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Pasta alla Genovese (6-Hour Beef & Onion Sauce)

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5 from 16 votes

Pasta alla genovese is a slow-cooked Neapolitan beef, onion and white wine sauce served with al dente pasta. It’s one of the single best dishes I’ve ever had and is worth every minute of TLC!

What is Pasta alla Genovese?

The Italians sure know how to make great sauce! Genovese sauce is made from a few simple ingredients. The primary two ingredients are meat and onion. The most common meat to use is an inexpensive cut of beef, but sometimes you’ll see Genovese made with pork.

It might be jarring to see that you’ll start off making the sauce with more onions than beef, but this ratio is KEY! Onions’ natural juices release as they cook down and provide a broth for the beef to cook in. By the end of the 6-hour cooking process, your onions will have melted so much that it will be difficult to discern pieces of onion from the shreds of beef!

Other main ingredients in Genovese sauce include dry white wine and pancetta, both flavoring the sauce and melting into the beef and onions. Genovese is traditionally tomato-less.

The sauce is typically served with paccheri pasta. Paccheri is a bit difficult to find in the grocery store, so I recommend using rigatoni which is very similar in shape! You can also use ziti.

What is the History of Pasta alla Genovese?

Don’t let the name fool you! Pasta alla Genovese originates from Naples, Italy (not Genoa). The sauce is sometimes called La Genovese Napoletana! Created in the 1800s, this slow-cooked ragu has become a Sunday staple across Italy.

Looking for other authentic Italian pasta dishes? Try the Best Classic Risotto Recipe or Authentic Amalfi Coast Pasta Carbonara!

Pasta alla Genovese Ingredients

  • Paccherri, rigatoni, or ziti pasta – paccheri pasta is the classic shape to serve with Genovese sauce. However, it can be difficult to find in the grocery store! So I use rigatoni which is a similar shape. You can also use ziti.
  • Yellow onions – yellow onions are the base for our sauce! You’ll need even more onions than you need beef! The onions will cook down and reduce, creating an incredibly flavorful sauce from all the natural juices in the onions.
  • Boneless beef chuck roast – you’ll want to use an inexpensive cut of beef. The connective tissues in chuck roast melt when braised in the liquid from the onions and the wine, creating tender, shredded meat that’s irresistible!
  • Dry white wine – dry white wine, like an Italian Pinot Grigio, adds flavor to our sauce.
  • Pancetta – a small amount of diced pancetta flavors the Genovese sauce. There won’t be chunks of pancetta at the end of cooking…it will have melted into the sauce!
  • Extra virgin olive oil – a dash of olive oil is used to sear the beef and sauté our veggies.
  • Carrots – a few carrots add just a touch of sweetness.
  • Celery – a few celery stalks add an earthy touch.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind – a parm rind adds SO much flavor! I recommend using the rind from the Parmigiano-Reggiano wedge you’ll grate for the top of the pasta.
  • Bay leaf – a bay leaf adds herbal notes to your Genovese sauce!
  • Italian parsley (garnish) – fresh parsley is a great pop of green for the top of your pasta as a garnish!
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano (garnish) – grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is the classic garnish on top of Pasta alla Genovese. If preferred, you can use less expensive grana padano (or pecorino romano for a sharper option).
pasta alla genovese recipe ingredients

How to Make Pasta alla Genovese

Follow the steps carefully to make one of the best pasta dishes you’ll ever have! Full steps in the recipe card below!

  1. Sear.

    Season the 4 pieces of beef lightly with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed pot (like a Dutch Oven). Preheat over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add beef and brown each side for 2 minutes per side.

  2. Sauté.

    Remove beef and set aside on a plate. Add carrots, celery, and pancetta to the pot, and sauté for 3-4 minutes.

  3. Hour 1.

    Turn heat to low. Add 2 pieces of the beef back into the pot. Then add half of the onions to the pot. Then add the other 2 pieces of beef. Then add the rest of the onions. Cover pot and let cook on low heat for 1 hour.

  4. Hour 2.

    Shift around beef so that the bottom 2 pieces are on the top, and the top 2 pieces are on the bottom. Stir around the onions as well. You’ll notice the onions will still look quite raw. Don’t worry! Re-cover your pot and let cook for another hour over low heat.

