an everyday version of la genovese, is to omit the beef and simply use the bits of salumi to provide savor to the onions (it’s a good use for any spare bits that may be hanging around your fridge) or even no meat at all. Either of these versions can be called la finta genovese or ‘mock genovese’.

Some recipes call for a bit of tomato purée or paste towards the end, by the original—and my preferred—version is in bianco. Some versions also call for adding a great deal of water, enough to immerse the meat, and letting it reduce over time, rather than adding it bit by bit, using the so called arrosto morto technique.

The typical pasta, as mentioned, is ziti, especially the long type that you break into sections by hand (pictured in the post on zitoni al forno) but another stubby pasta like penne would also do. I have seen recipes calling for bucatini, also know as perciatelli, a kind of thick, hollow spaghetti that is popular in both Naples and Rome (and is indispensible to make the Roman classic bucatini all’amatriciana).

 You may have cottoned on to the fact that genovese means ‘from Genoa’. So why is this name for a typically Neapolitan dish you may ask? Well, no one really knows for sure, but the most popular story has it that it was invented by Genovese merchants living in Naples in the 16th century. When they left, their chefs stayed behind and started cooking the dish for the natives. The original version, as detailed by the estimed gastronome Ippolito Cavalcanti in the 19th century, was more like a typical French daube, a meat dish braised in a mirepoix. Somewhere along the line, the onions became the star of the show, and la genovese was transformed from a secondo to a primo. (This article gives some interesting details, along with another recipe for the dish.)

La genovese

Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

La genovese

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kilos (3 lbs.) onions, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) beef for stewing, like chuck
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) salumi (salame, pancetta and/or prosciutto)
  • White wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil or lard

Directions

  1. Cover the bottom of a large pot, preferably either terracotta or enameled cast-iron, with a generous amount of olive oil or, if want true authenticity, melt a heaping wad of lard. I usually compromise and melt just a spoonful of lard in olive oil to give it that special savory flavor.
  2. Then add lots of finely chopped onion to the pot, along with a carrot and a stalk of celery, both chopped finely as well. Then add a nice, large piece of stewing beef—my favorite is chuck, for its rich flavor—and some finely chopped bits of salumi (salame, pancetta and/or prosciutto) along with a glassful of white wine or water. Season the ingredients well with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover and allow this mixture to simmer over very low heat for about 3 hours, uncovering the pot and stirring from time to time, and adding a bit of water if needed to keep the mixture moist, until the meat is fork-tender and the onion is well reduced and melted into a kind of 'cream'. At the last, raise the heat and allow the onions to caramelize until they are nice golden brown color—but be sure not to burn them.
  4. Remove the beef for another use, possibly as a second course. The remaining onion cream is your sauce. Use the onion sauce to dress ziti or other stubby pastas. If you like, serve with grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. (I prefer the former over the latter.)
https://memoriediangelina.com/2010/07/13/la-genovese/

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Comments

  1. You did well, Bill Fields; Italian regional cooking is hardly as codified as classic French cuisine and much more accepting of minor variations, especially when they allow for the use of what we have on hand.

  2. I made this today. I borrowed from a NYT recipe and yours. A whole lotta cooking later, I surprised my wife with penne rigate and sugo alla Genovese. Delicious and hearty! My family is from Avellino and Montella, but I never had this growing up. Probably because my brothers and I wouldn’t look at an onion if we knew what it was. Thanks for helping me recover a bit of my heritage with this wonderful dish. By the way, it’s probably sacrilege, but I used Marsala as my white wine. It didn’t hurt the dish at all, I think. Didn’t have any dry white open and had my eye on a cab for dinner. I was tempted to use the cab, but decided that the Marsala was closer to the recommended ingredient. Maybe next time.

