On my recent trip to Naples, I certainly ate my way through the city on a lot of pizza and pastries and even more Neapolitan cuisine. Somehow I also found the time to take a cooking class on Neapolitan sauces. Bonnie from Napoli Unplugged and I took the class at Citta del Gusto. It covered three classic Neapolitan sauces, but the star of the evening was definitely La Genovese. It's a rich, slow-cooked Sunday sauce that you should not even think about cooking less than 8 hours.
The class was conducted in rapid Italian, with a Neapolitan accent, and much of the time I felt like I was bumbling my way through. Thankfully with the help of Bonnie, the five very kind and patient chef's assistants, and many of my fellow classmates (all locals), I learned the Neapolitan way of making the sauces, their history, and a few new Italian food words.
Citta del Gusto is located on the outer edge of Naples, at the foot of the Posillipo hill. The facility is part of Gambero Rosso; they have another cooking facility in Rome. Along with a state of the art demonstration & hands-on kitchen (the only thing that was missing was an overhead mirror above the chef's work station), the Naples location offers professional courses, wine courses and has a wine bar, pizzeria, osteria, and hosts tastings and events throughout the year. There were ten of us in the class, all in groups of two. Each station had two burners, an oven, workspace and sink. White wine and water was available throughout duration of the class.
For the first two sauces, the chef deomonstrated how each sauce was made, talked a little about its history and walked us through how we were to make it ourselves, which we did right afterward. For the Genovese Sauce that takes at least 8 hours to prepare, the chefs had already started it and it was simmering on the stove, long before the class started. Whenever an up-close look at something was important, he invited us up to his station. Whenever we needed a little extra help, one of the assistants was happy to help and answer questions.
Two of our chef's assistants
THE SAUCES -
Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino: Garlic, olive oil & chile peppers, this dish is so easy, it's said even every Italian man knows how to make it. Its origins are actually traced to Abruzzo, near Rome, but it is a staple of Southern Italian home cooking, and the base for many Neapolitan sauces, like the Pizzaiola.
Basically you infuse garlic flavor into the sauce, or olive oil, by throwing whole cloves of garlic, skin still on, into olive oil & heat it slowly until the garlic turns golden. Then you let the garlic sit in the oil, all day if you'd like, as it cools. Add broken dried chile peppers, the amount of which equal to your heat liking/tolerance, and then toss in the pasta. If you would like to leave the garlic in the dish, remove the germ in the center and gently slice it. (NOTE: Breaking up the garlic by smashing it with the flat of your chef's knife causes looks from both your classmates and the chefs like you were some alien from another planet.) I now flavor almost all my olive oil for pasta by heating 3 or 4 cloves of garlic in the olive oil & leaving it until I'm ready to use it. It gives the oil and the pasta a subtle taste of garlic.
Pizzaiola Sauce: The pizza maker's sauce is another simple, 5 ingredient sauce, that should be tasted with the proper Vesuvian tomatoes. As the chef went on about the importance of using the pomodorini del piennolo di Vesuvius, I began to wish California had its own active vulcano. From the same soil that produces the beautiful San Marzano tomatoes, come these. These pomodorini (little tomatoes), are much sweeter, less acidic, and have more pulp than other tomatoes. Cultivated in July and August, they can be conserved until January by dangling them on a rounded strap that hangs from a wall, where they get the name piennolo. Chef also pointed out that you know the pomodorini are from the area around Mt. Vesuvius because of the tomato's point at the end. No point at the end, means their not Vesuvian.
For the rest of us, whose tomatoes don't grow in the sulphur and mineral rich soil from vulcano lava, tasting the tomatoes and sauces made with Vesuvian tomatoes while in Naples is a must. Besides on pasta, you'll find this sauce dresses various meat and fish dishes throughout Napoli and the Campania region.
We made Pizzaiola sauce by dropping the little tomatoes in boiling water for a short amout of time, removing them, squishing them by hand, and running them through a food mill. We saved a few of the squished tomatoes to add to the finished dish. We added the tomato sauce to the already simmering aglio, olio & origano (oregano), added salt and dressed both a veal chop and some mafaldine pasta with the dish.
La Genovese: Some call it the "king" (or should it be the "queen") of Neapolitan cuisine . How does a sauce that is one of the quintessential sauces of the Naples kitchen get the name from a city in Northern Italy? Of course, there are varying legends on the origins of the name. One being that the Genovese who owned taverns along the Port of Naples in the 1400s made this sauce. Whatever the case, it's a fabulous dish from Naples that came about even before the arrival of the tomato.