  5. Hour 3.

    Do the same process of shifting around the meat and onions. Re-cover and let cook for another hour over low heat.

  6. Hour 4.

    Onions will still look quite raw. Add bay leaf, parmesan rind and a ½ cup wine. Make sure the bay leaf and rind are submerged in the contents of the pot. Simmer on medium-low heat, uncovered, for 1 hour.

  7. Cut meat.

    Use a fork and knife to remove beef from pot, place on a plate, and cut into small pieces (pieces about half of what would be considered bite-sized pieces). The beef likely won’t shred at this point; you’ll need to cut it!

  8. Hour 5.

    Place beef pieces back into pot. Add final ½ cup of wine. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour on medium-low heat. Stir occasionally.

  9. Hour 6.

    Remove bay leaf and rind. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Over medium heat, cook for 20-60 more minutes (uncovered), until beef is shredded and the sauce is reduced. Sauce is done when the beef is shredded and the sauce no longer looks like a soup, but there’s a decent amount of liquid left for a moist, beautiful sauce.

  10. Serve.

    Keep sauce on very low heat (covered) while boiling pasta, or until you’re ready to serve!

Make Ahead, Storage and Reheating

  • Can you make Pasta alla Genovese ahead? Absolutely! The sauce reheats so well! I recommend making the pasta though last minute, since pasta does not reheat well.
  • Storing: Store sauce in the fridge for up to 4 days.
  • Reheating: I recommend keeping leftover sauce separate from pasta, since the sauce reheats very well whereas the pasta does not (it will become mushy!). Reheat sauce over low heat in a covered pot, stirring often, until hot. Add a splash of wine if the sauce seems too dry.  
  • Freezing: You can freeze leftover sauce for up to 3 months! Thaw sauce in the fridge 1-2 days in advance of reheating.

More Authentic Italian Recipes You’ll Love!

Pasta alla Genovese (6-Hour Beef & Onion Sauce)

Pasta alla genovese is a slow-cooked Neapolitan beef, onion and white wine sauce served with al dente pasta. It’s one of the single best dishes I’ve ever had and is worth every minute of TLC!
5 from 16 votes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Sauce & Dips
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: fall, winter
Servings: 8 medium servings
Calories: 806kcal
Author: Tastefully Grace

Equipment

  • Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot (that’s at least 4 quarts)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds paccherri, rigatoni, or ziti pasta I use rigatoni. See notes below for quantity of pasta.
  • 2 ½ pounds yellow onions cut into paper thin slices
  • 1 ½ – 2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast cut into 4 even-sized pieces
  • 1 cup dry white wine like Italian Pinot Grigio
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks finely chopped
  • 1 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped Italian parsley to garnish
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to garnish

Instructions

  • Season the 4 pieces of beef lightly with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed pot (like a Dutch Oven). Preheat over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add beef and brown each side for 2 minutes per side.
  • Remove beef and set aside on a plate. Add carrots, celery, and pancetta to the pot, and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
  • Hour 1. Turn heat to low. Add 2 pieces of the beef back into the pot. Then add half of the onions to the pot. Then add the other 2 pieces of beef. Then add the rest of the onions. Cover pot and let cook on low heat for 1 hour.
  • Hour 2. Shift around beef so that the bottom 2 pieces are on the top, and the top 2 pieces are on the bottom. Stir around the onions as well. You’ll notice the onions will still look quite raw. Don’t worry! Re-cover your pot and let cook for another hour over low heat.
  • Hour 3. Do the same process of shifting around the meat and onions. Re-cover and let cook for another hour over low heat.
  • Hour 4. Onions will still look quite raw. Add bay leaf, parmesan rind and a ½ cup wine. Make sure the bay leaf and rind are submerged in the contents of the pot. Simmer on medium-low heat, uncovered, for 1 hour.
  • Use a fork and knife to remove beef from pot, place on a plate, and cut into small pieces (pieces about half of what would be considered bite-sized pieces). The beef likely won’t shred at this point; you’ll need to cut it!
  • Hour 5. Place beef pieces back into pot. Add final ½ cup of wine. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour on medium-low heat. Stir occasionally.
  • Hour 6. Remove bay leaf and rind. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Over medium heat, cook for 20-60 more minutes (uncovered), until beef is shredded and the sauce is reduced. Sauce is done when the beef is shredded and the sauce no longer looks like a soup, but there’s a decent amount of liquid left for a moist, beautiful sauce.
  • Keep sauce on very low heat (covered) while boiling pasta, or until you’re ready to serve!

