Beef Ragù Napoletano (Primo + Secondo)

Ragù Napoletano is a traditional dish from Naples, Italy that is mostly eaten on Sundays. Large pieces of beef and pork are cooked low and slow in a tomato sauce, and then the meat-flavored tomato sauce is served over pasta as the primo piatto, followed by the meat with a bit of the sauce as the secondo piatto. I made this with a nicely marbled piece of Irish Angus chuck roast I had picked up, but you could also use other (tough) cuts of beef as well as pork. A mixture of different kinds of meat will give a fuller flavor.

Fusilli are a good pasta shape for this sauce, as it is very good at absorbing the relatively thin sauce into the coils of the fusilli.

Tough meat with good marbling gives the best flavor, and if cooked low and slow enough it will be fork tender and juicy. Naples is famous for its cucina povera (poor man’s kitchen), and you can imagine that this preparation is a good way of feeding a crowd with a relatively small amount of cheap cuts of meat.

It is relatively easy to do for such a lot of flavor, you only need to have the patience to let it simmer over very very low heat. If the sauce is too hot (over 70C/160F) while cooking the meat then the meat will dry out even while it is completely submerged in tomato sauce.


For 4 servings

600 grams (1.3 lbs) of well-marbled chuck roast or other cut of beef suitable for stewing (I bet short ribs will be great as well)

300-400 grams of short pasta such as fusilli

salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh basil

1 can (400 grams) peeled tomatoes, preferably san marzano

olive oil

200 ml (5/6 cup) full-bodied red wine, preferably aglianico

freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

1/2 carrot, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped


Rub the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides. Heat olive oil in a casserole and add the meat.

Brown the meat on all sides over high heat.

Remove the meat from the casserole and put on a plate.

Lower the heat and add the carrot, onion, and celery. Sauté for about 5 minutes over medium heat until golden and fragrant.

Add red wine and cook for a minute over medium-high heat.

Puree the tomatoes in the food processor and add them to the casserole. Season with some salt. Bring to a boil.

Add basil.

Add the meat. Push it down to submerge it. Reduce the heat to very low.

Cover with a lid slightly ajar and simmer over very low heat for 3-6 hours or until the meat is tender. There should only be an occasional bubble.

The sauce should be dark and rich. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Remove the meat and puree the sauce with an immersion blender. If you like, you can first take out any thick basil stalks.

Keep blending until the sauce is smooth.

Boil the pasta in salted water according to package instructions.

Drain the pasta and combine with 2/3 of the sauce, some fresh chopped basil, and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.

Reserve the remaining 1/3 of the sauce and return the meat into the sauce. Keep warm over low heat.

Toss the pasta with the sauce to mix.

Serve on warm plates, sprinkled with some more freshly grated parmigiano and chopped basil.

Serve the meat with the sauce on warm plates as the second course.

Wine pairing

This is great with a full-bodied red wine with good acidity, preferably an aglianico from the region of Naples (Campania).

15 thoughts on “Beef Ragù Napoletano (Primo + Secondo)

  1. Lovely stuff Stefan. I got a couple of Jacob’s Ladders this morning. I am still cogitating what to do. Given that it will be during the working week, this approach, though delicious, is out.


      1. I am cooking them now for dinner later. Blast at 220 for 30 minutes then down to 150 for 5 hours with wine sitting on a few garlic bulbs. Will serve with celeriac mash and rich gravy. Good fun.


  2. As you can very well imagine, we’ve our own version of this recipe and, like the version prepared on our East Coast, it often includes pork, too. Back East, they call it “Sunday Gravy.” Fact is, no matter what its called or what it includes, it is a hearty meal, the Italian way. Yours here is certainly no exception, Stefan. 🙂


  3. The famous Neapolitan born actor Edoardo de Filippo wrote a poem about ragù … or “rraù” as it is pronounced there …
    The original poem is on the left, the Italian translaton on the right! Enjoy!

    ‘O ‘rraù – il ragù

    ‘O rraù ca me piace a me – il ragù che piace a me
    m’ ‘o ffaceva sulo mammà.- me lo faceva solo mamma
    A che m’aggio spusato a te, – Da quando mi sono sposato con te
    ne parlammo pè ne parlà. – parliamo tanto per parlare.

    io nun songo difficultuso; – io non sono difficile
    ma luvàmmel’ ‘a miezo st’uso – ma non ne parliamo più
    Sì,va buono:cumme vuò tu. – si va bene come vuoi tu
    Mò ce avéssem’ appiccecà? – ora mica vorremmo litigare?

    Tu che dice?Chest’ ‘è rraù? – Tu che pensi? Questo è ragù?
    E io m’ ‘o mmagno pè m’ ‘o mangià… – io ora me lo mangio giusto per mangiarlo
    M’ ‘ a faja dicere na parola?… – mi fai dire una parola?
    Chesta è carne c’ ‘ a pummarola – questa è carne con il pomodoro


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