The neapolitan Ragù (proun. [raˈɡu]) is certainly one of the fundamental dishes from Napoli’s cooking tradition. It is the typical dish to be eaten on Sunday. It isn’t simply “carne c’ ‘a pummarola” (meat & tomato sauce), like Neapolitan theatrical actor and director Eduardo de Filippo said the Ragù takes much time to be perfect…much time. It has to be cooked for many hours to reach that characteristic solidity and strong taste, it has to “pippiare” how the Neapolitans say. In fact, tradionally the Ragù is prepared during saturday night to be ready for the lunch of Sunday, with a slow heat in a pan of clay and with a wooden spoon.
THE RAGU’ TODAY
But nowdays, in the lighter preparation, also four-five hours are sufficient. The fundamental ingredients of the Ragù are the tomato sauce, added in onions browned after softly frying them with extra-virgin oil. In Naples the Ragù has to be directly prepared with beef meat , which is the perfect second course together with the ziti or candele spezzate pasta. If you taste the Ragù, forget the good manners, the “scarpetta” is a must, so tast last sauce in the dish with a piece of bread! A simple dish but with an unique taste.
‘O rraù is not a recipe, but an ancestral symbol, a ritual that goes from gastronomy to the most authentic bond that unites the Neapolitan people with its own food.
There are two things that are synonymous with Easter in Napoli – Pastiera – the ricotta and wheat based pie that is like a cheesecake on steroids and its equally indulgent antithesis – the rustic and savoury Casatiello Napoletano. Think of them as the yin and the yang or the Adam and Eve of the Neapolitan Easter table.
A type of rustico, or a rustic bread, Casatiello is hardy, filling, and oh so satisfying. Something I would think of more as a comfort food for the cold, wet days of winter, here it is nevertheless a symbol of spring. Made only for the Easter holiday, its brother Tòrtano however is made year round.
Two breads cut from the same dough, the only difference between them – hard-boiled eggs. Perhaps symbolic of creation, I can only guess the addition of eggs to Casatiello render it suitable only for the Easter holiday. Made in a round pan similar to an American bundt pan, the shape is said to symbolize the crown of thorns.
The recipe dates to at least the 1600s and they say, the Napoletani that is, that it is not Casatiello without sugna (or strutto in Italian) – pork fat/lard. Served as part of the antipasti on Easter day, it tastes even better the next day, Pasquetta – Easter Monday.
The first step in any good Casatiello? The ingredients.
Flour, lievito – fresh yeast sold in little cubes, water, salt, pepper, and most importantly, sugna for the dough. Hard boiled eggs and an assortment of salumi and cheese inside.
To make Casatiello with 1 kg flour we recommended “un mezzo chilo di misto,” – a 1/2 kg of assorted salumi and cheese. For our Casatiello we chopped up some ciccioli, capicollo, salame napoletano, and pancetta coppata. Pecorino cheese is typically used but this time we are using a Caciotta di Avellino.
For the dough 1 kg flour plus extra for rolling the dough. 300 ml Water. 1 cake (.6 oz) fresh yeast or one package or 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast. Warm water. Salt and pepper. About 4 tbsp of lard for the dough plus more for coating the dough.
For the filling 1/2 kg assorted salumi and cheese. 6 hard-boiled eggs.
Pour flour onto a work surface. Mix in salt and a very generous amount of pepper. Add yeast (if you are using active dry yeast you will need to dissolve it in about 1/2 cup warm water first). Add water a little bit at a time, working it in until a soft dough begins to form. Add the lard and work it completely into the dough. Continue working the dough, adding water as needed until the dough is just slightly damp and very elastic. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise 2 hr or more.
Meanwhile chop the salumi and cheese Boil and chop the eggs and add them to the salumi mixture
After the dough has risen one hour, flour the work surface and roll it out into a large rectangular form.
Spread the salumi mixture across the length of the dough starting near the bottom of the dough.
Roll the dough up like a cigar, pinch the edges and coat them with lard.
Bring the ends together to form a circular shape.
Grease the Casatiello pan with lard, work the dough into the pan and generously coat the top of the dough with lard.
Cover and let rise 3 hours.
Bake at 180º C for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.