Pork & Beef Ragù Napoletano

It is Carnival and that is the festive season before Lent, a period of six weeks in which it was not allowed to eat meat. And that meant of course that during Carnival one would eat as much meat as possible. The word carnival comes from Latin “carnem levare”, which means “eliminate meat”. In the south of Italy and especially around Naples, the end of Carnival on Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday or martedì grasso in Italian, is celebrated by eating Lasagne di Carnevale or Lasagne alla Napoletana. This lasagna is different from the better-known Lasagne alla Bolognese, which is made from Ragù alla Bolognese and béchamel sauce (besciamella). Lasagne alla Napoletana is made with Ragù Napoletano, little meatballs (polpettine) made from the meat of the ragù, thin pork sausages known as cervellatine, ricotta, scamorza, mozzarella, and pecorino or parmigiano. The most important part of this lasagna is the ragù, and that is what this post is about. The recipe for the lasagna will follow on Fat Tuesday. It is a good idea to make the ragù a day before you’d like to make the lasagna, because it takes 5-7 hours to make and then longer to let it cool.

Lasagne alla Napoletana is made with a ragù of pork only or a combination of beef and pork. Lasagne di Carnevale is made with a ragù of pork only, because the family pig was traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday. I decided to go for the more complex flavor of a combination of beef and pork, but you could substitute the beef chuck with pork shoulder to make it with pork only. Cervellatine are very thin (1 cm or 1/2 inch) long fresh pork sausages from around Naples, usually seasoned with ground black pepper. If you cannot find cervellatine, it is fine to substitute with another type of fresh pork sausage.

This recipe for Ragù Napoletano is very similar to the recipe I posted before for Beef Ragù Napoletano. Meat is cooked low and slow in a tomato sauce. The main difference is the choice of meats. Just like with the beef ragù, this ragù can also be eaten as a full meal by serving the tomato sauce first over pasta, followed by the meat with just a bit of the sauce and a salad. But in this case, I used the ragù to make lasagna.


For enough ragù for a 30 x 40 cm (12 x 16 inch) lasagna, serves 6 to 8

400 grams (.9 lb) cervellatine or other fresh pork sausage

4 pork ribs (about 500 grams, 1.1 lbs)

500 grams (1.1 lb) beef chuck (or pork shoulder)

2 liters (2.1 quarts or 70 oz) canned tomatoes, pureed, or the same amount of sieved tomatoes (puree)

70 grams (4 Tbsp) double-concentrated tomato paste

250 ml (1 cup) red wine, preferably from Campania

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

about 12 leaves fresh basil

olive oil



Heat olive oil in a large casserole or stock pot. Brown the meat in the oil over high heat.

Brown the meat in batches. Do not move it around too much; the meat will detach from the pan as soon as it’s browned.

The browning is not to ‘seal in the juices’ (because it doesn’t seal anything) but to get more flavor.

Put the meat aside on a plate to catch the juices that will run out of it.

Add the onions to the pan and sauté them in the remaining olive oil. Use a wooden spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the browned bits.

Add a few tablespoons of water and let the onions cook over low heat, stirring now and then, for about 15 minutes or until soft and golden.

Add the red wine.

Increase the heat and stir until most of the wine has evaporated.

Add the tomato puree and tomato paste. Season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring.

Add the meat (including all the juices on the plate!) and the basil.

Stir such that the meat is covered by the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to very low. The sauce should simmer gently with only one bubble rising to the surface at a time. This is called pippiare in Italian.

Cover and cook for 4 to 6 hours (!) until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick and dark.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.

If you’d like to serve ragù napoletano over pasta followed by the meat as a secondo you can go straight ahead. But the ragù will improve when you let it sit for 24 hours.

To make lasagne alla napoletana you should let the ragù cool off with the meat in the sauce, allowing the meat to absorb some of the sauce while it cools. It is a good idea to speed up this process by submerging the casserole in (ice) cold water and stirring the ragu, because the ragù should be cooled down to refrigerator tempature within 4 hours (for food safety reasons). The recipe for the lasagne alla napoletana will follow on Tuesday.


11 thoughts on “Pork & Beef Ragù Napoletano

    1. The sausages are sliced and the beef chuck and meat from the pork ribs are ground in the food processor to make the meatballs. The meat is so tender though that tearing it up could probably work too and would give an interesting texture to the meatballs.


    1. Thanks Conor. Is Lent still observed in catholic Ireland? Overhere carnival is a big party in the southern provinces, but I don’t think there is much fasting going on afterwards.


  1. When I go home next, Stefan, I’ll show Zia this recipe. Years ago, we sometimes made our sauces with a variety of meats, just as you did here. We never did it as often as some do back East, who call it “Sunday Gravy”, though. No matter. You’ve made one incredibly flavorful sauce. Can’t wait to see your lasagna. 🙂


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