Cookbook #52: Simply Tuscan

Adapted from Cookbook #52:  Simply Tuscan  (2000)

Recipe: Sweet and Sour Wild Boar with Chestnut Gnocchi

I made roast beast.

Normally on Christmas Eve, we have "morsels and sauces"--my favorite way to eat (little bits of this, little bits of that, usually pâté, grapes, cornichons, salami, cheese, crackers).  But we're saving that for Christmas Day dinner.   Instead, last night we had boar.

We're coming to the close of the year, and I have saved two very wintery foods for the end.  Page 210 of this Tuscan regional cookbook by Pino Luongo  is entitled "A Quintessential Winter Menu," calling for a buffet that serves 12 (!) of Braised Quail with Caramelized Shallots with Soft Polenta, Garganelli with Truffle-Scented Fondue, Sweet and Sour Wild Boar with Chestnut Gnocchi, and Marta's Grandmother's Apple Roll.  Well, well, well.  All of that sounds transcendent, but I didn't need to feed 12.  I needed to feed four--so I chose just one recipe.  While the quail is technically the closest recipe to page 210, I wanted to branch out even bigger to cook something I would never just pick up on a weeknight.  Boar.  You can substitute buffalo or lamb if boar is unavailable.  And boar is quite tricky to find.  But find it we did!  Thank you, Golden Gate Meats.

The recipe is actually quite simple, but it does take about two hours (after marinating it for 24 hours in a bottle of red wine).  I got the beast simmering with the carrots, celery, and onions and the wine.  Then I began making the gnocchi.   I couldn't find any chestnut flour (seriously, I looked everywhere--the Bowl, Whole Foods, an Italian specialty store, an Italian deli and supermarket.  Nothing.), so I substituted sweet potato flour.  Chestnut flour is sweet and gluten-free, both qualities I wanted to replicate in the substitution.  The "00" proof flour is high gluten, so adding more flour seemed to me a bad idea as it would add more weight.  The substitution turned out fantastic.

After I made the gnocchi, I made the sweet and sour sauce for the boar.  In fact, the sweet and sour sauce added to the unsweetened chocolate made this sauce absolutely fantastic--sweet, rich, and thick. At this point, I just let the sauce simmer for awhile--there was no rush (and a puzzle to be done).  At go time,  I tossed the gnocchi in the salted boiling water, and the husband made the butter and sage sauce for the gnocchi--which is the easiest sauce in the world.  First you brown the butter and then crisp the sage leaves.  That's it.  And it is so decadent and wonderful.

For dinner we had the husband's parents (one set) over for a very low key affair.  Puzzles worked on, dinner around the living room table, lots of Christmas music.  What was it... the most ordinary moments are often the most profound?  After a week of Christmas-themed activities (a turn around the carousel in Tilden Park, ice skating at the Embarcadero center, gospel Christmas music with Kim Nalley), it was wonderful to sit with good wine, good beast, and family beside the lit tree. (On a side note, this year, we named the tree Susan and discovered I am allergic to tree (leaf) molds and we're taking her down a little early.  Bah.).  Later, I fell asleep on the couch while the husband watched It's a Wonderful Life.


I also want to give a little shout out to the Wine Mine.  We go there regularly now to pick up good, inexpensive, every day wines.  They have $1 tastings on Saturdays from 2-5 (now, that fits my budget), and they're within walking distance! The guys there are always helpful and are always spot on with their recommendations.  I admit, I chose this wine because I liked the name (Klinker Brick).  But the best part is that when I picked the bottle up, I was helpfully (and I believe jokingly) cautioned that I should save it for a night we have boar, because it is big.  Little did they know, I saved it for the night when we actually had boar.  While big, it was fantastic--you could easily serve it with any meat--it's spicy and jammy. 

