Pasta alla Genovese (Authentic Neapolitan Recipe)

Pasta alla Genovese is a traditional Neapolitan recipe.

Although the name may be misleading, La Genovese is an unquestionably Neapolitan dish and has nothing to do with Genoa.

The sauce consists of a hearty ragu without tomato, prepared with lots of onion. The main characteristic is the gentle and prolonged cooking that allows the meat and onions to melt, resulting in a creamy, flavorful and at the same time mild sauce.

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The preparation of pasta alla Genovese is quite simple, but it requires patience and the right amount of time for the sauce to cook to perfection.

For this recipe, we use ziti pasta broken irregularly by hand. Ziti are a typical pasta from Campania. They are long tubes of smooth pasta that, depending on the recipe, are left long or broken coarsely by hand.

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Like all traditional homemade Italian recipes, there are numerous variations with small differences depending on the habits of different families. The differences mainly concern the type of meat they use.

I used a cut of meat called in Italy “girello” or “magatello” of beef (eye round). It’s the back part of the thigh. This cut of meat is round, firm, very lean and therefore rather tough compared to other cuts, but very tasty. For this reason it’s a cut of meat suitable for slow and prolonged cooking.

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You need to cut the meat into chunks and brown it in a pot with a base of herbs. Then add plenty of onions. Wet everything with white wine and cook over very gentle heat for about three hours.

Pasta alla Genovese is the classic family Sunday lunch dish. The end result, with its unique and irresistible flavor, will repay your wait, believe me!

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Ingredients

  • Prep Time: 30 Min
  • Cook Time:3 hours
  • Servings: 4

  • 600 g (1.3 pounds) of beef chuck roast or stewing beef. I used what we call in Italy “magatello” (eye of round)
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 60 ml (4 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of yellow or red onions
  • 230 ml (1 cup) of dry white wine at room temperature
  • a small bunch of parsley
  • a bay leaf
  • fine salt to taste
  • 360 g (3/4 pound) of Ziti, the typical local pasta for this recipe. Alternatively, you can use caserecce or paccheri
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste (optional)

Pasta alla Genovese Recipe: Istructions

The Soffritto

pasta alla genovese recipe step 1 the soffritto

Step 1) – To make Pasta Genovese, first peel the carrot and clean the celery. Then chop the vegetables coarsely.

pasta alla genovese recipe step 2 the meat

Step 2) – Prepare the meat on a cutting board. Remove any excess fat and cut into medium sized pieces.

pasta alla genovese recipe step 3 the soffritto

Step 3) – Pour the oil into a saucepan and add the chopped carrot and celery. Sauté for a few minutes.

The Genovese Sauce

pasta alla genovese recipe step 4 the sauce

Step 4) – Add the pieces of meat to the soffritto. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the meat browns all over.

pasta alla genovese recipe step 5 the onion

Step 5) – Meanwhile, peel the onions. Then slice them finely using a mandoline slicer.

pasta alla genovese recipe step 6 the sauce

Step 6) – Add the onions to the meat and mix well. Then add the chopped parsley and a bay leaf.

pasta alla genovese recipe step 7

Step 7) – When the onions are wilted, add 1/2 cup of room temperature dry white wine. Let the alcohol evaporate. Cover and continue to cook over very low heat for about 2 hours.

PLEASE NOTE: Do not worry if the sauce seems too dry at this point without enough liquid. The onions will release their water while cooking over low heat. If necessary, add half a ladle of hot water.

pasta alla genovese recipe step 8 the sauce

Step 8) – After 2 hours, the sauce will have taken on its characteristic brownish color and the meat will be tender. At this point, raise the heat a little and add the remaining 1/2 cup of white wine. Stir and continue to cook over a low heat for another hour.

At the end of this time, your Genovese sauce is ready. The meat and onions will have become creamy and well blended. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Cooking the Pasta

pasta alla genovese recipe step 9 the pasta

Step 9) – While the meat is finishing cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti (which you have now broken up with your hands) according to the cooking time on the package (about 10 minutes).

pasta alla genovese recipe step 10 the seasoning

Step 10) – Drain the pasta al dente with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl with the sauce. Toss the pasta with the Genovese sauce and serve.

