The flavor in this Pasta alla Genovese is hard to describe with words.  To say it’s a comforting, hearty and rustic dish would be true.  But, it’s so much more than that – there is a certain feeling that eating this dish invokes.  The most shocking thing about this dish is how obscure it is in America.  Anyway, I hope by sharing this amazing recipe with you, that it will become one of your family’s favorites!

Pasta Alla Genovese in grey plate with bowl of grated cheese in background.

 

What Is pasta alla Genovese and why is it not popular In America?

Let me start by saying that this is not pesto.  A quick Google search will have some recipes referring to pasta alla Genovese as pesto.  That basil sauce is known as pesto alla Genovese.   

This dish is from Naples, most likely brought from Genoa in Northern Italy, though it might refer to the inventor’s last name. 

Confused?  Yeah well, it’s a recipe that dates back at least 400 years, so the uncertainty of its origin is not surprising.   Here’s another good informational source on this dish.

Pasta alla Genovese is a creamy onion-based sauce cooked with beef and a touch of wine.  It has no tomato, though some modern interpretations add it.  The beef can be shredded and included in the dish or it can be served on the side.

However you decide to serve it, I promise you it will be new to you (unless you are one of the few in America to know about it)  and just might become your favorite recipe!  

Why the lack of popularity here in America?  Probably, because most of the immigrant waves that came here adopted tomato-based sauces which La Genovese lacks. 

Red sauce fair is pretty much what you see in the thousands of Italian restaurants on the east coast of America and in the households of many Italian-Americans.  Sunday sauce and meatballs anyone? 

I hope this dish broadens your horizons.  I know it has for me.

Ingredients shown: onions, penne pasta, celery, carrots, pancetta, and a chuck roast.

You’ll need a ton of onions for this recipe (5 pounds), celery, pancetta, chuck roast, a dry white wine, and pasta.  Rigatoni, ziti, and penne all work well.

How To Make It

Each numbered pic corresponds to the numbered written instructions below.

  1. Begin by dicing 1 medium carrot and 1 rib of celery.
  2. Chop 5 pounds of onions.  I know it sounds like a lot, but they reduce to form the sauce, and you need a lot for it.

Pasta alla Genovese recipe process shot collage group number one.

  1. Cut a chuck roast (about 2 pounds worth) into fairly large pieces like shown.  Any large pieces of fat can be cut out and discarded.
  2. Heat a large heavy pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  While the pot is heating up, pat the beef dry and season with salt and pepper on all sides.  Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil and sear the beef.
  3. In batches, sear the beef on all sides (a couple minutes per side) then remove and set aside.
  4. Add the pancetta to the pot and turn heat to medium-low.  Saute for 5 minutes then add the carrots and celery, continuing the saute process.

 

Process shot collage group number two.

  1. After 5 more minutes, add 1 cup of dry white wine (Pinot Grigio was used) and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge all of the flavor bits.
  2. Add in all the onions and 1 cup of water or low sodium beef stock.  Give it all a stir.
  3. Place all the seared beef pieces into the onions, stir and cover.  Turn heat to low.
  4. Check the pot every 20-30 minutes, and if required add a touch of water to prevent burning.

Recipe collage group number three.

  1. After 3 hours open the lid and remove the beef chuck pieces.  Shred the beef if using in the sauce.  If not, the beef can be served on the side or saved for another meal.
  2. Turn heat to medium and cook the onions to caramelize and form a creamy sauce.  Be careful not to burn them, and if required add a touch more water to prevent it.  Add the shredded beef into the pot and stir it all together.  Taste test the sauce and if needed make any adjustments to salt and pepper.
  3. Serve the Genovese sauce over penne and if required add a touch of pasta water to thin.

Note – Shredding the beef is optional.  Some recipes include shredded beef as I have, and others serve it on the side.  Totally up to you.  Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Plate of Pasta alla Genovese with grated parmesan cheese on the side.

What to serve with penne alla Genovese

This is a heavy dish just like Pappardelle Bolognese, or Tuscan Peposo stew. A light salad is a great way to cut through this one.

These sides all work quite well:

Substitutions and additions

  • Beef – Cuts labeled “stew beef” such as chuck, shoulder, bottom and top round, and pot roast can all be used interchangeably.  The beef can be braised whole on top of the onions or cut into chunks as this recipe shows.  As I stated before, the beef in La Genovese can be eaten as a side or shredded and mixed into the sauce.
  • Pancetta – In addition to pancetta or as a substitution, use diced salami or prosciutto.
  • Onions – Any type of onion is fine.  I used yellow onions and a few large red ones.

Two plates of Penne Alla Genovese with grated cheese and bread on blue background.

