A Neapolitan Guest Cook

Oct 6, 2015

This weekend, Opera Memphis will be performing Pagliacci.

Credit Jennifer Chandler

In addition to the talented Opera Memphis favorites, Neapolitan powerhouse Marco Nistico will be joining the cast in the role of Tonio.


When I heard that Marco is also a great cook, I just had to talk to him about Neapolitan cuisine.


“Naples is known for pizza of course but I would like to share a dish that my grandmother used to make for me. The dish is called Genovese. The name Genovese means literally from Genoa but in fact is somebody’s name from Naples.”


Not surprisingly, Genovese is a pasta dish. “It’s a ragu made with lots and lots of onions and meat. And there are no tomatoes which is something very uncommon in Naples.”


Marco explained to me that this dish made from a chuck roast is traditionally served as a weekend meal since it simmers for such a long time … a whole 3 to 4 hours!


When browning the roast, “Most people do it with pancetta. Traditionally it’s done with Salami. But definitely do not use bacon because we never have the smoky flavor in Neapolitan dishes.”


“To get the right sauce and the right look you need to put enough olive oil. Never be afraid of olive oil.” Marco says that you should be able to see the sheen of the oil in the sauce.


As for the pasta …“Traditionally people in Naples make it with Ziti but you can use any kind of short pasta.” Marco often uses rigatoni.


“In Naples, we set the roast aside, we make the sauce, and we eat it with the pasta. And then we eat the roast, sliced, as a secondo.”


This is Jennifer Chandler with The Weekly Dish. Buon appetito!


Pagliacci is October 9 & 10 at Germantown Performing Arts Center

Tickets can be purchased at operamemphis.org or by calling 901.202.4533.


Featuring some of the most famous tunes in the operatic canon, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci has thrilled audiences for over a century with its potent mix of love, lust, and murder.


Before the show, they will have a few local food trucks at GPAC so patrons can have a bite to eat.


After the show, Opera Memphis is hosting an event called the Festa Napoletana! Styled after a Neapolitan street festival, it will feature circus performers, magicians, snacks, dessert trucks, wandering serenaders and more!



Marco’s Ragu Genovese


Serves 4-6


  • Olive oil
  • 1 to 2 pounds yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 pound beef chuck roast
  • 3 ounces pancetta, salami, or prosciutto
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 box (1 pound/16-ounce) ziti (or other short pasta), cooked as per package directions


Cover the bottom of a large pot with a generous amount of olive oil and warm over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and the beef and brown on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the meat from the pot and reserve on a plate.


Add the celery and carrots. Sauté slightly, about 5 minutes. Return the meat and its juices to the pot. Add all the onion and stir to combine. Cover, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 1 ½ hours, or until the onions have shed all their water.


Raise the heat to medium and add the wine, 1/3 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Cover again, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook for another 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the sauce until its creamy, dark, and dense and the meat is fork tender. Turn the meat once in a while. You may have to add a bit of water to keep it from drying out.


Remove the meat from the sauce and set aside, keeping warm.


Serve the sauce over hot pasta with parmiggiano reggiano (no cheap substitute, please).


Eat the meat after, sliced like a roast, as a secondo. Marco suggests serving with some broccoli rabe sautéed.


Recipe printed with permission from Marco Nistico.