Pour a little Genovese sauce on each plate and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if you like. Serve the Pasta alla Genovese hot.

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Storage

You can store the Genovese sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it. It will keep for 2-3 months.

Pasta alla Genovese, on the other hand, should be eaten immediately, hot, steaming and al dente.

Pasta alla Genovese: Tips and Variations

THE MEAT: Traditionally, Genovese sauce is made only with beef. The most commonly used cuts are those suitable for long, slow cooking, such as for stews or sauces. I used a cut of beef called “girello” or “magatello” in Italy. It corresponds to the rear part of the thigh, called eye round. This cut of meat is round, firm, very lean and therefore rather tough compared to other cuts, but very tasty. If you prefer, you can use more fatty cuts or make a mixture of different cuts. Some people also add pieces of pork for more seasoning and flavor. But the authentic recipe calls only for beef.

THE ONIONS: A key ingredient in the Genovese recipe is onion. They must be used in very large quantities. The onions recommended for this recipe are the yellow or red ones. In Campania they use the yellow onion from Montoro. In fact, this is produced between the provinces of Avellino and Salerno and is widely used for Sugo alla Genovese. Very aromatic to the nose, the Montoro onion is also sweet to the taste. It is also a very good onion to eat raw, in salads. The red onion of Tropea is a good alternative.

THE WINE: Dry white wine is the only liquid to add to the Genovese sauce.
You have to add it in two or three steps. You must add the wine the first time when the sauce is cooking with the lid on, and then again in the last stage of cooking without the lid. The wine adds a nice flavor as it cooks. It may seem like a small amount of liquid, but the liquid released by the onions is so much that you don’t need any more. Adding broth or water would risk compromising the creaminess and flavor of the Genovese. Remember to add the wine at room temperature. If you use it cold, you can stop the meat from cooking and have an overly tough end result.

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THE PASTA: As for the pasta, if possible choose an excellence from Campania. For example, an IGP pasta from Gragnano. As for the shape of the pasta, the great Genovese classic is the long ziti, which, according to tradition, must be strictly broken by hand. Alternatively, you can choose caserecce, paccheri or rigatoni. Remember to drain the pasta al dente. It’s also very important to drain the pasta thoroughly. If there is any water in the pasta, our Genovese sauce will lose its flavor.

THE TOMATO: One of the main characteristics of this recipe is the fact that it’s a ragu “in bianco” (white). This expression for us Italians does not strictly refer to the color of the dish. In fact, in this case, the Genovese sauce is not white, but rather dark.
“In bianco” means without tomato. This characteristic distinguishes Genovese sauce from other Neapolitan sauces in which tomato is the main ingredient. However, many can not miss the quintessential ingredient of Neapolitan cuisine and they add a few fresh cherry tomatoes or a spoonful of tomato paste. This variation will give you a more colorful Genovese but will not compromise the taste.

THE MILK: Milk, like tomato, is not part of the traditional Genovese recipe. However, many people add a glass of milk, about 100 ml (~1/2 cup), to the Genoese sauce about 15 minutes before the end of cooking. This variation makes the dish creamier and the flavor sweeter and more delicate.

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How to Serve Genovese Sauce

Genovese sauce is mainly used as a sauce for pasta and especially for ziti. However, many also use it as a meat-based main course, accompanied by slices of homemade bread.

How to Treat Onions

When cooking the sauce for pasta alla genovese, the smell of onions hangs in the air.

If in the streets and alleys of Naples this “fragrance” stimulates the appetite, at home it can be rather annoying.

But there is a trick to greatly reduce the smell of onions while preserving their flavor: soak them in water and vinegar for 1/2 an hour before cooking.

This will help to reduce the acidity and also the pungent smell of the onions. You can use this trick for other recipes that call for raw as well as cooked onions.

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Pasta alla Genovese: Origin of the name

Although the name may be misleading, Genovese is an unquestionably Neapolitan dish. As to the reason for this name, there are several theories.

