I had a really hard time deciding what to cook for Christmas. We spent the holidays in Bari this year, and while Christmas Eve was all about fish, Christmas day was wide open. In the past we’ve done tortellini in brodo, as well as various stuffed and roasted fowl.
The thing was, I actually didn’t feel like spending the entire day in the kitchen. We stay at Domenico’s mom’s house, and while it’s spacious and comfortable and has a fantastic view of the sea, the kitchen is a bit dysfunctional. I make do. But I’d much rather be outside, walking along the Lungomare.
Then I had the brilliant idea of cooking something in Rome, that I could bring down, ready to go on Christmas day. And since I already had 14 pounds of wild boar meat in the freezer…..
Yes. Domenico came home one day with a leg-o-boar. No. He doesn’t hunt. And no, he didn’t run it over. A contractor from one of his jobs does hunt though, and had more boar than he could handle.
Although I’ve eaten plenty of boar in restaurants all over Umbria and Tuscany, I’d never actually cooked it. And certainly never had to butcher what was essentially a cinghiale ham. It actually wasn’t that difficult once I got going. I cut the meat off the bone, then chopped it into spezzatino sized pieces. Then in several bags it sat in the freezer while I figured out what to do with it.
Unlike pork, chinghiale is a deep, dark, ruby-colored meat. And it is very lean, which means that it can be tough if you don’t cook it correctly. I started browsing around, and realized that most of the recipes are basically variations on marinating, then cooking, in red wine. In other words: boar stew.
And that’s when I realized that this meant that I could also make and eat one of my favorite things in the entire world: polenta. But not any polenta, Mulino Marino polenta. Grown from a heritage variety of corn, this polenta is unlike any other I’ve ever had. It’s ground with the germ, which means it’s a perishable product. That also means that it actually tastes like corn. It’s about as far away from the pre-cooked , instant polenta that is sold everywhere as you can possibly get.
If you’re thinking ‘who wants to stand and stir polenta for an hour?’ I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to. Yes, it does take an hour or more to cook. But you don’t have to stir. At least once the flour is completely poured into the simmering water. It’s a sort of magic recipe that comes straight from the Marino family themselves. And they should know.
So rather than spend the entire day in the kitchen, I made the stew before we left Rome. The two days in the fridge only improved the flavor, like any stew. And with the no-stir polenta method I had a very relaxing day.
Wild Boar in Red Wine
2 kilos / 4 pounds wild boar meat
1 bottle of red wine
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
2 stalks celery
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 bulb fennel
1 cup white wine.
2 cups broth
The boar meat should be cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a stainless steel pot and add the rest of the marinade ingredients. Stir and let marinate in refrigerator over night.
Take meat out of the marinade, patting the meat dry and reserving the marinade. Season the meat with salt and pepper.
Pour oil into a large saute pan, enough to cover the bottom. Heat to high, and add the meat in one layer. Do not crowd, since you want the meat to brown. You may have to do this in two batches. Cook until browned on all side, turning meat over as it cooks. This should take about 12 minutes or so.
Place meat aside. If there is a lot of oil in the pan, remove some with a spoon, but leave the browned bits of meat on the bottom.
Chop the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and fennel. I just put it all in the food processor and gave it a whiz.
Add the chopped vegetables to the pan that you’ve just used to brown the meat. Cook until the vegetables had softened, stirring and scraping up the browned bits. Add a bit of water if you need to. Let the veggies cook for about 10 minutes or so, then add the white wine, deglazing the pan.
Put meat in a stew pot, and pour the reserved marinade over it. Add the cooked vegetables and broth. Bring to a simmer. Add 1 tsp of salt. Stir and let cook slowly for about 2 and a half hours. Check every so often to make sure there is enough liquid. The meat should be very tender at this point.
If possible, let cool then put in fridge for a day or so, so that the flavors develop. Heat thoroughly before serving.
The amount of polenta you use is up to you. I usually figure on 100 grams per person, but this means that you will almost certainly have lots of leftover polenta. But since polenta is my favorite thing in the world to eat for breakfast, I figure that’s ok. The main thing you keep in mind is proportions: 1 liter of water for every 200 grams of polenta.
800 grams Polenta*
4 liters water
2 tsp of salt
*It really does make a difference to search out great polenta. I know the instant stuff is easy, but you can’t even begin to compare the taste. Mulino Marino polenta is available at Zingermans and Formaggio Kitchen in the States and in Rome you can buy it at Eataly.
Bring the salted water to boil in a large steel pan with a thick bottom. Just before the water comes to a boil, gradually add the polenta in a steady stream, stirring the entire time. This is the make sure that the polenta doesn’t form lumps.
Bring the heat down to the very lowest possible setting. Put the cover on the pot, and just walk away. If you’re worried, you can check on it every so often and even give it a stir. Mulino Marino suggest on the package that you cook it for about an hour and a half. I find that an hour is plenty.