Finally, we purchased this lovely, little cookbook for the sole reason that we wanted a Cappellacci di Zucca recipe.  Cappellacci (a hooded pasta stuffed with butternut squash and crumbled almond cookies and drizzled with brown butter and sage) is quite simply the classic pasta dish of Ferrara, Italy, where we spent a weekend in 2003.  Allow me a diversion with highlights from the weekend:  Heat.  Gelatto.  Mosquito bites.  Alabaster windows.  The University of Ferrara (where the husband gave his first professional talk).  A flag competition in the square.  The courtyard deck (where we sipped wine and ate cappellacci with one of the biology professors while a woman upstairs sang Eastern European pop songs).   [The cappellacci (on p. 160-1) are amazing--and I vow to one day write about them more here.  Lord knows I will get an abundance of squash in the CSA box.]

In sum, all of this is fantastic.  We have one more--festive-themed--entry left in this little project.  And now (seeing as it's about 6:30 in the morning on Christmas Day), it's time to have another cup of tea beside Susan, watching the parts of It's a Wonderful Life that I slept through.  In 30 minutes (a far more reasonable time), I will wake the husband.  Happy Christmas, indeed!
Serves 4

Sweet and Sour Boar
For the Boar
2 pounds boar meat, cut into 1-inch cubes (you may substitute buffalo or lamb)
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
1 bouquet garni*
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup beef or vegetable broth, as needed
14 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tablespoons water

*To make a bouquet garni, wrap the following in cheesecloth:
2 bay leaves
a sprig of fresh thyme
2 whole cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

For the Sweet and Sour Sauce
2/3 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Make the Boar
1.  Marinate the meat overnight in the red wine with the bouquet garni.  The next day, lift the meat out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and pat it dry with paper towels.  Reserve the marinade.

2.  In a large casserole over medium-low heat, warm half of the olive oil.  Add the chopped vegetables and let them sweat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile warm the remaining olive oil in a skillet over high heat.  Add the meat and sear it on all sides.

4.  Add the seared meat to the vegetables and season with salt and pepper.  Add the reserved marinade, including the bouquet garni, and the sour cherries to the casserole, turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil.  When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 90 minutes.

5.  After 90 minutes, dissolve the cocoa in the water and add it to the casserole.  There should be a lot of juice from the meat.  If it's not juicy, add some broth to keep it moist.

 Make the Sweet and Sour Sauce
1.  In a skillet over low heat, simmer the sugar, garlic, and bay leaves, along with the water until the sugar liquefies, about 3 minutes.

2.  When the sugar is golden, add the wed wine vinegar.  The sugar will harden and stick to the bottom of the pan.  Keep on simmering over very low heat until the sugar melts again.  Stir this mixture into the casserole and let it simmer for 15 minutes more. 

Chestnut Gnocchi
2 pounds Idaho potatoes
1 1/2 cups "00" flour or use all purpose flour*
5 ounces chestnut flour [Again, I substituted sweet potato flour]
2 eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and Pepper
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 leaves fresh sage

*"00" flour is high-gluten, and it proofs the gnocchi well.

1.  In a pot of salted water, boil the potatoes until they are fork tender, about 10 to 12 minutes, then peel them and pass them through a ricer or mash them.  [I baked them instead.  The drier the potato the better the gnocchi.  Then I tossed them in the food processor.]

2.  On a clean work surface, mound the mashed potatoes and make a well in the center.  Place all the remaining ingredients, except the butter and sage, int he well.  Mix it together until it forms a homogeneous dough.  Knead the dough until it is smooth.  If it is sticky add a little more flour.  [Again, I used the food processor.  Pulse as few times as possible--the less handling, the lighter the gnocchi.]

3.  Divide the dough into 4 portions and roll each portion into a 1/2-inch-wide log.  Cut the log into 1-inch pieces.  (Luongo recommends a dough scraper to do this).  Place the gnocchi on a floured tray as you cut them.

4.  Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water until they float, about 3-4 minutes, then lift them out gently with a slotted spoon.

5.  While the gnocchi are cooking, melt the butter in a saute pan over low heat.  Add the sage.  Toss the cooked and drained gnocchi with the sage butter.


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