The first hypothesis, the simplest and most obvious, holds that the name “genovese” is due to the presence of Genoese cooks in Naples who used to cook meat in this way.
In fact, especially during the period of the maritime republics, relations between Genoa and Naples were very intense.

Then there is the Angevin theory.
The oldest source reporting a recipe similar to Genovese dates back to 1285 in the “Liber de coquina,” a cookbook written in Vulgar Latin, presumably in Naples.
This book was dedicated to Charles II of Anjou and found in the National Archives in Paris. Tria Genovese is mentioned here, where “tria” is a term dating back to the late Middle Ages for pasta.
This recipe tells of a very slow-cooked sauce prepared with onions and meat.
The Angevins at the time of the book had recently settled in Naples, and the French influence is indeed predominant.

There are also those who claim that Genovese does not refer to the Ligurian city but rather to the surname of the Neapolitan cook who invented this recipe.
Indeed, in Naples and Campania the Genovese surname is still widespread today.

Finally, there are those who claim that the adjective “Genovese” does not come from Genoa but rather from Geneva.
In fact, it seems that at the Bourbon court there was a cook who was a native of Geneva and nicknamed ‘o Genoves by the Neapolitans. So not for the Ligurian city but for the Swiss “geneves.”

pasta alla genovese recipe
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Pasta alla Genovese Recipe
Pasta alla Genovese is a traditional Neapolitan recipe.
Although the name may be misleading, La Genovese is an unquestionably Neapolitan dish and has nothing to do with Genoa.
The sauce consists of a hearty ragu without tomato, prepared with lots of onion. The main characteristic is the gentle and prolonged cooking that allows the meat and onions to melt, resulting in a creamy, flavorful and at the same time mild sauce.
Course pasta
Cuisine Italian
Keyword genovese recipe, pasta alla Genovese
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 953kcal
Ingredients
  • 600 g beef 1.3 pounds, beef chuck roast or stewing beef. I used what we call in Italy “magatello” (eye of round)
  • 1 carrot medium
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 60 ml olive oil 4 tablespoons, extra virgin
  • 1 kg onions 2.2 pounds, yellow or red
  • 230 ml white wine 1 cup, dry at room temperature
  • parsley a small bunch
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • 360 g pasta 3/4 pound of Ziti. Alternatively, you can use caserecce or paccheri
  • Parmigiano Reggiano grated, to taste (optional)
Instructions
The Soffritto
  • Peel the carrot and clean the celery. Then chop the vegetables coarsely.
  • Prepare the meat on a cutting board. Remove any excess fat and cut into medium sized pieces.
  • Pour the oil into a saucepan and add the chopped carrot and celery. Sauté for a few minutes.
The Genovese Sauce
  • Add the pieces of meat to the soffritto. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the meat browns all over.
  • Meanwhile, peel the onions. Then slice them finely using a mandoline slicer.
  • Add the onions to the meat and mix well. Then add the chopped parsley and a bay leaf.
  • When the onions are wilted, add 1/2 cup of room temperature dry white wine. Let the alcohol evaporate. Cover and continue to cook over very low heat for about 2 hours.
  • After 2 hours, the sauce will have taken on its characteristic brownish color and the meat will be tender. At this point, raise the heat a little and add the remaining 1/2 cup of white wine. Stir and continue to cook over a low heat for another hour.
  • At the end of this time, your Genovese sauce is ready. The meat and onions will have become creamy and well blended. Taste and add salt if necessary.
Cooking the Pasta
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti (which you have now broken up with your hands) according to the cooking time on the package (about 10 minutes).
  • Drain the pasta al dente with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl with the sauce. Toss the pasta with the Genovese sauce and serve.
  • Pour a little Genovese sauce on each plate and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if you like. Serve the Pasta alla Genovese hot.
Nutrition
Calories: 953kcal | Carbohydrates: 92g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 45g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 23g | Trans Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 107mg | Sodium: 132mg | Potassium: 1045mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 2559IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 113mg | Iron: 5mg
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