Throughout the years that my wife and I have been together, I have loved the times where I’ve busted out a dish with which I grew up, only to have her give me that “Holy Shit!” sort of look that one gets when tasting something unforgettable and required regularly from that point forward. What titillates me even more is that she lived in Italy for some months, studying abroad in Florence, so she is far from naive about Italian food, having indulged in her travels. She was there and I’ve never been. But I got the father from the old country, so I have some tricks up my sleeve that travelers might not get to experience. Genoise, a pasta sauce made primarily of onions flavored with beef, is one such dish.
Genoise, or Pasta Genovese, is as Neopolitan as it gets. I have never learned why it’s called Genovese after the city of Genoa. I know that my nonna was originally from Genoa, and she made this often, and she taught my mom to make it regularly as well. But the region of Campania, of which Naples is a big part, claims this dish as their own. I doubt my nonna was the reason for this, but she would probably claim it if she were alive, the tough, proud lady that she was. In any case, this is yet another dish I had every week or two until I was a big boy. I have never made it for anyone except my wife, and I know of no one outside of my family who has tasted it. Of course, I’m from California, so first generation Italians are about as common as nuns at a rodeo. In New Jersey or New York, many probably know Genoise.
I learned to make Genoise from my mom and my pop both. As usual, there is a book I have read, called Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz (http://www.amazon.com/Naples-at-Table-Cooking-Campania/dp/006018261X). The first time I read this book, it validated that my family is indeed from Naples because it has a great deal of the recipes I have enjoyed since I could hold a fork. One of its recipes for Genoise is almost identical to my family’s. It’s peasant food. It means to take the little meat a family could afford and make it go a long way to feed everyone, which is what Italians do best. It’s good for you, too. Besides the fat on the meat flavoring the dish, no oil or butter is used to make this, just good ingredients and love.
Without further ado, I give you a taste of me and my family (not literally, of course).
Genoise or Pasta Genovese
Serves 4 to 6
2 lbs. chuck steak, or a chuck roast tied (you can use stew meat, too, if you’re in a pinch)
4 lbs. onions (yes, 4 lbs.), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 12 to 14 cups)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper (freshly ground always kicks everything else in the nuts, you know)
2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, or 2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
8 cups water
1 cup dry white wine (I used flat, dry sparkling wine, which is wonderful)
1 tbsp. tomato paste
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. ziti or penne, cooked to your liking
Lots of parmigiano (parmesan, wise guy)
Place the meat on the bottom of a big ol’ dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot that can hold 8 to 10 quarts. Surround and cover this meat with the onions, carrot, celery, salt, pepper, parsley, marjoram, and the 8 cups o’ water. It looks like this before I put in the rest of the onions and the water:
Get this to a slow boil, lower the heat to medium/ medium-low, and simmer it steadily, uncovered, for about 3 hours. Stir it every 20 minutes and turn the beef so that it cooks evenly.
After three hours, most of the liquid will be evaporated, and the meat should be somewhat tender. The onions will be very broken down and silky looking. Remove the meat to a separate dish and keep it warm (like, cover it in foil, dude).
With the pot full of the onions, raise the heat to medium high and add the white wine. Boil this and stir it often for about 10 minutes until the wine evaporates (and thus leaves the sauce with its kisses). Continue to boil this for another 10 to 20 minutes and stir it almost constantly. When it’s done, it should be thick enough to where you can almost see the bottom of the pan when you run a spoon through the sauce. Add the tomato paste when it’s like this and stir it for another minute or two.
Taste for salt. I usually add another 1/2 teaspoon or so. Add lots of black pepper to taste.
Spoon the sauce over the pasta and serve with more pepper and parmigiano. Slice the meat and serve it on the side with some of the onion sauce on it. It should look like this:
And thus I share with you a bit of my life and heritage. Welcome to a bit of true Neopolitan cooking and enjoy.
Acqua fresca, vino puro,
Fica stretta, cazzo duro.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013