Saturday, June 30, 2012

'A Pasta -Part 2 - Il Ragù Times Three

Il Ragù.  The classic Neapolitan pasta sauce that is served with the traditional family Sunday lunch.  So what was I doing in Gragnano on a late Saturday afternoon trying not one, not two, but three different ragu sauces?. I was attending a discussion on the big red led by Maurizio Cortese of Gazzetta Gastronomica.  Cortese began by quoting a popular film Sabato, Domenica, e Lunedi, starring Sofia Loren.  A classic which I have seen several times.  There is a scene in particular where Sofia is at the butcher shop one Saturday afternoon waiting to purchase the right cuts of meat for her traditional recipe.  A heated, and somewhat comical, debate begins between Sofia and the other housewives shopping for their recipe.  Which cuts to buy, which town has the true recipe, the best recipe etc.
So here I was, the Chiostro di San Leone, with Cortese and three cooks who he had invited to share their stories, their ideas, and their sauces that Saturday late afternoon.

First, Riccardo Scarselli.  Scarselli, owner of Il Bikini in Vico Equense swears he is not a chef.  He considers himself a bagnino, a beach attendant. Ok, but one who back in 1994, out of curiosity, decided to play around with ingredients to make his ragù sauce.

Riccardo Scarselli
After trial and error, he believes that he has found the right combination which includes meats, braciole (rolled thin slices of pork), pork ribs and cheek.  The perfect onions-white ones from Montoro, a town in Avellino. And the right pot-it must be copper. He makes his own tomato concentrate using San Marzano tomatoes. Scarselli uses lard in addition to extra virgin olive oil.
Elisia Menduni (Gazzetta Gastronomica) warms up  Scarselli's  sauce

Then the careful eye, patience, and experience for this slow cooking sauce to reach the right point.  Il ragù secondo Riccardo, Ragu according to Riccardo.  He likes his sauce thick, dark red/almost brown. He likes it when the  meat and sauce have pratically become one.
Riccardo's ragù
After a bowl of Riccardo's sauce, served with a thick slice of bread, it was time for Cortese to introduce Signora Angelina Ceriello of E' Curti  in San Anastasia (Na).  Signora Angelina, who, Cortese informed us, will celebrate 60 years of service in her restaurant's small kitchen on the 12th of Septmenber.  Soft-spoken Signora Angelina, small herself, brought a large pot of ragù cooked just the way she likes it, and her customers as well.

Signora Angelina and Mauriio Cortese

Angelina's sauce

In Angelina's sauce, she also sticks with pork pieces such as the muscle, pancetta, and gallenelle, the part above the thighs.  She uses her hoemade tomato sauce, no onions, and extra virgin olive oil.  During cooler months, she adds more meat such as sausages, and cotiche, stuffed pork skinsThe aromas that came from the pot were amazing.  And when served in a bowl with a piece of bread and a tender piece of slow cooked pork?  Hard not to imagine this sauce with a plate of pasta cooked al dente, firm.

Cortese was ready to present his final panelist.  One whose sauce he knows very well, a sauce prepared by his wife Cristina Lontananza.  Cristina learned the basics of her recipe like many other Neapolitans, from her mother.  Then over the years added what she wanted and deleted what she didn't.
Cristina Lontananza
Lontananza's ragù

Lontananza also believes strongly in what meat she chooses for her sauce.  Braciole, stuffed with pine nuts, uvette (dried grapes) parsley, garlic and cheese is a must.  Then cotiche, pork ribs, and sausage if she has some on hand.  In her version she uses canned San Marzano tomatoes, onions, extra virgin olive oil, and experience, patience and care.

By the end of the afternoon, we had tasted three sauces, heard three stories.  The stories, like the sauces, were special, different, and unique.  Just like the three people who presented them; Riccardo Scarselli, Angelina Ceriello, and Cristina Lontananza.


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