My time spent in Orvieto, Italy, much like the experience of many students studying abroad in college, was all about turning my preconceived notions on their proverbial heads. I never imagined that following up on a random postcard in my mailbox for a summer “arts” program in the heart of Tuscany would lead to a series of revelations in terms of ingredients, cooking and collecting food memories. Up until that point, Pizza Hut wasn’t a four letter word, ice cream and gelato could be considered one in the same, and a bottle of wine per person wasn’t considered a reasonable lunch. But all of that was thrown out the window, and I was utterly spellbound by all of the tastes and sights and experiences surrounding me. I discovered fava beans, pasta cooked in red wine, tomato-less bolognese, fresh porcini mushrooms and young white wines with ne’er an additive or preservative. I ate gelato after every meal, and sometimes as my meal, choosing flavors that tasted riper than fresh fruit. I learned that in Italy, I couldn’t leave the table before finishing the bottle of grappa or limoncello plonked there by the owner, much like a child forced to eat their vegetables before clearing off. I even taught an Italian movie star to do the robot while simultaneously doing an impression of Julia Child. I was officially living the life.
On typical days between the lectures and class time spent shooting pictures, we’d have “simple” lunches of pasta and wine. My favorite spot was Al Pozzo Etrusco, a charming spot with the sweetest waitress taking the order in my broken Italian despite the fact that she spoke perfect English. And true to its name, the place had an ancient well in their basement – you walked through the kitchen and down a flight of catacomb-worthy stairs to a natural well. It was whimsical and the food was a dream. There, I discovered one of my favorite ingredients of all time – wild boar. A friend ordered pappardelle con cinghiale, and when I asked her what the hell she was getting, she explained the majesty of blubbery, wide pasta noodles with slow cooked wild boar. It sounded nutty until I saw her plate and my jaw just dropped. Talk about insanely delicious looking – I had to steal a bite. And from there, the love affair just progressed. What was I going to do when I left Italy at the end of the summer? How would I get my pappardelle con cinghiale fix?
Years later, pappardelle started showing up in stores (Trader Joes especially), but the boar was nowhere to be found. I was relegated to commiserating with my Italian friends over the glories of wild boar – from prosciutto to braised shoulders to bolognese, it was goodness personified and we missed it ever so much. So of course, to my delight, I knew I had to acquire some for myself when I saw that Marx Foods was selling various cuts of wild boar. I knew that if I indulged, that I’d have to treat the boar some kind of special, and invite folks over that would appreciate the majesty. And thus, the Feast of the Seven Boars was born, and one of the seven was an homage to my Tuscan feasts of yore in the form of a sumptuous mound of pappardelle con cinghiale.
Because this dish was my everyday, easy lunch, I wanted to come up with a way to prepare the bolognese as easily as possible. I’ve toyed with the definitive recipe for bolognese from Marcella Hazan, and in making a few tweaks, discovered that I could replicate her 5 hour masterpiece with literally 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. Genius! And what a lovely way to coax the boar into tender glory. It’s been a fast track to my memories of putzing around old cobblestone streets, completely unprepared for the myriad discoveries awaiting me around each corner. I miss it so.
Pappardelle con Cinghiale
3 oz. of pancetta
3 lbs. of ground wild boar
1 onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 c. of milk
2 tbs. of butter
2 tbs. of olive oil
1 c. of dry white wine
2 cans of whole San Marzano crushed tomatoes
pinch of nutmeg
2 fresh bay leaves
2 tbs. of kosher salt
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
a tablespoon or two of butter
1 lb. of pappardelle
In a pressure cooker, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the pancetta and sauté until it starts to crisp up. Add the wild boar and cook until barely pink. Mix in the onions, celery, carrots and garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the milk, tomatoes, nutmeg, bay leaves, salt, pepper and parmesan rind and stir. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to high pressure. Cook for 20-25 minutes on high, and then let the pressure subside naturally.
Cook the pasta according to package directions in well salted water. Drain and toss the pappardelle with a cup or two of the bolognese and a few tablespoons of butter. Serve with extra bolognese and grated locatelli.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can absolutely cook this sauce the old school way with some careful simmering. Simply follow the bolognese recipe here using the ingredients above.