Initially, the meat in the sauce was removed after cooking and served as the second course. Now, and especially in restaurants, the oh so tender pieces of meat dress the pasta along with the dense sauce. It's a transformation of a whole lot of onions, aromatics, some meat, bones & pork rind into a rich and flavorful sauce. By low and slow cooking, the onions dissolve, the tough meat becomes "falling off the bone" tender, and the sauce changes to an amber color. Like anything that's cooked with patience and passion, the sauce is outstanding. Savory, meaty (even when the meat is taken out), and hints of sweetness from the dissolved onions, it is as intense as the Neapolitans are.
Bonnie told me that she was familiar with a few variations on the recipe, ones that used different parts of meat. Like most Italian dishes, recipes vary from house to house. To test my theory, I went into three different macellerie (butchers) while in Naples. I asked which parts of meat I should buy if I wanted to make La Genovese. Of course, I had three different answers.
What I liked about the recipe from Citta del Gusto was that they used the pork ribs so the bones added a depth of flavor. The pork rind (cotica) rolls added another level of flavor along with increasing the density and richness of the sauce. As the chef explained, their version also had more meat to it than was traditionally made during poorer times in the city.
Below is the recipe for La Genovese based on how they made it at Citta del Gusto:
Pasta alla Genovese
(adapted from the Citta del Gusto recipe)
Serves 10-12 people
100 grams delicate extra virgin olive oil**
1 tablespoon of lard
1 pound of meat shanks, one type or a combination of pork, veal & beef
2-3 pork ribs
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 bay leaves
6 pounds of white onions, sliced very thin
120 grams whole milk
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
1 pork rind “involtini” rolls, optional (see below)
Grated pecorino cheese for garnish, plus more for the pork rind rolls
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for garnish plus more for the pork rind rolls
** Chef pointed out that olive oils from Calabria, Puglia and Basilicata were too strong for this dish.
Pork Rind Roll (Involtini di cotica di maiale):
1 pork rind
1 clove of garlic, sliced
7-8 leaves of flat parsley
About 1 tablespoon grated pecorino cheese
Salt, enough to cover the pork rind
Freshly ground black pepper, enough to cover the pork rind
To Make the pork rind roll: Stretch out the slab of pork rind. Sprinkle the slab with the garlic, parsley, cheese, salt and pepper. Roll up and tie with twine.
To Make the Sauce:
In a large saucepan heat the oil and lard and brown the meat. Deglaze with the wine over high heat, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to medium and add the tomatoe paste and bay leaves. Cook for a few minutes to lightly toast the tomato paste. Add the onions and the milk. Add the pork rind roll if using. Stir until everything is mixed together. Cover with foil and cook on low heat until the onions no longer release any liquid. Lower to a simmer and cook until the mixture becomes a thick sauce and the color becomes amber, 8-10 hours. Remove the meat and slice/shred. Add back to the sauce and dress paccheri, ziti or penne pasta. Garnish with a mix of grated parmigiano and pecorino cheeses. If you would like to serve the meat as a second course, don’t add it back to the Genovese sauce, and serve after the pasta course. Buon Appetito!
Along with a take-home packet with the recipes, we received a Citta del Gusto apron. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and would recommend it to anyone who understands Italian or has a friend that can help you with translations. Thanks Bonnie for organizing our cooking class and for helping with the translation. Be sure to check out Bonnie's post of our Neapolitan Sauces Cooking Class, too! She has a great video on pomodorini del piennolo di Vesuvio.
Bonnie and I took a cab. We picked up a taxi at the taxi stand in Piazza dei Martiri, in the Chiaia district, and it dropped us off right in front of the school. When class was over Bonnie called for a cab, which dropped us along Via Chiaia. Going there, the cab cost 15 euros and the return trip was 13 euros. The cab ride took around 20 minutes each way. As our class let out about 10:30pm and the streets were empty at the time, I was happy to get door to door service.
With a little extra effort, you can get there by public transportation: From Naples Stazione Centrale, take the Metro Line 2 and exit at Campi Flegrei. Near the Metro exit is Piazzale Tecchio. From there take buses C1 or R7 and exit the bus at via Coroglio. The stop is Citta della Scienza-Fondazione Idis. You can always ask the bus driver to let you know when you arrive at the stop. (Public transportation directions are according to Citta del Gusto.)