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Anna Maria’s Ziti Alla Genovese
September 2023
Reading time 1 Minute

Make this pasta with stewed beef from Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking

I am often asked how we find our grandmothers, and the answer is: we ask everyone - from mayors to hotel receptionists - if they can suggest a nonna. In this case, the Pasta Grannies team were staying in a rented apartment in Naples and the host's mum, Anna Maria, turned out to be a Pasta Granny. This recipe of Anna's is a typical Sunday lunch for Neapolitans. 'Think of the sauce as onions with meat,' Anna Maria explained. 'And the onions are important. Ideally they should be the Montoro variety (grown in the Avellino area of Campania) or the Tropea onion. These are fragrant red onions. And you must select beef cuts which you can cook for hours.' Here is her recipe, cooked against a backdrop of a ruined temple, surrounded and hidden by worse-for-wear blocks of flats.
Preparation Time
30 minutes, plus 2½ hours braising
  • For the pasta
  • 400g ziti or other dry pasta such as penne, paccheri, rigatoni
  • For the sauce
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 600g stewing beef, cut into 5 cm chunks
  • 1kg or 4 large red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • Water or beef stock, as required
  • Salt
  • To Serve
  • Grated pecorino
  • Black pepper

Pour a slug of olive oil into a large casserole dish (in the old days it would have been earthenware, which is better for a gentle braise). Heat this over a medium heat for a couple of minutes then start browning the beef a few pieces at a time.

Once all the beef pieces have a bit of colour, return them to the pan along with the vegetables. Season with salt, drop in the bay leaf, give everything a good stir and pour in the wine. Cover and braise the vegetables and meat for about three hours. Check the mixture regularly and if it starts to stick, add a little water or beef stock. What you are aiming for is a creamy onion sauce, and beef so soft you can cut it with a fork. Shred the meat if you like, or alternatively remove it to serve as a second course.

Ziti are long, so break them in half. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for the time stated on the packet. 

Drain the pasta thoroughly. Place it in a large bowl and mix it well with the onion and beef sauce. Let everyone add their own cheese and pepper if they like it.

Note: No-one knows why a pasta dish from Naples is named after the city of Genova. There are lots of theories; for example, there were lots of Genovese chefs working in Naples in the 15th century.

Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking by Vicky Bennison (Hardie Grant, £22) Photography: Lizzie Mayson 

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