It won't be long before we head to Italy. I've started to crave the amazing food that I will order once I am there. One of the foods I have been craving is cinghaile or wild boar. Last weekend I got it in my head that I had to have some - never mind the fact that wild boar is not easy to find in this neck of the woods.
Reason be damned. I wanted that boar!
Happily I found some at the St. Lawrence market in Toronto and I was able to whip up a batch of ragu.
The flavor of boar may be likened to a cross between pork and lamb. Boar meat is very lean and rich in protein. It has more protein than beef or pork and is lower in cholesterol than chicken. Not bad for an animal deemed an exotic pest in much of the world. Due to its mild gamey flavor and lack of fat, boar meat benefits from marinades and slow cooking, and it’s well matched with spirits and aromatic spices such as cloves and juniper.
Italian ragu is neither dripping with sauce nor full of basil and garlic as many in North America expect due to our experiences with jars of Ragu sauce and trips to Olive Garden. The Garden may claim to have a Tuscan cooking institute where they develop recipes and train cooks but clearly no who is actually one from Tuscany (or anywhere else in Italy for that matter) is involved.
I've tried a few recipes for wild boar ragu over the years ad have decided that this one is my favourite. The meat is flavourful - benefiting from both the marinade and the long, slow cooking. I did modify it a bit - I used a chopped carrot in my sofritto, 1 teaspooon of juniper berries and 2 bay leaves as I cooked it slowly, and since I had no fresh tomatoes that I'd be wanting to eat given the time of the year I used the equivalent from a can.
2 pounds boneless boar shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cups dry red wine
2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 rosemary sprigs
2 garlic cloves, gently smashed and peeled
Fine sea salt
4 medium tomatoes
1 (2 ounce) thick-cut slice pancetta, cut into 1/8-inch dice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste, preferably double concentrated
1 pound fresh egg pappardelle
In a large bowl, combine boar, 2 cups wine, vinegar, rosemary and garlic; cover and marinate, in refrigerator, at least 12 hours or overnight.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add tomatoes and boil for 20 seconds; drain, peel, quarter and seed, then coarsely chop. Set aside.
Reserving marinade, drain boar. Place boar in a 5- to 7-quart heavy Dutch oven or pot with lid. Cook over medium-high heat, covered, 3 minutes. Add marinade, bring to a simmer and continue to cook, covered, until boar is warmed through, about 3 minutes more. Drain boar; discard marinade and wipe out pot.
Using same pot, combine pancetta and oil; cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until oil begins to bubble, about 3 minutes, then stir in onion and parsley. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add boar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and generous pinch pepper; cook for 2 minutes more. Add remaining cup wine, broth, reserved chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring to dissolve paste. Bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until meat is tender, 2 1/2 hours.
Uncover ragù and gently simmer, stirring and breaking up meat into bite-size pieces with a wooden spoon, until liquid is mostly evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning, if necessary, and cover to keep warm.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add ragù and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately.