Ragú Napoletano (Neapolitan-Style Italian Meat Sauce with Pork, Beef, and Sausage) Recipe

A rich tomato- and meat-based pasta sauce from Southern Italy.

A bowl of pasta with Neapolitan ragu garnished with basil leaves.
A rich tomato and meat-based pasta sauce from Southern Italy.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Why It Works

  • A slow-cooked red sauce picks up tons of flavor from pork ribs and beef.
  • Saving the sausages until the end of cooking keeps them moist and tender.

A couple of weeks back I spent a good deal of time developing a recipe for lasagna Napoletana, a lasagna stuffed with smoked cheese, sausage, meatballs, and a rich, meaty tomato sauce. That meat-packed tomato sauce is known as ragù Napoletano.

As I said in that post, the undisputed king of ragùs is ragù Bolognese, and we've got a killer slow-cooked recipe for you. But if you were to pick a president and el tigre numero uno of the ragù world, it'd be ragù Napoletano, a meaty stew with big chunks of meat and sausages simmered until fall-apart tender in a rich tomato sauce flavored with wine, onions, garlic, basil, and plenty of good Southern Italian olive oil. It's the precursor to the Italian-American Sunday gravy that we know here in the States: just add some meatballs, serve it with spaghetti, and you're there.

While the recipe I developed for that particular dish was based 100% on pork (as is traditional for the lasagna), I figured it'd be a short hop, skip and a jump to adapting the same technique to work with a combination of pork, beef, and sausage, to deliver a true ragù suitable for your Sunday table.

Transferring browned pork ribs into pot of simmering tomato sauce with fresh basil.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

To make it, I start by searing large pieces of pork spareribs and beef chuck in a Dutch oven until well-browned, then add onions and garlic, followed by some red wine (it goes better with the beef in this version than the white I used in the pork-based version), some hand-crushed tomatoes, and some whole stems of basil. After that I park it in the oven for a good, slow cook (the oven produces more flavorful results than stovetop simmering due to the better browning the stew gets on its surface).

As it finishes off, I add some sausages in to cook through for the last half hour or so—sausages can overcook, and I prefer mine with a juicier texture instead of the mushy texture of long-cooked sausage. (If you really want to bring yourself into Northern Jersey or Little Italy, you could go ahead and add some of Daniel Gritzer's excellent Italian-American meatballs to the mix with the sausage.)

After you've put in the time, some really good olive oil, salt, and pepper are the only other things that this sauce needs to achieve pure and simple nirvana. That and a good pasta, that is.

It's very common in Southern Italy to see this sauce served with dried extruded pastas like rigatoni or paccheri (a tubular pasta native to Napoli that has a diameter of over an inch!), but I actually prefer it with a wide, hand-cut fresh tagliatelle or pappardelle. Check out Niki's indispensable fresh pasta recipe to give yourself a project to work on while that sauce slowly cooks.

A fork full of pasta with ragu Napoletana.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

The only downside of this dish is that eating it doesn't take nearly as long as making it!

January 2015

Recipe Facts

3.5

(2)

Active: 45 mins
Total: 4 hrs
Serves: 8 to 10 servings

Rate & Comment

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds pork spare ribs (about 1/3 large rack), cut into three chunks

  • 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch strips

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 8 medium cloves garlicfinely minced, divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 2 cups dry red wine

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, preferably D.O.P. San Marzano, crushed by hand in a large bowl

  • 1 (2- to 3-inch) Parmesan rind (optional)

  • 1 bunch fresh basil

  • 1 pound mild sausage, in the casings (see notes)

  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce

  • 8 to 10 servings fresh or dried pasta

  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300°F (150°C) (see notes for slow cooker instructions). Season ribs with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add ribs and cook without moving until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Flip and cook until second side is well browned, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Repeat with beef until browned all over and add to plate with pork.

    Pork ribs browning in a Dutch oven.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

  2. Add onions to now-empty Dutch oven and cook, scraping up any browned bits, and stirring frequently until just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until onions and garlic are lightly browned, about 3 minutes longer. Add pepper flakes and oregano and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add wine and cook until nearly completely reduced, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, Parmesan rind (if using), and 3/4 of basil. Return ribs and beef to pot and bring to a simmer.

    Stirring chopped onions and garlic in a Dutch oven.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

    Adding crushed tomatoes in a Dutch oven.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

  3. Cover with lid slightly ajar and place in the oven (see notes for slow cooker instructions). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rib bones can be easily pulled from the meat, about 3 hours. Add sausages and continue cooking for 30 minutes.

    Raw sausages nestled in tomato sauce in a Dutch oven.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

  4. Transfer ribs, beef, and sausages to a bowl, discard bones, and let stand until cool enough to handle. Discard basil sprigs from sauce. Roughly shred rib and beef with two forks or your hands and return to pot. Slice sausages into disks and return to sauce. Stir in fish sauce and remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

    Bowls of reserved meat and sausages cooked in tomato sauce.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

  5. To serve, cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until just shy of al dente (about 1 minute for fresh pasta or 1 minute short of recommended cooking time for dried pasta). Drain, reserving about 1 cup of starchy pasta water. Return pasta to the pot you just cooked it in and add half of ragù, half of pasta cooking water, and a handful of grated cheese. Cook over high eat, stirring until the sauce emulsifies with the pasta water and clings to the pasta, adding more pasta water if necessary. Serve immediately, passing additional sauce, cheese, and remaining fresh basil at the table.

Notes

Any mildly flavored sausage from the butcher will do. If no mild sausages are available, sweet Italian sausages will work. Though I prefer the flavor of the version made in the oven, this dish can also be made in a slow cooker. Cook as directed up to and including step 2 (do not preheat oven in step 1), then transfer to slow cooker and cook on low heat for eight hours, adding sausage for the last one hour. Continue with step 4.

Special Equipment

Dutch oven or slow cooker

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
882 Calories
50g Fat
52g Carbs
54g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 10
Amount per serving
Calories 882
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 50g 64%
Saturated Fat 14g 70%
Cholesterol 179mg 60%
Sodium 583mg 25%
Total Carbohydrate 52g 19%
Dietary Fiber 4g 15%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 54g
Vitamin C 24mg 120%
Calcium 92mg 7%
Iron 6mg 35%
Potassium 1109mg 24%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)