Ragù Around Italy

Ragu alla bolognese may be the most famous meat sauce in Italy, but other ragus have similarly deep roots in other parts of the country.

Ragu alla bolognese may be the most famous meat sauce in Italy, but other ragus (which are sometimes called sugos) have similarly deep roots in other parts of the country. One of the most distinctive hails from Naples; ragu alla napoletana is a thick, robust tomato-based sauce cooked for hours with large chunks of beef and pork, including shoulder pieces, pork ribs, meatballs, fresh and cured sausages, and plenty of bones, which not only flavor the sauce but also lend it body. Legend has it that this hefty dish was perfected by the doormen of Naples's apartment buildings, who would tend their slowly simmering pots between other duties over the course of their workday. When the sauce is finished, the meat is removed and served on its own, and the thick sauce is tossed with hard durum wheat pasta of various shapes, from tubular penne rigate to spaghetti. Finally, the dish is showered with grated cheese, most often a pungent sheep's milk variety. There are countless other ragus in the southern region, including Sicilian and Calabrian versions made with meaty fish like tuna and swordfish. Unlike their counterparts in the north of Italy, virtually all southern ragus are heavy on tomatoes, which were embraced by local cooks after the ingredient was introduced to the country in the 16th century. In Campania, the region of which Naples is the capital, pulpy san marzano tomatoes, which grow prolifically there, are the favored choice for ragu. In other parts of Italy, the type of meat is often the distinguishing characteristic of the sauce. In the province of Verona, for example, horse meat is a traditional ingredient, and Tuscans and Umbrians are partial to game, including duck, hare, and wild boar. Roman versions are often seasoned with cured meats and served with fettuccine. And in Abruzzo and Molise, two regions that sit adjacent to each other in the east-central part of the country, ragus of lamb and pork are the norm; they're often flavored with herbs and served with pasta that's been cut with a guitar-shaped device called a chitarra, which creates rough edges to which the sauce clings beautifully.