A duck ragù is nothing new, but it always seems to be special. Pappardelle is the pasta of choice for game and duck.
I bought a whole duck, dismembered it and trimmed away the obvious fat. I cooked the duck for the ragù over 2 days because ducks can be very fatty and I wanted to remove some of the fat.
I left the cooked duck overnight and the liquid jellied (in the meantime the flavours also intensified) and the fat rose to the top making it easier for me to remove most of I with a spoon. I used some of the duck fat to sauté the mushrooms.
for the soffritto: 1 onion, 1 carrot,1 stalk of celery
fresh rosemary, bay leaves
½ cup of diced tomatoes or 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine
3 cups chicken stock
salt and black pepper
250g mushrooms…on this occasion I used brown mushrooms.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
fresh thyme and parsley
Wipe the duck pieces to dry them as much as possible.
Heat a heavy based casserole and over medium heat add the duck skin-side down and fry until browned and fat renders (6-9 minutes).
Drain most of the fat. Turn and fry until browned (2-3 minutes), then set aside.
To the same saucepan add onion and soften slightly before adding the carrot and celery and sauté until vegetables are tender (5-8 minutes).
Return the duck pieces to the pan, add the wine, stock, tomatoes, seasoning, bay leaves and rosemary.
Cover and cook slowly for about 1¾-2¼ hours, until the meat looks as it will be easy to separate from the bones.
Leave to cool. The fat will rise to the top making it easier to remove.
Reheat the duck braise very briefly, just sufficiently to melt the jelly.
Remove the duck pieces and set aside. When they are cool enough to handle remove the the skin and strip the meat from the bones in chunks. Discard herbs and the bones.
Drain the solids from the liquid and add these to the duck. Place the liquid from the braise (i.e. that is yet to be reduced) in a separate container.
Wipe the pan and use some of the fat to sauté the mushrooms and garlic. Add parsley and thyme and some seasoning.
Deglaze the pan using about a cup of liquid and evaporate most of it. Repeat with the left over liquid until it has reduced.
Add the duck, a couple of twists of nutmeg and the ragù is ready.
Combine the cooked pasta with the duck ragù and serve.
My favourite Italian vegetable is the carciofo – artichoke. These have been eaten in Italy from ancient times and especially appreciated during the Roman period. They were then grown extensively in Sicily and Naples particularly around the 9th century.
Italians still love artichokes; they stuff them, boil, braise them, roast them in ashes, fry them and preserve them with the help of olive oil. They are used to make risotti, pasta sauces, frittate. Older artichokes are stripped of all their leaves and the tender ‘fondo’- base – is stuffed and braised or baked. Tender raw artichokes are sliced thinly and eaten raw as a salad with a dressing and in Sicily made into a caponata. Older artichokes are stripped of all their leaves and the tender ‘fondo’ (base) is stuffed and braised or baked. And the stem of artichokes, once stripped of its fibre is as appreciated.
One of my most favourite ways to eat artichokes is to stuff them with fresh breadcrumbs, grated cheese, garlic, parsley and then braise them in white wine and stock.
There are many regional and local variations for the breadcrumb stuffing all over Italy and probably the most common is the addition of anchovies. Different herbs or the addition of minced meat are also enjoyed in some regions. The stock can be water, vegetable or meat stock and /or white wine. Some also use tomatoes (peeled and chopped or blended tomatoes) as the braising liquid.
Ricotta is sometimes combined with fresh breadcrumbs and used for the stuffing and because nuts – pine nuts, almonds or pistachio – go well with ricotta I chose almond meal and some pistachios. Instead of parsley I added basil, a much sweeter herb, and finally nutmeg, a spice generally used with stuffings in the northern parts of Italy especially if ricotta or mince meat is used.
100 g ricotta:
½ cup of basil
½ cup fresh white breadcrumbs
½ cup almond meal
¼ cup pistachio
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 will be used for the stuffing
salt and pepper and nutmeg
stock and a little white wine to braise the artichokes
Trim the stalk with a small sharp knife to pull away the tough, stringy outer skin (just like the strings of celery). Keep the artichokes and the stem in acidulated water until ready to stuff.
Prepare the filling by mixing together in a bowl the breadcrumbs, seasoning, herbs, nutmeg, ricotta and 2 tbs of olive oil.
