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Ragu Can Save You

There's a big international conference on "Advances in Nutrition and Cancer" starting in Naples tomorrow, and the headline story is that Ragu, properly prepared, is a terrific cancer fighter.  And there's another story in the local Neapolitan press announcing that people who drink lots of coffee live longer than those who don't.

So two of the staples of the Neapolitan diet are very good for you.  Add to that the beauty of the place, the wonders of the culture, and the generally nice weather, and you should be asking yourself what in the world you're doing wherever else you are.  We're drinking espresso and stuffing ourselves with maccheroni and ragu.

But you've got to do it right.  The high concentration of cancer-fighting antioxidants comes from prolonged cooking of tomatoes, and it doesn't work with vegetable oil.  You've got to use extravirgin olive oil.  And you have to take your time, as I learned when I first starting studying Neapolitan cuisine.  A friend wangled a dinner invitation for me at the home of the president of the Neapolitan Culinary Academy, a tall skinny man (go figure) who has a day job as a professor of botany at the University of Naples.  As directed, I called him up to thank him for his generosity and to ask when and where I should show up.

"Well, dinner's at 9 o'clock," he replied, "but you should be here by 1 or 1:30."

"Eight hours early?  How come."

"Because it takes seven or eight hours to make a proper ragu, and we'll do it together.  That way perhaps you will get a proper introduction to Neapolitan cuisine."