Thursday, April 14, 2011

Springing for Boar (and more)

Photo Courtesy of Christine Tsai

Spring has sprung, and there is no foolin’ this maven with the signs that the season’s delicate, earthen flavor sensations are beginning to bloom before our very eyes! It’s umbrella season, and as we stash away our heavy coats, woolen stockings and winter recipes, we make room in our closets and our pantries for the galoshes, raincoats and wild ramps that take their place. The seasonal transition happening in your home kitchen should mirror the changes taking place outside your window and inside your wardrobe.

In warmer weather we eat lighter fare. I just got back from a week spent with family in West Palm and Miami, and at just about every meal, we sat down to light-as-air seafood creations, carpaccio salads, fresh fruit and the harvest vegetables already in season down South. I enjoyed my first taste of this year’s heirloom tomatoes (a Cherokee Purple tom), juicy plums sautéed with powdered sugar for a quick compote (perfect mixed with Greek yogurt and berries for a breakfast parfait!), flash-grilled, Mexican-flavored corn on the cob and enough pesto to tide me over until the basil leaves start sprouting this summer. With nary a fried food in sight, Mr. Mix and I spent the week getting to know each other’s families while feasting on spa-friendly spring cuisine.

Now that I’m back East and the rain has set in, the wet, sticky weather signals to me that warm weather recipes are ready to take center stage on my menus. This means scrounging around in my fridge and pantry, devouring the last of the comfort foods that kept out the chill while winter was still raging. I’m a big believer in eating seasonally and letting the farmers and gardeners dictate what we chefs should be serving. Likewise, I believe in using up the last of any season’s delectables I may have squirreled away, before moving on to “what dreams may come” for the next season. This can be cause for some memorable meals…

One of my favorite transitional meals to celebrate the passing of the seasons is Wild Boar Ragu. I dig up the extra bits and bops of boar I have floating around in my freezer from stews and roasts past, use up the last of my winter spices and unearth one of the few remaining jars of tomato sauce I canned last fall. Ragu is a very forgiving recipe and has any number of iterations should your freezer be barren of boar. That said, unless you’re off on weekend jaunts hunting for wild game there are in fact a variety of places round town to buy hard-to-find boar (and more) without sporting a camouflage getup or donning a rifle.

Ottomanelli’s is my go to spot for wild game. Being around for over 100 years ensures they know a thing or two when it comes to meat, and they don’t skimp on sharing their insider secrets or giving you their best cut either. The butchers behind the counter are about as old as the brand, boasting, big, thick chops that aren’t their only offering to suggest that size does matter; after visiting this butchering brood as many times as I have, I am fully convinced it’s a requirement to have hands the size of a porterhouse steak to work at Ottomanelli’s!

Pulling together the ingredients for the ragu I shopped for last winter and am making in celebration of this spring, I got to thinking about more than mere size. As I browned the boar, reduced my ragu, boiled pappardelle and tossed a spring salad accented with edible flower blossoms to accompany my pasta, I was struck with the distinct feeling that at as time passes and seasons change, the meals we share around the table should reflect the unique nature of every season, every day, every dinner we serve. This ragu recipe is particularly amenable to change; serve it steamy hot on the last of the chilled April nights, or dine al fresco under the stars with a room temperature feast on the first of the warming sunsets this same month.

Wild Boar Ragu (serves 4)

  • 1.5 lb Wild Boar (cubed)
  • 2 Onions (diced)
  • 2 Celery (diced)
  • 1 Carrot (diced)
  • 3 cloves Garlic (diced)
  • 3 teaspoons Anchovy Paste
  • 1 pinch Chili Flakes
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 2 Sage Leaves
  • 2 sprigs Rosemary
  • 2 sprigs Thyme
  • 1 bottle good Red Wine
  • 3 cups Tomato Sauce
  • 1 box Pappardelle
  • Fresh Parsley (garnish)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano (garnish)
  • Fleur de Sel (garnish)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Heat a large, heavy saucepan to medium-high and season your meat with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Brown your cubes of wild boar in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, then set aside for later use. Add more olive oil, salt and pepper to the pan and sauté onions, carrots and celery till they soften (about 10 minutes), then add the garlic till it’s golden (about 5 minutes more). Add the rest of your ingredients and bring to a boil. Bring your meat back front and center and add it to the sauce. Let everything come to a boil once again, then reduce heat to a simmer for 2-3 hours till thick and zesty. In the final half hour of simmering, boil pasta water and cook your pappardelle til al dente. Check the seasoning of your sauce to see if it needs anything; once it’s to your liking, toss with pasta and add garnish of parsley, parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Take advantage of the last of your winter pantry staples with a dish that will give anyone a spring in their step, and Eat it Up!

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2 Responses to “Springing for Boar (and more)”

  1. Angela Gunder

    How timely! Found your post on Photograzing at Serious Eats and had to smile. I just moved from NYC to Phoenix and as a means of celebrating all that I missed from my time in NYC (and a way while back, my time in Italy), decided to have a wild boar feast called “The Feast of the Seven Boars”. Of course Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu made it on the menu, along with some other fun springtimey delights (miner’s lettuce, stinging nettles and fiddlehead ferns). Love this post, but love even more the shoutout to Ottomanelli’s – they know their stuff! Anyway, thanks for the foodie joy :)

  2. Raquel

    This recipe appears to have been “inspired” by Mario Batali’s recipe. I think bloggers should give credit where credit is due.

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