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.
|Elisia Menduni (Gazzetta Gastronomica) warms up Scarselli's sauce|
|Signora Angelina and Mauriio Cortese|
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.
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.