Last Updated on April 7, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
Wild Boar Ragù with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Although we tend to associate Italian wild boar recipes with Tuscany, hunting and eating cinghiale is common in many rural parts of the country. Abruzzo, with it’s massive and famous national park, in the centre of the Apennines, is well-populated with wild boar. They breed prolifically and, like deer, can cause immense damage to farmland and particularly vineyards. The only natural predator for the wild boar in Italy is the wolf but there are now estimated to be around 2 million boars to just 1,500 wolves. Despite knowing that boar can be dangerous to humans, I still prefer that ratio! However, hunting boar to control their numbers is vital. Ragù di Cinghiale or Wild Boar Ragù is a delicious and simple way to enjoy the tougher parts of the meat and there are countless recipe variations both from famous Italian chefs and from TV celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, the Hairy Bikers and even Michel Roux. The essence of a ragù is that you use chunks of meat rather than mince, cooking for long enough that it falls apart. The word ragù means ragged – you are looking for a raggedy mix of meat, sauce and vegetables to eat with pasta, polenta or even mashed potatoes. Traditionally the sauce would have been skimmed off to eat with pasta while the meat was reserved for another course. But, today most people serve up a meaty pasta sauce
Exactly how you make it is up to you. There are a few things to bear in mind when you start to make your ragù. Firstly, if you are using an older boar, marinating the meat may be a good idea. The meat I had from Wild & Game was excellent quality and really didn’t need to be marinated, though I did cook the ragù for two and a half hours in total. Secondly, almost all ragù recipes include wine and tomatoes. The quantities vary so the end result can be anything from a tomato-based sauce through to a red wine and meat one. I didn’t want to mask the flavour of the wild boar with tomato so opted for just a little sundried tomato paste in my recipe and a lot more wine, reduced down through the cooking. If I’d been cooking for children, I’d probably have opted for a ‘red sauce’ like the one recommended by Jamie Oliver which uses a ratio of about 1kg meat to half a kilo of tomato passata. I used juniper and bay to flavour my ragù but you could pick the herbs of your choice or use a mix of rosemary, thyme and bay.
Once you’ve made your ragù it’s worth leaving it for a day before eating it because, like a lot of stews, the flavour will improve. And, do find a good Italian wine to enjoy with your wild boar ragù. Mine was Orlandi Contucci Ponno, La Regia Specula 2017.
Abruzzo has three Montepulciano classifications – Controguerra DOC, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG. My wine was classified as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, a classification which puts it as one of the leading Montepulciano wines of the region. It comes from a specific area in Abruzzo in the province of Teramo, with a wide range of coastal and inland hills reaching to the Gran Sasso and Monte della Laga foothills to the centre-north. Production is highly regulated with mandatory low yield and plant density, vinification within the region and a minimum of two years aging with 12 months in oak for standard DOCG and 3 years for Riserva. The aim is to produce a smoother and more delicate wine than basic Montepulciano DOC. La Regia Specula is named after a naval fort observation post designed to watch for pirates in the Adriatic sea.
It’s a robust wine with a deep ruby colour, notes of blackberry and strawberry and hints of pepper and chocolate. The mouth-drying tannins that typify a good Montepulciano are very evident and I was more than happy with the pairing, though if you want to try for yourself, I’d recommend opening the bottle an hour or so before you want to eat and drink. In fact, I’ve visited the winery at Orlandi Contucci Ponno several years ago when I first visited Abruzzo and I remember learning from the owner and winery manager at the time, Guilia Ragguinti, that she was looking to develop more refined wines than the region had historically produced. Until relatively recently much of the production from Abruzzo was used for blending and my wine trip to Abruzzo in 2013 was to learn about the relatively new premium wines being produced in the region.
Meanwhile, back to the ragù. For 4-6 servings you’ll need 500g of wild boar for stewing. Mine, from Wild & Game, came nicely cut into 2cm cubes, which is about right for this dish. I used a classic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot – about the same amount of each. You will also need some finely chopped bacon or cubed pancetta. I used sun-dried tomato puree, bay and juniper berries. And a lot of wine. I have to confess I got the olives out thinking that I might need something to add more depth of flavour and inspired by the Hairy Bikers recipe. But, once I tasted the ragù I decided it just didn’t need them. So, they are still in the jar, waiting for another day.
I served my wild boar ragù with Pappardelle pasta which originates from Tuscany and is traditionally used to hold thick sauces and meat ragù. The derivation of the name is from the verb pappare, which means to gobble up. It’s one of those kinds of pasta that is actually not difficult to make yourself if you have a pasta machine or attachment. I don’t, so mine was bought fresh. You can also make it by slicing up fresh lasagne if you find it hard to buy. Just use a sharp knife to cut ribbons that are about 2 cm wide along the long edge of the lasagne sheets.
Want to try for yourself? Here’s my recipe.
A classic Italian dish - wild boar ragù
- 500 g Wild Boar stewing steak Cut into 2cm cubes
- 70-100 g Smoked Pancetta Or smoked bacon. Cut into 1/2cm cubes
- 1 medium Onion Finely chopped
- 2 medium Carrots Peeled and finely diced
- 2 sticks Celery Finely diced
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 tsp Juniper Berries Crushed
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 tbsp Flour
- 500 ml Red Wine
- 2 tsp Tomato Puree
- Salt and Pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 150C
Season the flour with salt and pepper
Toss the wild boar in the seasoned flour
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and brown the wild boar in batches
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a heavy based casserole and soften the vegetables over a medium temperature
Add the pancetta, bay leaves and juniper to the vegetables and continue to cook until the pancetta is well cooked and the fat has started to render
Add the browned wild boar to the casserole and stir through the wine and tomato puree
Bring to a gentle simmer and cook on the stove top for 5 minutes or so
Stir well and then cover the casserole and put it in the oven to cook for 2 or 3 hours until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced
Check the casserole every half hour or so,stir and top up with extra wine or water as necessary.
Once the meat is really tender pull it gently apart with a fork to create a thick ragù
Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary
Serve with pasta or polenta, topped with grated parmesan if you like
If you are using older wild boar, you may like to marinate your meat overnight before cooking. You can make a simple marinade with 2 tbsp olive oil, 500ml wine, a couple of bay leaves, pepper and some crushed juniper berries. Put the cubed boar into a dish, cover with the marinade and then cover the dish and put in the fridge for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to cook, drain the marinade off the meat and pat it dry with kitchen roll or an old, clean tea towel.
If you want to buy good wild boar (or any other game) do take a look at the Wild & Game website. They offer a range of game for home delivery – everything is frozen and ready to put straight in the freezer if you want. They also have some great ready meals and a range of pies and savoury pastries.
For the best Italian wines, check out Independent Wine specialists in wines from Italy with an astonishing range of premium wines you won’t find elsewhere in the UK.