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Pasta for the Sopranos

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How I convinced Switzerland's top custom installer to come and fix my home cinema the next day with a promise of homemade maccheroni with real Neapolitan ragł.

«This woman is so large she's got ragł in her veins.» said one of Tony Soprano's soldiers before my screen went black. After two hours fiddling with the cables I had to admit outside help was needed. I called my friend Pasquale, a Swiss of Italian descent who does media rooms for the Swiss chalets of Russian tycoons and Supreme Court judges down to the small guy like myself. Pasquale was the only hope of seeing the rest of my beloved Sopranos.

«Earliest I can come is middle of next month» he said. No way I can wait two weeks, but he lives a 100 miles from me, a long drive in Switzerland. I needed to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. I called him back an hour later and said:

«I fix you homemade maccheroni al ragł, with real ragł like in Napoli?» I asked him.

«Madonna! I come tonight.», he said.

The ragł takes me 7 hours to make so we agreed that he would come tomorrow. Tonight I prepared the first stage of the ragł, hoping to lure him to my house tomorrow so that he can fix my home cinema.

Use the largest saucepan you own on the strongest burner in your kitchen. Neapolitan tradition calls for the use of a terracota pot but they are difficult to care for and have a small surface. A large saucepan will enable you to brown the tomato concentrate much faster. Here I use a professional frying pan a friend bought from Greuze, a cult restaurant in Tournus, and placed it on my three-ring Gaggenau burner. Serious cookware, but don't let this turn you off - you can do the same at home. Ragł is a dish Neapolitan mamas cook in dusty courtyards, not some elite restaurant dish.

Brown gently the finely chopped garlic, onion and bacon in a tablespoon of olive oil. I recommend guanciale (seasoned pig jowl) or pancetta if you can find them.

Prepare your cans of tomato concentrate. Neapolitan chefs do use canned tomato concentrate. They even have a dialectal word for it, la buat [lah booaht] if this can help you accept canned condiment into your gourmet kitchen. You can do your own tomato concentrate, but do not use fresh tomatoes.

Traditionally the tomato concentrate is added teaspoon by teaspoon, but in a large saucepan on a strong fire you can definitely use more at a time. Here I used six 70-grams/2-oz cans in two stages. Spoon the concentrate on top of the fried garlic-onion-bacon.

Add a glass of water so that all ingredients mix together in a nice bubbling liquid. If you didn't do this you would have a small red hill of tomato concentrate that will gradually turn brown at the base. Only by diluting the concentrate can you brown it homogeneously.

Increase the fire to the hottest setting and use a paddle to turn the ragł constantly so that every particle gets in contact with the hot frying pan long enough to reduce and brown but not too long so that it doesn't burn. What we do here is increase the flavor of the tomatoes by browning them (the Maillard reactions). Abscond for 5 minutes and the ragł will brown.

After a few minutes your ragł will have reduced by half and turned three shades darker. Just how dark you can get before burning is a matter of experience and guts. Be cautious and don't take the risk of burning the sauce when you make this the first time. If the dish is a success you'll want to do it again and again, and you'll have opportunities to try for a darker ragł then.

Now is the most magical moment. The dark, shrivelled mixture will be brought back to life with a glass of water. like the alchemist working on the Opus Nigrum, where the black crow presides on putrefying the flesh only to bring it back in an higher stage of consciousness, the chef now revives the sauce with fresh water. The sauce swells, expands and becomes a luscious velvety dark ruby mass one with the water.

Add the rest of the concentrate and mix vigorously until you have one homogeneous mass. Reduce again like before.

Make sure that you don't scrape the black burnt bits of sauce on the sides of the frying pan. They would turn the sauce bitter.

The first stage is now complete with all the tomato concentrate thoroughly browned. Let it thicken and transfer to a Dutch oven or another heavy-bottomed lidded pot designed for simmering.

The fearsome bubbling of the tomato paste will not leave your kitchen undamaged. Clean the many droplets of tomato with a wet towel before they dry out.

In the same frying pan briefly brown the veal roast on all sides with a tablespoon olive oil.

Dilute the ragł with 3 cups water, mix well and in this dark bed of ruby gently lay down the roast.

You can add a piece of pig skin to simmer with the ragł. I removed this bit from the piece of guanciale I used above.

The ragł will now simmer for a good 2 hours or until the roast is cooked through. It is usually considered bad practice to add spices before simmering for so long as this would bring out bitter humors like oversteeped tea. Some Italian cooks still add finely chopped basil to their tomato sauces in the early stages and this what I did. For the same reason, salt but do not pepper at this stage.

The meat releases tasty juices throughout the cooking, as you can see from the ring left in the sauce after you remove it (top right).

The fate of the roast is one of the mysteries of Neapolitan cooking. It is not eaten with the dish. You just serve it later or in a different meal. The whole purpose of this piece of meat is to transfer its juices and flavor to the pasta sauce. It has no other role in this dish.

Although my friend Pascuale is due to come tomorrow night, I was not going to cook for 3 hours and starve. With a couple eggs and durum wheat semolina, I prepared short mezzanelli, a smooth tubular pasta.

I plunged my mezzanelli in a large pot of boiling salted water. No oil at this stage no matter what non-Italian cookbooks say!

After about 60 seconds my fresh-dried pasta is cooked. I make my pasta mix very dry and the resulting pasta has just as much bite as bought dried pasta. But it tastes infinitely better!

The ragł had 'only' cooked for 3 hours, but I served myself a generous helping nonetheless.

Here are the mezzanelli al ragł with a little freshly grated caciocavallo cheese and basil on top. Happiness is definitely in the kitchen tonight! You go check at the graveyard if they serve pasta like this. They don't and you'd rather have one for the road.

