Posted on January 14th, 2015 at 14:32
One of the best things about living in the Italian countryside, your neighbours.
A short while before Christmas we returned from our shopping trip to find our road and our driveway littered with hunters. Here to shoot wild boar in preparation for the Christmas and New Year
festivities, in addition they perform an important role in keeping the local population of wild boar, or cinghiale, in check.
One of the hunters was leaning on his gun and was surrounded by this hunting dogs, poised at the end of our drive to prevent the beasts from escaping over the road to the woods and stream opposite the Cantinone. When we pulled up alongside to have a word with him, I'm sure he had a look on his face of 'Oh, No, here comes the angry lady of the house to make us get off her land and stop chasing the nice beasties' but contrary to that, I was asking if they could also catch/shoot or otherwise discourage the animals currently turning our lawn into a minefield with their rooting around for .... well, roots!
Satisfied that we were not going to run him off our land, he looked so relieved, friendly even, so I was encouraged to say, 'Well, if you do catch the blighters, I'd like a piece of the meat, please.'
Not really thinking any more about it, I was pleasantly surprised one sunny day between Christmas and New Year to get a visitor at the front door holding a large bag of gamy dark red meat, ready for the pot.
Never having cooked wild boar before, I consulted with a good friend, Paola, who has a wealth of experience in cooking from the land, and after giving me the instructions for the first stage, (the marinade the meat for 24 hours part) promised to return the next day with written instructions and some ingredients which were missing from my cupboard, fresh bay leaves and juniper berries.
The marinade was made very similar to a 'soffritto' but without cooking... the often-used basis for most Italian sauces, onions, garlic, carrot and celery. These all cut finely and with the addition of bay leaves and wine
formed the marinade in which the meat would rest for 24hours.
Like all recipes in Italy there is no hard and fast rules. In Italian kitchens there is very little measuring and weighing ingredients it is all done by look, feel and experience of the cook. Ask how long something should cook, and you will be told 'until it is done', ask how many eggs, or oil, should go into a pasta, and you are told 'until it feels right'. This is because the flour will absorb more moisture, or less depending on the day, the humidity, the source of the flour and the weather!
Armed with our scrap of paper written in Italian in writing less decipherable than an Indian doctor's, we embark on our approximation of a marinade. We opt for a half white / half red wine bath, just enough to almost cover the meat / vegetable mix, but not too much. This would after the marinade stage be completely disposed of - another touch of advice from Paola who doesn't like her gamy meat too gamy. We follow her advice closely.
After the required 24 hour period, with frequent turning and a weighted plate to keep out prying cats, we remove the meat from the marinade and throw it away... the marinade.
Divided into two recipes, one for Ragu (pasta sauce - very finely cut or minced meat) and one with larger chunks for a casserole we commence the ragu first. A new soffritto prepared, then the cinghiale is browned with a couple of sausages added for diversity. Italian mamas would now add the heart/liver etc of the animal but we felt it could be too strong for us, so left that out. Also here we divert from the Marche recipe for ragu and wander into Emillia Romagna province to the north of Marche, home to the Sugo Bolognese, the original 'ragu'. Up there in Bologna they cook the meat and soffritto in a cup of milk to 'protect' the meat from the acid of the wine and tomatoes which will be added next.
You see? we really have become Italian, a recipe can always be modified and improved.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Dinner consisted of a plate of our very own 0km wild boar ragu with pasta.
We were pleased to be able to see a dish prepared with meat and tomatoes and garlic from our own land! The wine however was more local to South Australia, we enjoyed a delicious 2004 Lindemans Shiraz
The casserole benefited from 7 hours in the slow-cooker and was equally delicious. Slightly more gamy than the ragu, I think the latter benefited from the milk bath during first stage of cooking.