When I wrote my humble tribute to the late Marcella Hazan a few weeks ago, I started to think about the women who have inspired my love of cooking. Naturally, my mother and two grandmothers are at the top of the list despite my early rebukes of their efforts. Another special woman who kept coming to mind is my good friend Lida, the chef and co-owner of Agriturismo La Pagliarella in Sant’Elia, a frazione – hamlet – of the town of Caramanico Terme in Abruzzo.
My family discovered La Pagliarella about five years ago during a dinner with a large group of relatives and friends. Although I spent most of the evening chasing after my toddler, I recall the entire table sighing with satisfaction as they proclaimed Lida’s ravioli the best they had ever eaten (high praise considering the culinary prowess of some of the mothers of those diners, my grandmother included).
Although not classically trained, Lida is an immensely talented cook who tackled her family’s arsenal of traditional Abruzzese recipes and refined them to her tastes. She is a master with pasta – the texture is delicate but has a slight rusticity that is characteristic of fresh pasta in Abruzzo. She also makes the best zuppa di farro I’ve ever tasted and prepares an eggplant involtino that has invoked a collective sigh from a table of 30 unreasonably discerning diners. And let’s not even get started on her pallotte cac’e ove (my recipe is adapted from hers) and homemade cheeses.
Over the years, Lida, her husband, Andrea, who runs the front of the house, and their three lovely children have become cherished friends. When I started catering, Lida graciously invited me into her kitchen for some mini cooking lessons. This past August, we stopped in for an impromptu farewell lunch a few days before heading home to New York and I found her putting the finishing touches on sugo di cinghiale – slow-cooked sauce of wild boar. The day before, a hunter had surreptitiously knocked on her backdoor with some local game. She waved me into the kitchen and explained her method of braising the meat which she served with her perfect homemade pappardelle. The sauce was full of flavor and heart. I have eaten cinghiale at other restaurants in Abruzzo and the meat, which is very lean, is often disappointingly tough. However, Lida’s low and slow method of braising rendered the meat perfectly tender.
Last week, with Lida already on my mind, I randomly received an email from specialty food purveyor, D’Artagnan, featuring wild game and ordered a shoulder of wild boar from Texas. This is the first time I’ve ever cooked cinghiale as well as the first time I’ve ever eaten it outside of Italy. Although I consulted with other recipes, I ultimately decided to stay true to Lida’s simple, straightforward approach and am so glad I did – give it a try, you’ll be glad too.
Sugo di Cinghiale
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © (adapted from Agriturismo La Pagliarella)
Wild boar has a reddish color and a more intense flavor than pork. Commonly found in the rocky mountains of Abruzzo as well as other parts of central Italy, here in the US, you can order humanely trapped, Texas wild boar from D’Artagnan.
Yields 6 cups
- 2 ½ lbs of wild boar shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups chicken stock (or water, which is what Lida uses)
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 5 cups whole peeled tomatoes, pureed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Sea salt
To a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, add the meat, ¼ cup of olive oil, onion, carrots, celery, rosemary, several grindings of fresh ground pepper, white wine and chicken stock. The meat should be completely immersed in the braising liquid; if it isn’t, add additional stock or water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so that the liquid is only gently bubbling (Lida calls it “fuoco dolce” – over a sweet flame). Simmer for 30 minutes with the lid slightly askew. Next, add the tomatoes, tomato paste and a tablespoon of salt, return to a boil, and then lower the heat as you did before so that the liquid is bubbling very gently. Cover, checking occasionally to make sure the sauce is not cooking too rapidly, and simmer for 90 minutes. After 90 minutes, uncover, adjust the seasonings to taste, add the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil and continue to simmer uncovered in the same low and slow manner for 90 minutes or longer. Turn off the heat when the meat is quite tender and the sauce has reached a depth of color and flavor with which you’re satisfied.
To serve: Gently break apart the larger chunks of meat and serve over pappardelle or another thick, hearty cut of pasta. Serve with grated Pecorino and the slightest drizzle of good olive oil. Buon appetito!