That is all for tonight. The ragł will have to simmer for a further 4 hours tomorrow. But will Pascuale come and fix my media room? And if he comes, will he like my ragł? What if he can't fix my problem, will I still serve him my ragł? Check my next article for the answer - in pictures.



  • #1
  • Comment by parshu naryanan
Interesting technique of reducing in oil and adding water (reminds me somewhat of curry gravy cooking). But OMG, what a mouth-watering dish and that home made pasta - it looks scrumptious. I have an intense craving for Italian food right now, I'm calling the wife and heading to a restaurant even though anything there will be a shallow substitute to this. The least Mr Pascuale can do is boot up your home theatre FX.
  • #2
  • Comment by Steamy Kitchen
Oh my. That just looks divine.  Will try the sauce next week.
  • #3
  • Comment by around
Delicious! BTW, the name of your friend is PasQuale, ciao ciao from Rome, Italy
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Thanks a lot for your correction, indeed it is Pasquale and not Pascuale!
  • #5
  • Comment by David
Hi, is this site from the same person who runs the learning languages website?Anyway, get back to me, I wanted to comment on some things and ask question.thanks,dave
  • #6
  • Comment by Luke
Oh my. I thought maybe I'd unwind this weekend (after having romped around Poland visiting family for Easter) with a grander FX recipe than mere broccoli. And so I stumbled upon this gem. I reverently followed this guide as if it were the Magnum Opus itself, albeit with storebought (but not dry) orecchiette. The result? Well, let's just say that if I were to die tonight, it would be a most happy death. And I probably will die tonight - I did hog the kitchen all day, after all. Many thanks, FX!
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
Luke, thanks for trying this recipe and I am glad it worked for you! I made a different version last week, shorter to cook and with a lighter taste, but rest assured, every bit as caloricious. Please don't die just yet, I will try to post it soon, it takes only about 20 minutes to cook!
  • #8
  • Comment by Luke
Well, no dark assassin came to me after my campaign in the kitchen, so all is good in my world. I'd definitely love to see your 20-minute variant on the sauce. Can't go wrong with a quick fix.
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Luke, I tried to find the sausage to make the quicker ragł version but no joy so far. I'll see tomorrow at the market, there is a grocer from Calabria with astonishing sausages!
  • #10
  • Comment by Luke
Ah, I think I see what you're getting at. What kind of sausage is it, if I may ask? Finding *anything* beyond standard Polish and German fare around here requires a bit of detective work.
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
Luke, you might try with good quality bacon, or do the sausage yourself, it's not has hard as it sounds, although clearly it gets harder as it dries.
  • #12
  • Comment by Luke
Bacon you say? Pancetta should do, I think. As for sausage, making it is a bit out of my capacity for the time being (nice pun, by the way!), but a friend did get me a nice cured chorizo while he was in Spain, so I think that would do as well. Thanks for the tips. I'll be sure to try my hand at a 20-minute ragł.
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
Luke I have shot and written the quick ragł recipe, it should be published next week! A nice chorizo should work just fine.
  • #14
  • Comment by Luke
Wonderful! What a nice thing to hear at the week's end. Many deep thanks, FX!
  • #15
  • Comment by Margaret
Thank you so much for these recipes. I have made the Napolitano ragu a few times and it has been a *huge* hit with my friends. I confess I made a small revision by adding about a tablespoon of sugar (or honey) to the second and third efforts, and I think it lends a nice unobtrusive balance to tomato/wine combination. Next up: chocolate rago!  
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
Margaret, the sugar is used even in Italy to balance acidity, but really just a pinch can often nearly be too much. The chocolate ragł is to die for, but no need to die as it is ready in just under an hour!
  • #17
  • Comment by paul
Is the tomato concentrate you are using(Parmo Doro) the same thing as tomato paste they sell here in the state?  This sauce looks awesome!!
  • #18
  • Answered by fx
Paul, I am not sure what sort of tomato concentrate is available in your area, but here we get lots of different types, not all good. Try to go for double or triple concentrate, if possible from Italy. Don“t use cheap industrial concentrate. If in doubt you can make it yourself by pureeing the tomatoes, filtering, then bake at low temperature in the oven until most water has evaporated. Good luck!
Necesito saber donde compraste tu mįquina para fabricar los Mezzanelli ( pasta tubular), porque donde yo vivo que es Chile (Sudamerica) no existe en este pais y yo puedo importarla, ya que me fascinó la receta.

Marķa José
  • FX's answer→ Marķa José, este es una maquina Kenwood de Inglaterra, la puedes comprar a travčs de Ebay por ejemplo.

  • #21
  • Comment by Eduardo (futuro chef internacional)
gran reseta es interesante la agradesco mucho
  • FX's answer→ Gracias Eduardo y buena suerte para tu futura carrera!

  • #23
  • Comment by John C. Campbell III
Wow! which machine? and what dough recipe did you follow??? I just got an Atlas Regina and used 4 egg yolks and 1 lb. Semolina, (unfortunately I didn't let it rest long enough and while it tasted good? if was tough as shoe leather and stuck to each other as it fell off of the die when cut. jccampb@gmail.com
  • #24
  • Comment by Steve Brown
I happened on your website looking for pasta sauce recipes. I have made the ragu bolognese and look forward to trying several others including this ragu. Could you tell me the proportions of garlic, onion, and bacon you used? Thanks, and keep up the good work.
  • #25
  • Comment by Alexei
Hi, FX. Looking at your culinary excursions for two years. But still decided to write only now after reading about the pasta for Sopranos. "Eros and tanatos" as Ancient Greeks says are the most things people think about. Good food we can add. I was realy amaized reading your comparision to Great Work in this recipe, because me myself accepted that this things are very close to each other. I thought about it before but you are the first man I know who voiced this. You must have a good library. Write directly.

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