Drain the artichokes, remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and cut off about 2 cms of the top.
Use your fingers to spread out the leaves, the stuffing will go mainly in the centre of the artichoke. There may or may not have a fuzzy choke, depending on the maturity of the plant. If there is, remove it with a teaspoon, carefully turning it without snapping the sides of the vegetable.
Sprinkle a little salt between the leaves.
Stuff the centre of the artichokes – I use my fingers, press the stuffing firmly into the centre.
Pour the rest of the olive oil in a pan. Place the artichokes into the pan standing upright so that it can cook in an upright position (so choose your pan carefully).
Add a combination of water, stock and white wine as the braising liquid (I used little wine and mainly vegetable stock). The level of the braising liquid should be about 1 cm below the top of the artichokes. Add a little salt to the braising liquid.
Cover and cook artichokes over low-medium heat for about 40 mins.
This is a photo of a segmented hare ready to braise. The hare has been sitting in my freezer for about 6 weeks, but because it is very hard to find, I buy when I see it, irrespective of whether I am ready to cook it or not.
I chose an Ada Boni recipe for cooking hare in the Piedmontese style (recipe from Italian Regional Cooking, Bonanza Books 1995). Boni’s recipe is slightly different to other Piedmontese style recipes recipes I looked at and it includes cognac; other recipes may also contain any of the following ingredients, for example: cinnamon, garlic, rosemary and juniper berries.
I use recipes as a guide and I alter quantities and ingredients to suit my tastes. I like spices and herbs and increased the quantities; I prefer and used fresh herbs rather than the dry suggested in the recipe. Both Barolo and Barbera are wines of Piedmont and understandably Boni suggests using Barbera for the marinade wine, but I used a good quality Australian red wine and chose to drink the Italian. Chocolate smooths out the sauce and I used a greater amount than suggested and rather than adding 4 teaspoons of sugar I added very little sugar; I like using stock and added some to the braising liquid.
I have not used Ada Boni’s words, but the procedure for preparing the hare is more or less what she suggests.
In Australia I have yet to purchase a hare with its liver, heart, little alone its blood – these are used to thicken the sauce towards the end of cooking.
Use an earthenware bowl for the marinade and a heavy bottomed saucepan with a well sealing lid to braise the hare.
Being a Piedmontese recipe, plain polenta makes a good accompaniment.
1 hare cut into pieces (4 legs, back cut into 3 pieces, ribs into 3),
1 and 1/2 bottles of red wine- use enough to cover the hare (Barbera is preferable),
2 large onions (1 for marinade, 1 for sautéing)
3 stalks of celery,
2 bay leaves,
3-4 black peppercorns,
pinch of marjoram, and pinch of thyme,
salt to taste,
2 tablespoon of butter,
¼ cup of olive oil,
2 tablespoons of bacon fat cut into small pieces (I think that lardo or speck is intended – I used the fat from prosciutto, same taste and texture),
1 square of bitter chocolate, grated,
4 teaspoon of sugar,
3-4 tablespoons of cognac.
Chop one onion, carrots and celery and put them in an earthenware bowl with the segmented pieces of hare. Add the herbs cloves and peppercorns and a little salt. Cover with the win and let it marinate for 2-3 days in the fridge.
Drain the hare (take the pieces from the marinade and drain them) and then drain the vegetables separately. Keep the wine for cooking the hare.
Heat oil, lardo and butter and brown the hare pieces – use high heat. Remove the hare from the pan and any juices.
Add the onion to the same pan and sauté it gently in a little oil. Add the drained vegetables and sauté these for a few minutes.
Return the hare (and any juices) to the saucepan, pour in the wine (from the marinade), add a little salt. Make sure that the lid is on tightly. Simmer for about 2-3 hours until the meat is cooked. I also added about 1 cup of stock.
Remove the cooked hare and put aside. Remove the bay leaves and if you have used sprigs of herbs remove any of the remaining small sticks (If you can see the pepper corns and cloves remove these as well).
Rub the vegetables in the sauce through a sieve, use a mouli or blend the vegetables in the sauce.
Return the sauce to the saucepan, stir in chocolate, add the hare and taste the sauce – if you think it needs a little sugar add this.
Add the cognac last of all (I only used about 2 tablespoons).
Serve with plain polenta.