I could spend a lifetime cooking regional Italian dishes and still not get more than an inch deep. The variations of ingredients and techniques are a never-ending journey that brings immense pleasure and satisfaction to discover.
There is a fantastic vintage cookbook from Elizabeth David, simply titled Italian Food that offers not just an exploration of the many regional cuisines but with it the history of individual dishes and wine pairing suggestions. Published in 1960, Elizabeth David was a pioneer in revealing the depth of Italian and French food (her other book focused on the latter) to the world of home and professional chefs.
The Neopolitan dish that I recently prepared is the focus of my post tonight. Pasta Rustica is a centuries old dish from Naples that delivers a meat infused gravy that sticks to pasta like glue. Normally you would serve rigatoni pasta but I didn’t have any in the pantry so I used fusilli. Good is good.
There are many ways to prepare this dish and if you have a version that works for you, go with it. The advantage of age old dishes is that they survive many modifications. My particular version relies on a large chuck roast cooked slowly to break down and deliver a shredded beef texture.
2 lb. chuck roast
4 oz. pancetta
4 oz. salami
2 carrot, coarse dice
2 ribs celery, coarse dice
3 tbs tomato paste
3 large yellow onions
2 tbs anchovy paste
4 cups water
2 tbs marjoram, fresh is better but dried is fine
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan Romano cheese
salt and pepper
Cut the chuck roast into quarters and season liberally with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a food processor pulse the pancetta and salami to a fine paste, add the carrot and celery and pulse until incorporated with a fine texture. Heat a Dutch oven on medium heat until the bottom of the pan develops bits and crust, approximately 7-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes to develop the rich tomato flavor.
At this point add the anchovy paste and mix thoroughly. The anchovy paste will pull out the rich beef flavor of the other ingredients. If you don’t have anchovy paste, use some Worchestershire sauce… it’s also made from anchovies.
Add the 4 cups of water and 1/2 cup of white wine, and scrape up the crust that has developed on the bottom of the pan. Pulse the onions in a food processor to a fine dice and add to the Dutch oven. You may need to process the onions in two batches to avoid liquifying them.
Add the beef quarters to the Dutch oven, pushing each piece down into the liquid. Cook uncovered in a 300 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours, minimum. I cook this uncovered to help reduce the sauce as the meat is cooking. This gravy is thick and the onions, combined with the 4 cups of water, is a lot of liquid to cook down. I cut the chuck roast into quarters to help it cook to the point that I can shred the meat, and a single large chuck roast would likely take 3 1/2 hours to cook.
The meat is finished cooking when a fork slides effortlessly into the chunks of beef. Remove from oven and extract the beef quarters, setting on a cutting board. Put the Dutch oven on medium heat cook down the gravy for at least 10 minutes. While the gravy is cooking down, shred the beef quarters with 2 forks. When the gravy is reduced, add the remaining white wine to brighten the flavor and immediately add the shredded beef back to the Dutch oven.
Prepare your pasta to al dente and combine in the Dutch oven with the gravy. Stir in 1 cup of Romano cheese, which I prefer for this dish because it is naturally salty. Serve and top with additional Romano cheese.