Salsa Genovese alla Napoletana

Genovese Onion Sauce


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 to 6

Appears in

The Italian Regional Cookbook

The Italian Regional Cookbook

By Valentina Harris

Published 2017

  • About

The origin of this Neapolitan dish is still a mystery. It is a purée of the sweetest onions, cooked until browned and very soft, and flavoured with meat. One legend links the sauce to the chefs of the Genovese merchants living in Naples during the 16th century. When the merchants returned to Genoa, some of their chefs remained in Naples, selling food to the public. The sauce that was to become known as la Genovese was their speciality. The meat should be served as a second course, with a little of the sauce, after the pasta dish with the onion sauce. Sometimes the meat is omitted from the recipe, and pasta served with the sauce made only with the onions is called a finta Genovese (fake Genovese).


  • 2 kg/4 ½ lb brown onions, sliced
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 200 ml/7 fl oz/scant 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 ml/2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1.5 kg/3 ¼ lb stewing veal in one single piece, tied into shape with kitchen string or twine to fit the pan
  • sea salt
  • large pasta shapes, such as sciaffettoni, and grated Parmesan cheese, to serve


  1. Put the onions and celery into a deep pan, large enough to take the piece of meat. Add the oil and butter, and season with salt.

  2. Lay the meat in the pan, add water to cover, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly for 4 hours, stirring often and adding more water as required.
  3. After this time, the meat should be very tender, and the onions should be completely brown and very soft.

  4. Serve most of the onion sauce over large pasta shapes as a primo, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Serve the meat as a second course, sliced thinly with just a little of the sauce.