Top tips

  • Get a nice sear on the beef to really add a good amount of extra flavor from the maillard reaction process.
  • Check the onions every so often and add a 1/2 cup of water or more to prevent burning.  Even with the pot covered some evaporation will occur so it’s important to check on the onions relatively frequently.
  • Taste test the sauce right before dressing the pasta, and adjust salt and pepper to get the flavors just right.
  • A bit of pasta water might be needed to loosen up the sauce on the pasta.  Always save your pasta water!
  • Any leftover sauce can be stored for up to 3 days in the fridge, or even better freeze it for up to 3 months and use it for a quick weeknight meal!

More comforting pasta recipes

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Pasta Alla Genovese

4.58 from 7 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 3 hours
Total: 3 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 6
Pasta Alla Genovese is a hearty combination of stewed onions and beef that forms an irresistible creaminess that's perfect for penne or ziti.

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound penne or ziti
  • 2 pounds chuck roast
  • 5 pounds onion diced
  • 1 medium carrot diced
  • 1 rib celery diced
  • 1/4 pound pancetta diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions 

  • Heat a dutch oven or heavy pot on medium-high heat. Cut chuck roast into large chunks, pat dry, and season on all sides with the salt and pepper. Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil (about a 1/4 cup) and sear the beef on all sides. Work in batches so as to not crowd the beef.
  • Set seared beef aside on a plate. Turn heat to medium-low, then add the diced pancetta to the pot and give it a stir. Saute for 5 minutes, then add the carrots and celery and cook for 5 minutes more.
  • Pour 1 cup of dry white wine into the pot and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge all the flavor bits. Add in all the onions and 1 cup of water. Give it a stir.
  • Place the seared beef in the pot and cover with a lid. Turn heat to low and cook for 3 hours. Every 20-30 minutes give the onions a stir and if needed add a bit more water (approximately a 1/2 cup) to keep moist and prevent burning.
  • After 3 hours of cooking remove beef pieces, shred, and tent with foil. Turn heat to medium and cook the onions down until they are creamy and soft, but not burned (about 20 minutes).
  • Add the beef back to the pot and stir it all together. Taste test and make any final adjustments. Serve La Genovese over penne or ziti. If needed add a touch of reserved pasta water to the sauce and pasta to get a perfect consistency. Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Calorie info is for the full 2 pounds of beef shredded and added to the pasta.  For a much lighter dish save the beef or use it for another course. 
  • Get a nice sear on the beef to really add a nice amount of flavor.
  • Check the onions every so often and add a 1/2 cup of water or more to prevent burning.  Even with the pot covered some evaporation will occur so it's important to check.
  • Any leftover sauce can be stored for up to 2 days in the fridge, or even better, freeze it for up to 3 months and use it for a quick weeknight meal!

Nutrition

Calories: 858kcal | Carbohydrates: 77.7g | Protein: 65.8g | Fat: 27.2g | Saturated Fat: 8.3g | Cholesterol: 221mg | Sodium: 967mg | Potassium: 1196mg | Fiber: 8.4g | Sugar: 16.5g | Calcium: 111mg | Iron: 9mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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19 Comments

  1. Loved the dish….going to make it again but this time I’ll try some tomato paste and cherry tomatoes…not too much just for a little kick. Watched most of your shows and love them all. Your son is a good critic on your food tasting….
    All in all thank you for everything you do.

    PS…I’m 74 and still learning

    1. Hi Dr. Paul, we’re so happy you enjoyed this dish and really appreciate your comment. Thanks for following along with us!

  2. 2 stars
    This did not work for me. It certainly didn’t seem like a pasta sauce. It tasted like a bland version of pot roast. And the prep was much longer than 20 minutes. Sorry. I have loved everything else I have tried on Sip and Feast so far

  3. My family has made this for years so happy to have found your recipes. I’ve made your calamari a few times now!

  4. 5 stars
    Hi Jim,
    I have some leftover sirloin roast. Is it possible to make this recipe just doing the onions, etc then adding the meat just to heat it up or would it work to add the meat in like in the beginning? I’m trying to find ways to use up my meat.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Janis, I haven’t tested it like this but I would make the recipe with just the onions and then add the meat at the end just to warm it up, as you said. Since the sirloin is already cooked, there is not going to be much fat on it so adding it at the beginning won’t have the same effect as the chuck does in the recipe.

  5. Can your recipes be made in half …there’s only 2of us…
    Luv your videos, easy to understand …I’m a garlic freak also………

    1. Thank you, Sara! Yes, you can definitely cut the recipes in half. There is an adjuster within the recipe card that allows you to increase or decrease the number of servings.

  6. We make our Genoese like yours but a little different. We use prosciutto skin and hard salami diced instead of pancetta, a little vermouth instead of white wine. And in the last hour we add sliced mushrooms and about a cup of raisins. It’s sooo delicious and better made the day before!

  7. 5 stars
    Good morning, congrats on having being chosen to be featured on our blog! Thank you for your contribution. This recipe is awesome.

    Heidy