When I told my family I was toying with the idea of being vegan or at least vegetarian, my younger son looked at me in that way he has when it’s obvious he thinks his mother cannot possibly be serious. “You’ll never manage it,” he pronounced.
Of course he was right. I can’t see myself becoming vegetarian either although I have noticed some differences. Rather than making any major decisions, it’s been more to do with making certain choices. If I’m going to eat cheese, I’d rather it be goat’s cheese and fresh. I no longer look for the grated parmesan for my pasta, unless that’s what we’re specifically having. I didn’t want mince ragù with my pasta the other day. I have this dialogue going on in my head when I’m approaching meals. Is this vegan or vegetarian? I guess you could probably call it mindful eating, although believe me that sounds far worthier than it is. I do think more about what I want to eat though. We are what we eat as we all know in theory but may not necessarily always practice.
Then the other day I made wild boar ragù as the snow had started to fall again and the whole kitchen was lit up by the snow outside in that way that I’ve always loved. I was happy to cook it, unlike the fajitas the other day which became deconstructed fajitas as I decided I didn’t want the meat in them. Raw chicken just didn’t do it for me, although if I’m honest it hasn’t for a long while.
Wild boar on the other hand has memories. It reminds me of when I first came to Italy and spent several winters skiing every weekend in the mountains. It was sitting round tables with – I want to say other young Italians – because time brings with it an altered state of identity and you gradually you start to wear the country in which you live. It involves going back to your home country and feeling like you don’t quite belong any more. And it involves feeling part of the country in which you’re living to the point that you’ve forgotten you didn’t always live here. Children helped in my case. Or rather, motherhood didn’t help at all before it did. And then what was originally a huge pull back to the UK gradually transformed into a this is home here and now.
Naturally – or possibly, naturally for me – food played its part. It was mountain food based upon stews, and polenta, always a dish of steaming polenta. Wild boar stew, venison stew, any stew, pizzoccheri and plates of sciatt on chicory. This was the place and this was its food, and through this a whole culture spoke.
I made the stew with a small jar of tomato passata because I have a friend whose Tuscan mum swears by it and says this always gives a richer flavour. It does. Brown a couple of carrots and onions in a casserole dish or pan that will go in the oven with a whole clove of garlic. Add the meat – about 1 kg. Then add five juniper berries, a bay leaf, a slug of red wine and a small bottle of good quality passata and it does have to be good quality because it really does make a difference. Then cook in a low oven until the meat starts to fall apart. Most Italian recipes will tell you to cook it on the hob for about an hour and a half but I always cook mine in the oven as it always turns out better for me that way. Another thing to note is that if you marinade the meat beforehand it takes away what Italians call that “wild taste”. It all depends on personal preference. If you do prefer a slightly sweeter taste then marinade the meat for 24 hours in enough red wine to cover it, a couple of bay leaves, about 5 juniper berries, a carrot and an onion. What’s important is that you throw this away before cooking, otherwise you’ve defeated the object.
This is a stew to be eaten with polenta or fresh pappardelle, the day after cooking though as the flavours will always improve.
Mountain passes optional, though highly recommended.