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
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.
Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu
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
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
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
It was Palma's turn to select the recipe for the Sunday Slow Suppers group on slowtravel to play with. Her category was roast and she posted this recipe which while calling for rabbit could also be made with chicken thingh or even breasts. The recipe is from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynn Rossetto Kasper.
I was going to do the chicken version and then I remembered the hunt for goat and how much I enjoyed being pushed out of my food comfort zone. I've eaten rabbit while on trips to Italy but never cooked with it. I LOVE the taste of rabbit. So if I went to that much effort to try a meat I had never eaten and didn't know if I would even like the taste then why the heck wouldn't I cook with Thumper?
Of course it made no sense at all - which is often the case with most food phobias.
The first time I made this I used a rabbit, and it was amazing. The scent in the kitchen was heavenly. Using chicken thighs, it has become a standard at our house. It is also a great company dish, as it requires very little last minute effort once it is in the oven. It's great with chicken, but if you can find/deal with eating a rabbit, it is worth the expense.
Yesterday we got to experience just what she spoke of.
I was able to find rabbit at my regular grocery store. The butcher kindly chopped it into eight pieces for me. While he was doing that he removed something from inside the carcass - I presume it was similar to the gizzards in a turkey or chicken. He seemed quite put out when I said that I didn't want to have them. No doubt thye taste wonderful but to me it was just 'EWW'!
In fact, the most challenging part of the recipe was the fennel. I never have trouble finding fennel. We love the stuff - either in a dish or chopped up in a salad. MMM I can sniff it out easily but for some reason the fennel this week was TINY. There was no way I was going to pay $ 3 for a bulb of fennel that was smaller than my fist. Even this food obsessed fool has his limits. Finally, after three stops, I was able to find 2 bulbs of fennel that wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen out in public.
Yesterday was one of those days that seemed to get away from us. Lots of work. Some visiting fun. A long nap. The next thing I knew it was 5 and this hadn't gone in the oven! I had seasoned the rabbit the night before and left it in the fridge overnight so as tempted as I was to order a pizza I really had to cook that bunny.
Anyway, it came together quickly and soon the entire house was filled with the intoxicating aroma. OH WOW. I could NOT wait to dig in. Sadly it was to be delayed gratification because this bunny had to roast for a good long time.
The recipe itself was easy to follow and I made no changes at all to it - unusual for me. 'Why mess with perfection,' I say.
We sat down to eat at 8:30 - apparently we're on Italy time - perfect for an Italian themed dinner. We both loved this dish. The rabbit was 'fall-off-of-the-bone tender' and the amazing caramelized fennel was the perfect thing to go with it. The great thing about this recipe is that it also works with chicken so now I shall have to try that as well. MMMM
Coniglio al Forno con Finoccio
2 1/2-2 3/4 lb rabbit, cut into 8 pieces or 8 chicken thighs
Seasoning the Rabbit 1 large clove of garlic (I used 4) 1 1/2 inch sprig of rosemary (I used 4) 1/2 t. salt (I'm sure I used a t. of sea salt) 1/8 t. pepper (you got it)
Cooking the Rabbit 2 bulbs fennel cut into 1 1/2 " wedges 1 large onion, cut into 1 1/2 " wedges 3 oz. pancetta, minced 3 cloves of garlic, split 1 t. fennel seeds 1/2 c. coarsely chopped fennel leaves 4 T. extra virgin olive oil salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1/2 c. white wine
Pan Sauce 1/4 c. white wine 1/2 c. chicken stock
The rabbit or chicken tastes best when seasoned one day ahead. I blended the first four ingredients in the food processor with a drizzle of olive oil to make a paste. Rub on the rabbit pieces, and refrigerate overnight in a zip lock.
Two hours and 15 minutes before you would like to eat, preheat the oven to 350. Use a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold the rabbit pieces and onions and fennel. Scatter fennel, onion, pancetta, garlic, and fennel seeds around and between the pieces, and put half the fennel leaves on top. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast 30 minutes.
