Taking prime place as the first recipe with history to be featured is Ziti
alla Genovese, which hails not from Genoa but Naples, Campania, Italy.
Maybe a little misleading, but behind that name lies the story, from the 1300s.
Along with the city-states of Genoa, Venice and Amalfi, Naples was one of the most notable members of the Maritime republics of Italy, long before it was Italy. The city-states collaborated in trade and defence, which meant that Genovese sailors (from Genoa) were often in the port of Naples and would end up in the taverns of Naples for meals. It is a hearty dish that would have provided good sustenance at a good price.
At the time, Naples food was based on inexpensive, accessible local
ingredients such as onions, celery, carrots and cheap cuts of meat, with local white wine. Tomatoes had not yet arrived from America, so the sauces were “white.” In fact, Naples was the first to use tomatoes in a recipe, but hundreds of years later, sometime after 1700, and from there, spread around Italy.
I would love to say that I came across this dish in Naples, but alas, I haven’t been there yet. Instead, I came across it by watching Sandra Rosy Lotti prepare it on video on Facebook, live from Toscana Saporita, her cooking school near Viareggio, Tuscany.
The basic recipe is below, but please watch Sandra as she takes us through the steps, providing commentary on the dish, and as she makes the dish, as she says, “pure poetry.” Her passion for being
authentic and true to the recipe also adds to the pleasure of making and eating the dish.
In keeping with being authentic, I made a list of possible white wines from Campania (use any white Campania wine, she said…) and then went to the LCBO in Toronto with the Destination Italy collection looking for Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, where I purchased 2 different Falanghina wines. It was not until I got home, that
I realized one was from Puglia! Should I be fanatic and just drink it, or use it because it was the right grape?
Since it’s a five-hour recipe, in Naples it was traditionally made for Sunday, as everyone was home for the day. I decided in winter in Canada, any day is good, more so in the middle of a snowstorm. But being winter, it was hard to find the right onions, so I used the only brown-skinned ones that were available.
Don’t ask me how I withstood that incredible smell for the full 5 hours or so of cooking time. It definitely tested my patience. I did taste the sauce once halfway through – good to compare it to the final taste, right?
Watching the videos helps a lot with following the steps of the recipe, answering my questions of consistency, and what it should look like at each stage.
When I eat it, I will imagine myself in a dark, noisy, boisterous tavern in Naples, with a huge appetite gained from having spent the day on the sea.
(Photo and video credits to Toscana Saporita. If you are considering attending a cooking school in Italy, Toscana Saporita is a great choice!)
Ziti alla Genovese
2 pounds Montoro onions (or copper covered onions) – diced
1 celery heart stalk with leaves – finely minced
1 medium carrot – finely diced
1 pound of beef – shank, the eye of the round, belly or chuck – large cubed
½ half-cup dry white wine – from Campania!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pecorino Romano cheese for grating
Follow along with Sandra Rosy Lotti as she makes this dish, Note: the ratio of onions to meat is 2:1.
Generously cover the bottom of the pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add celery, carrots and onions.
Add sea salt.
Cook over low medium heat, stirring frequently (so they don’t stick or burn) for 15-20 minutes or so until the onions reduce and have turned
Add meat and wine and cover.
Cover over low heat for 5 hours, stirring frequently.
Cook until nice and partially roasted, breaking up the meat when you stir.
When the sauce is done, cook the ziti per instructions on its package until al dente. Add them to the pan with the sauce with a bit of water and cook until ready, to how you like it.
Put ziti with sauce on the plate and grate some black pepper on top.
Top with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
And here you have the final result.
Say cheers to Sandra with a nice glass of wine from Campania and Enjoy!!