    1. Author

      Thanks so much for your comment, Bill! I’m so glad you enjoyed the dish. And to help you recover a bit of your heritage. As I mentioned, for some reason this dish didn’t seem to survive the Atlantic crossing for some reason. Very few Italian-Americans seem to know about it. Not really sure why. And thanks for sharing your experience with the Marsala. Not a sacrilege at all, as Albert said. In fact, it sound rather nice. I might try that next time I make the dish…

  3. I love this sauce and feel in love with it when I was in chef school in Italy. I was taught to make it with a little pork as well as beef and we added milk to the sauce.
    We also used paccheri pasta.
    The long simmer on this sauce makes the house smell grand. I will have to try this version

    1. Author

      I love this sauce with paccheri, too, Thomas. Haven’t tried the milk technique but I imagine it sweetens the sauce nicely, a bit like adding milk to a ragù bolognese? Will give it a try next time. Thanks fo the tip!

    1. Author

      One of the solaces of the chillier weather is the chance to enjoy these hearty dishes again. That and the chance to enjoy a nice, warming fire in the evenings!

  4. I made this yesterday! Not only is it delicious and easy to make, but it made my apartment smell really good and I had a hard time sleeping because it kept thinking of food. I may take some of the cooked chuck and put it on crusty French bread with some of the gravy for and pickles for a sandwich.

    1. Author

      Sorry you lost sleep over this recipe, Georgette… ? But so glad you like it. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. This seems very similar to the Ragù Bianco I made recently – I can’t wait to try this version. Everyone always seems to think that Genovese means “with pesto.” Obviously, that’s not the case… Beautiful dish, Frank!

    1. Author

      Indeed, I’ve seen that mistake made any number of times, including by people you’d think would know better. Thanks for stopping by, David!

  6. Fascinating: cannot wait to get in the kitchen ! The 3:2 onion:meat ratio is quite new to me as are the amounts of some of the other ingredients and some of the methodology. The slow, as needed, water addition reminds me of making risotto: an activity I enjoy on multiple levels . . . SO appreciate all the knowledge coming from other commenters today . . . what a feast of knowledge for the senses . . .

    1. Author

      I’m sure this would work very well in a slow cooker. Just the kind of low, slow cooking that was made for that device.

  7. Excellent recipe; thanks! I’e seen versions that include some aromatics, like bay leaf and marjoram.

  8. Frank, like Kath I missed this when you posted it originally. I have a dear friend from Campania who first introduce me to this dish at a Sunday dinner. Such a wonderfully onion infused dish. I haven’t had it in some time but will be having it soon. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Thank you for this mouth-watering recipe Frank! I’ll be giving this recipe a go this coming week. My parents and the majority of our family come from a small town in Calabria called Sersale, I wonder if you’ve heard of it – not many people I’ve spoken to have and it is hard for me to find a website giving much detail on the town, it’s people and mostly, a collection of recipes from there. My Mother, who was the BEST cook in our family (cooking since she was old enough to hold a spoon!) has taught me everything about cooking the foods she was taught, but since she has passed, I am hoping to expand on the cooking of this area, wondering if you might be able to help with this. Thanks again for these amazing recipes!

    1. Author

      And thanks for your comment and sharing your story, Lina. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of Sersale before. But your message does remind me that I’ve been meaning to feature more Calabrian dishes on the site. It’s a region I’ve neglected here, mostly because I’m not too familiar with it. But I’m anxious to get to know it better!

  10. I’m glad this caught my attention again (via your Facebook post)! I pinned it to try it sometime.

  11. My mother in law use to make this for me all the time, since she passed no one knew how to make it. Thank God for this site, going to the store now.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your kind words, Joanne! I’m thrilled you’ve been able to recapture an old family recipe. 🙂

  12. There are so many variations of this sauce. My grandparents were born and raised in Napoli and taught me how to make this dish. Parpadelle was the pasta of choice. She used a touch of tomato paste and speck proccuto. She started with a base of carrots, clelery and added a bay leaf. A nice piece of chuck which was browned to perfection and white wine. Five pounds of onions sliced paper thin. She cooked it on a low flame for 5-7 hrs until the meat fell apart and the onions completely melted. She would serve the meat on the side smothered in the sauce. When the pasta was ready to be dressed she put a nice amount of butter on top of the pasta and then added the sauce with grated cheese and parsley . Delicious! The butter added a touch of creaminess to the finished dish

  13. I was an au pair girl in Naples a long time ago and I’ve been looking for this recipe evet since. Just found your site. Thanks a lot. look forward to making it and having happy memories.

  14. My mother was a master at making this sauce. It was a very special meal, loved by our entire family. The pasta she used was occhi di Lupo. The meat was always served as a second dish. I can still see the platter as it came to the table, the sliced meat in the center with some of the Genovese sauce over it, on one side sautéed mushrooms, the other side baby green peas. She always served a beautiful Frito misto with this meal, platters of breaded and fried vegetables. She would deep fry artichoke hearts, asparagus, potato croquettes and her specialty, thin strips of zucchini, lightly floured and deep fried. It was a meal that would truly amaze you. Even though she has been gone since 1993, whenever the family gets together, they talk about this meal. All her nieces and nephews called it “Aunt Jennie’s brown sauce.”

  15. This is a family favorite, made with a different variation. Lots of onion, prosciutto (chopped) and onion soup mix for more flavor and rich color (one packet should suffice). adds more flavor. Cook meat in all this broth (water is added also) and the meat flavor combines with the juices….amazing! pour over pasta and meat, serve!

  16. This is my first visit to your website. I plan to make the potato, onion & tomato tart, but decided to look around. In looking at the Neapolitan Beef and Onion Pasta Sauce I noticed a problem.

    1 kilo equals 2.2 lbs., not 1 pound

  17. We make this all the time with just a few differences: 5lbs of onions, 3 carrots and 3 celery stalks put in the food processor. Then after adding it to the pan with oil, we add ground beef. A few minutes later we add wine. Let it cook out and add water and 3-5 beef bullion cubes. Cook for 3 hours and eat with pasta!

  18. It's funny my grandmother always prepared for us “la genovese” as a second dish, the purpose of the sauce was to be served with the meat. I have to try that too, thanks for the wonderful idea!

  19. Genovese is one of my most favorite meals ever! My version is a bit different, but wonderful, too. If you'd like to see it go to http://cucinananette.blogspot.com and look at Feb. 27, 2010 “Ode To Joe and the Onion”. I'm new at blogging and not sure how to send you directly to that post.

  20. Hi, Frank. This is a wonderful post and an appeaing sauce I'll be sure to add to my repertoire. It's one which I've not had in Rome, Naples, or elsewhere.

    I'm a big fan of bucatini, with cherry tomatoes during the summer, so I always keep this pasta on hand.

    Thanks,

    Dan

  21. You know, Frank, I think I'm going to be going to your blog before my Italian cookbooks. Thank you for such wonderful recipes! Best, Kate

  22. This is the type of dish only a Nonna can perfect. Oh we can all do variations on it but it's a Nonna thing for sure if you want it authentic.

  23. I do remember my grandmother with roasts in her pots for sauce. I do not know her recipe and I am sure the roast was indeed the next course – but I love imagining it was similar. All those lovely onions… waiting to be savored. I definitely want this … when it is below 90 degrees.

  24. again, another fine and interesting recipe. 'where's the beef?' the star of the show, the onion, must be just sitting pretty glorified and feeling pretty fancy having pushed aside the mighty beef … I can just imagine the flavor

  25. This is the kind of dish I love to learn about here. It's why I'm so hooked on buying Italian cookbooks, too, always hoping to learn something new.

    This Genovese dish looks great!

  26. This gives me reason to buy lard! Now I know what I'm going to do with the small chuck roast in my freezer. Thank you for all of the interesting information about la genovese, too!

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