Add wine, and roast for another hour. Baste every 15 minutes with pan juices. If pan becomes too dry, add a little more wine or water. (Mine was nice and juicy.)
Raise the heat to 450. Cook 15 more minutes until rabbit becomes golden brown. Turn rabbit pieces, and roast another 15 minutes, basting once more. Veggies should be caramelized.
Transfer rabbit and vegetables to a heated platter and keep warm in the oven while you make a quick pan sauce. Set the roasting pan over two burners on high heat, and de-glaze with the wine and stock. Scrape any brown pieces from pan and boil down liquid to about half. (Be careful of heat level if you are using a pyrex pan). De-glaze for 3-5 minutes. Scatter remaining fennel leaves over rabbit and serve sauce in gravy boat or bowl alongside rabbit.
I had mentioned last week that I picked up some morel mushrooms and ramps last Friday. I didn't know what I wanted them for but since their appearance int eh shops is so fleeting I grabbed them immediately. Not unlike the psychosis the overtakers shoppers who see an amazing deal on an item they don't need. reason is tossed aside and you grab what you can!
Which is what I did. There would be time enough to figure out what to do later.
After putting everything away I turned to the largest cookbook on the planet - the internet - to find a recipe that might combine these two spring beauties. I found many risotto and pasta recipes but I was craving something more. Then I found this recipe for venison with morel mushroom sauce and thought that the ramps would pair brilliantly with it.
The website said:
Morel mushrooms and venison, or antelope, or bison, or even the common steak, are a marriage far more successful than most pairings between mushrooms and meat — which can often compete with one another. This dish is simple, deep and delicious. But don’t skimp on the morels, or the quality of any ingredient: You — and your guests — will notice.
No fear. I wasn't going to skimp. No, not at all.
I had venison in the freezer - courtesy of a colleague from the office who comes from a big clan of hunters and gatherers. I had morels. I had ramps. I was set! The recipe wasn't a perfect fit so I made some modifications and I was ready to go.
This became dinner on Saturday and it was brilliant. The site didn't lie - venison and the morel mushroom sauce paired brilliantly. Add the sauteed ramps as a vegetable and you couldn't ask for a happier taste of spring!
Venison with Morel Sauce and Ramps
4 venison medallions, cut 3/4 to 1 inch thick Salt and fresh ground pepper Unsalted butter 2 oz fresh morel mushrooms, cut in half lengthwise 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 8 - 12 large ramps, cleaned and trimmed 1 tablespoon flour A handful of dried morels, about 1/4 cup, soaked in water for several hours 1 cup beef stock 1/2 cup port wine (something you would drink) Salt to taste
In a small saucepan, reduce the stock and the water you soaked the morels in over high heat until you are left with about 1/2 cup of liquid. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Take the venison out of the fridge and salt it liberally. Let it rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Heat a pan over high heat for 2-4 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-high and place the fresh morels down on the pan to heat. Sear on both sides until they brown a little. Do not let them burn. Remove and set aside.
Grill the venison to your liking (our venison was grilled medium-rare). When grilled remove from the BBQ and place on a platter. Cover with time foil and allow to rest.
Add the rest of the butter to the frying pan and let it melt over medium heat. Saute the ramps until they are tender crisp.
Add the flour and stir to combine to make a roux. Cook this for 2 minutes.
Add the port wine and stir to combine. It will thicken immediately, and if it turns to a paste add the morel water-stock mix you reduced in step one. If it does not turn into a paste, let the port boil a minute, then add the stock. Add the rehydrated morels.
Once the morels are heated through, lay down a pool of the sauce on the plates, then top with venison. Arrange the rehydrated morels around the meat, and top each steak with the fresh morels. Arrange the sauteed ramps alongside.
We left the snow behind and headed to California for a long weekend of fun. We shoppedm toured wineries, tasted olive oil, met up with good friends, and ate some wonderful food. I can't wait for slow bowl 2009.