While pregnant with Fin, Big N took me on a “babymoon” to Italy. We started in Florence and travelled north in our Fiat Panda, stopping in Parma, Bologna, Milan, and ending in the breathtaking Lake Como area. On the journey, we lost ourselves in some of the most amazing countryside I have ever experienced. Italy by car is the way to go because while the cities boast basilicas, duomos, art from the masters, and high fashion shopping, the villages and the countryside make up the heart and soul of Italy. Highlights of our trip included exploring the amazing outdoor markets in Florence, the FOOD (Big N enjoyed the wine, I couldn’t partake), and our favorite stop, Montalcino.
Italians keep food fresh and simple, and a traditional meal has five courses. The antipasti will usually be cold cuts, vegetables, or a simple plate of beans, flavored to perfection. Next comes primo, which is usually a small portion of soup, pasta, or risotto. Pasta is rarely the main part of the meal. Next is secondo, the meat, poultry or fish course, accompanied by contorni, or side dishes, usually a vegetable. Finally, dolce, dessert. Travelling through Italy you need to check your diet at the door and be prepared to feast on the amazingly fresh Italian fare.
While meandering our way through Tuscany, we stopped at wineries here and there to sample wines and cheeses and to take in the breathtaking provincial scenery. We found ourselves at Le Ragnaie, an agriturismo guest house that sits on 28 hectares of organic sangiovese vines. The caretaker was warm and inviting and took us into the celler to steal a sample of the wine in barrel. We stayed two nights. By day we explored the town of Montalcino, and during the evening we searched for family owned trattorias to sample typical Tuscan fare. By far the best meal we had was at a small basement trattoria with a chalk board menu. Husband was cooking in the kitchen, wife was bussing tables, and teen-aged children were waiting on guests. We were the only patrons at the time. The “house” jug wine was local Brunello de Montalcino, which would have been a $100 dollar bottle in any restaurant stateside. I still remember my meal perfectly, zuppa di funghi with crusty bread and large portobello and wild mushrooms mixed in with the broth (to-die-for) and wild boar ragu with fresh house-made pappardelle (wide noodles). The pasta coarse was so amazing I skipped secondi just for that night. (I was pregnant, and eating for two after all). So busy was I marveling at how such simple dishes in this unknown trattoria off the beaten path could be so fantastic, that I neglected to capture the moment on film. But this meal lives on in my memory as one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
Until recently, the only time I’d had boar was in Montalcino. But on a trip to my local butcher, Harmony Farms, I found wild boar in the case and purchased it on a whim. In my freezer it sat, until Big N and I were talking about that Tuscan meal we had before Fin was born and I was inspired to give it a shot. I probably used more boar than necessary, and my version of the boar ragu turned out thick and super meaty, but absolutely heavenly.
Boar ragu is richer, more flavorful, and definitely more exciting than pasta made from plain old ground beef. Big N helped me roll the pappardelle pasta from scratch, which added another layer of tradition and flavor to a simple dish. I think even the Italians would treat wild boar ragu as a main course just this once.
Making your own pasta is simpler than it seems (see my easy instructions below) and is an indulgent treat. You’ll need a pasta roller (if you have a Kitchenaid stand mixer, these attachments work great because you don’t need an extra hand to turn the crank), and you can purchase a good one for under $70. Well worth the investment to have fresh pasta any time you’d like.
Wild boar ragu with fresh pappardelle pasta topped with a generous helping of grated Parmesan- the sure-fire cure for any winter blues.