The secret to the best ragú in Naples
Traditionally the domain of la nonna, the team of young entrepreneurs behind Tandem are serving the most soul stirring ragú or "Sunday gravy" to be found anywhere in Naples.
Read the February issue of Kathy McCabe's Dream of Italy Newsletter for my article about how to snag a table and what's best on the menu at each one of their 5 locations. One of the Tandem location focuses on braciole, while a different one serves the most perfect meatballs. If you're out carousing in Naples, there's a Tandem with a to-go option and a special sandwich to satisfy your midnight hunger. Know before you go!
A lifelong devotee of homemade ragú, I began to obsess over what in particular makes Tandem's version so good. Certainly good tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil of Vesuvius played a part as did good quality pork shoulder which I could easily get in New York on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
But there was something else. I tinkered for a few Sundays in a row until I discovered...Tomato paste. About double the amount of tomato paste you'll find in any other ragú recipe. It's what creates the sharp acidity and deep Pompeiian red of Tandem's ragú.
Here is my recipe for a simple ragú. The more meat you add will change the flavor as well as the type of meat. (Meatballs, braciole, cutica, etc,.) This recipe serves as a base on which you can then improvise and includes extra tomato paste to make it taste most like Tandem's extraordinary ragú.
Ragú or "Sunday Gravy Recipe
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves
1 medium bone-in pork shoulder with fat
Two 28-oz. cans whole crushed tomatoes. I prefer to use Pomi tomatoes that come in cardboard containers. Otherwise, make sure to use BPA free cans.
1 tube of tomato paste
1 tablespoon Turkish oregano or wild Calabrian oregano (Most oregano in American grocery stores is Mexican and lacks the flavor of Mediterranean oregano.)
Cover the bottom of a large pot or dutch oven with a quarter of an inch of the olive oil. Peel the garlic and smash it with the side of your knife. Add to the oil and place the pot over a very low flame. Use a wooden spoon to move the garlic through the oil to season it as it becomes soft and translucent (about five minutes) and then remove and discard.
Raise the flame to medium and add your pork shoulder. Let it brown, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
Add the crushed tomatoes right over the pork shoulder and stir with a wooden spoon to combine the tomatoes with the oil and fat from the pork. Stir slowly and add the oregano. Once warm add the entire tube of tomato paste and stir to combine once again.
Cover the pot and turn the flame down to the lowest possible whisper. Let it cook for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.
Return to the pot and use a spoon to remove the ribbons of fat oil that have risen to the top. Stir once again letting the chunks of meat fall into the sauce. Serve over pasta or with a "scarpetta", a hunk of bread nicknamed "little shoe" in Italian.