Video

Notes

  • You will have a generous amount of sauce for 2 pounds of pasta. Feel free to use less pasta if you’d like leftover sauce.
  • Peel the onions carefully to ensure you don’t create too much waste, retaining the full 2 ½ pounds of onions for the sauce.
  • You don’t need a lot of carrots and celery…just enough to flavor the sauce!

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 806kcal | Carbohydrates: 101g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 80mg | Sodium: 257mg | Potassium: 916mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 2639IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 123mg | Iron: 4mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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8 Comments

  1. Stefanie Anderson
    March 4, 2024 / 9:34 pm

    It’s really good but it would be helpful to know how big a serving is. I know it says 8 but it’s too much to divide it out first. I’d like to know how many calories in say a cup or X amount of ounces then I can measure that into my own dish.

    • March 5, 2024 / 9:32 am

      Hi Stefanie!

      I’m so glad the Genovese turned out well. I totally hear what you’re saying about the portion sizes. I’ve gotten mixed feedback on nutrition serving sizes in the past and came to the conclusion that most wanted # of servings vs. cups/ounces for a recipe like this so that’s what I’ve been going with. I appreciate your feedback though and will certainly keep this in mind in the future. For many of my recipes (i.e. cookies, pancakes etc) it’s obviously a lot easier to decide what the appropriate serving size is (1 cookie, pancake. etc). Thanks again and let me know if you make any other recipes!

      Grace

  2. Mary Paccione
    January 30, 2024 / 3:40 am

    5 stars
    I can’t wait to try this! I’m so pleased to find a sauce for pasta that isn’t Alfredo or tomato based.
    Just wondering if I could use two pounds of grass fed stew beef in place of the chuck roast?
    Thank you for thwonderful site and the amazing authentic recipes.

    • January 30, 2024 / 8:39 am

      Hi Mary,

      I’m so excited for your to try this recipe too! It’s one of my favorites. While you can use stew beef instead of chuck roast in Pasta alla Genovese, stew beef may not provide the same tenderness and flavor. Chuck roast is preferred for its richness and tenderness when slow-cooked. If you do use the stew beef, please let me know how it turns out!

      Grace

      • Mary Paccione
        January 30, 2024 / 4:37 pm

        5 stars
        So I tried it with organic, grass-fed stew beef. It’s Ah-mazing. So much flavor! I will try it again using a chuck roast as per your recipe, but I always use organic grass fed beef. I also might try adding some baby bella mushrooms. I know, I know; it’s not authentic, but I’m an incorrigible recipe tweaker.
        Have you ever made it with red onions? I read somewhere that they were used in the original recipe. I would appreciate your feedback. Thank you again. I don’t usually “follow” cooking sites. You may just become my first! That’s quite an accomplishment for you, considering my age.

        • January 30, 2024 / 4:58 pm

          Hi Mary,

          Ah, I’m so happy it turned out well! Thanks so much for letting me know. I appreciate it. The mushroom addition sounds fabulous. I haven’t tried with red onions but I think it would be just as delicious. I’m so happy you’re loving the site. Please do let me know if you try any other recipes.

          Grace

  3. Lucille Lo Sapio
    January 2, 2024 / 3:45 pm

    This is a recipe that my grandfather obtained from a chef many many years ago. We consider this our family recipe, although my mother would traditionally use eye around, and no pancetta. Plus, she used red wine vinegar. I use red wine instead. We don’t traditionally put any other vegetables in and the onion browning is probably the most important part… It takes patience! We always teased my mother’s sister, my aunt Vinci, she never browned the onions long enough. We consider this our special family recipe!

    • January 3, 2024 / 9:20 am

      Hi Lucille,

      What a beautiful family story! Thanks for sharing my love for this delicious dish!

      Grace

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