In Genoa, and the rest of Liguria, if you order pasta alla genovese, what you get is pasta al pesto – with a summery sauce of basil, pine nuts and parmesan. What the waiter brings when you order it in Naples couldn’t be more different. It’s pasta served in a rich, slow-cooked meat-and-onion sauce, one perhaps more suited to cold winter evenings than summer lunches.
There are various theories as to why a Neapolitan dish that is unknown in Genoa should bear the north-western Italian port town’s name. One of the most ingenious, given voice in Edmondo Capecelatro’s book La cucina napoletana, is that it was originally imported not from Genoa but from Geneva, by Swiss mercenary soldiers attached to the French army that occupied Naples in 1495. The name, this theory goes, was later corrupted from ginevrese (Italian for ‘from Geneva’) to the more familiar genovese.
In Naples, genovese sauce is usually served dolloped on top of short tubular pasta shapes like rigatoni or paccheri. Le Sirenuse’s chef, Gennaro Russo, does a lighter spin on the recipe that has proven to be a huge hit at our La Sponda restaurant. Rather than ladling the sauce on top of pasta, he spoons it into pasta parcels called fagottelli and serves them with a delicate parmesan cream and shavings of black or white truffle, depending on the season. See the photos for the final result – one that we urge everyone to try at least once in their lives. Though we say so ourselves, Gennaro’s fagottelli alla genovese are up there with sky-diving and riding the Cresta run – but a lot less dangerous.
The full fagottelli recipe is a closely-guarded secret, but we’ve talked Gennaro into revealing his own personal take on a traditional genovese sauce, one that he might whip up for family and friends in his hometown of Somma Vesuviana. Once made, all that’s left is for you to find a short tubular pasta of your choice to serve it with. One thing Gennaro is very clear about, however, is that a good genovese needs time and patience. “Don’t even think of starting to make it an hour before your guests arrive”, the chef tells us. “It’s best prepared at least a day in advance”.
PASTA ALLA GENOVESE
- 400g rigatoni or other short tubular pasta
- 1kg beef chuck eye roast, chuck shoulder or other similar neck cut
- 5 kg brown onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
- Two celery sticks, finely chopped
- Two carrots, finely chopped
- I litre good homemade chicken stock
- Olive oil, salt and pepper, 2 bay leaves and a sprig of thyme
- Freshly grated parmesan
Begin by coating a heavy-bottomed pan in a thin layer of olive oil, heating on a lively flame and sauteing the beef until golden on both sides. Remove the meat at this point and throw in the onion, celery, carrot, bay leaves and thyme. Lower the heat and cook the vegetables slowly, for around twenty minutes, in the combination of oil and meat juices (add more oil if necessary). Place the beef back in and pour in enough chicken stock to cover it completely. Cover the pan and simmer on a low heat for three hours, adding salt and pepper as desired, then turn off the heat and leave to cool. Once the sauce is cool, use your hands (wash them first!) to break up any chunks of beef that haven’t already flaked and dissolved into the sauce.
Keep aside, in the fridge or a cool place, until needed. When you’re ready to cook the pasta, heat the sauce slowly until it has reached at least 70°C (160°F). Traditionally, pasta alla genovese is mixed and amalgamated in the plate, not the pan – so arrange the pasta in shallow bowls (piatti fondi), pour on the sauce, and sprinkle a snowfall of parmesan on top. Then tuck a napkin into your shirt or blouse, and tuck in.
Photos © Roberto Salomone
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