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DigiBites: A Good Ragù Is Never Boaring

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Happy Holiday Week 24/680 followers: Time to stay inside and enjoy some Italian comfort food… a classic ragù.

Chef Charlie

This is an absolute favorite of mine, and I had some of the best in San Gimignano, Tuscany, made with locally-sourced wild boar (cinghiale).

Traditionally served over tagliatelle pasta, a ragù is a tomato-based meat sauce. Similar to Bolognese sauce, originating from Bologna, it has less meat and vegetables; whereas, Marinara is without meat and smooth, without chunks of tomato.

According to visittuscany.com, “renowned for the quality of its meat, its strength and voracity, Italian wild boar or “cinghiale” is a combination of the region’s native Sus Scrofa and the wild boar introduced from Eastern Europe. Due to the absence of natural predators, the number of wild boars has risen and risen over the past few years.

Castellina in Chianti, Italy

Today, there are about 150,000 wild boar in Tuscany, and some of them have been blamed for damage to local agriculture (a 50 kg boar needs around 4,000-4,500 calories per day). They may weigh from 50 to 180 kg and eat bulbs, tubers, roots, acorns, wheat, corn, eggs, birds, small rodents… almost everything. Their average lifespan is 15-20 years and every year females can give birth to anywhere from 4 to 8 piglets.

Boar are widespread throughout the region, especially in the Maremma, where they have became a local symbol. In Tuscany, wild boar hunting is both a tradition and a passion. The hunting season changes depending on the area and runs from October to late January, only in areas and allowed days.”

Wild pigs are found in California, and you can special-order the meat from some better butcher shops. For my variation, I chose to use a combination of commonly available ground pork and seasoned bulk pork sausage, plus lean ground beef.

Ragù di Carne
(Tuscan-Style Meat Sauce)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, cut into a 1/4-inch dice
2 stalks celery, cut into a 1/4-inch dice
2 fennel bulbs, cut into a 1/4-inch dice; 1/2 of one top with fronds, coarsely chopped and reserved
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons whole fennel seed, lightly crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup hearty red wine (Chianti, if you have it)
8 ounces lean ground beef, crumbled
8 ounces ground pork, crumbled
8 ounces spicy Italian bulk pork sausage, crumbled
8 ounces brown mushrooms, rinsed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 – 24 ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
1 – 24 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup minced Italian flat-leaf parsley

•  To a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, fennel, garlic, fennel seed and 2 big pinches of kosher salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with the red wine.

•  Add the meats, and using a spatula, break the meats up until uniformly crumbled. Fold to combine. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meats are no longer pink.

•  Add the mushrooms, diced tomatoes (with juices), crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, cheese, and a little water to cover. Simmer, covered, on low heat for 1 hour. Check every so often, and give a stir. Adjust seasonings (kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper), to taste.

•  To finish, add the parsley and chopped fennel tops to the ragù; stir to combine, and cook for a couple of minutes more.

•  Serve with prepared tagliatelle pasta or polenta and pass extra cheese.

Serves 4 – 6

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I have found it to be gamey and tough and never really developed a taste for it. Do you marinate it or do anything to tenderize?

    • This ragù is made with ground meats. True cinghiale is marinated in red wine and slow-braised until tender. It also reduces the gaminess.

  2. I like the background info on sauce variations. Now I can be the hero if we ever get back to eating in an Italian restaurant!

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