The recipe shared here should be of interest to those who enjoy the sport of hunting as well as those who appreciate, from time to time, eating dishes featuring game.
This dish is another example of hearty, cold weather fare, as well as a look back upon an old-world style of cooking. Strong spicing, robust red wine, and a bit of chocolate build the layers of flavor that enrich this complex braised dish.
Cinghiale (ching-GAYH-lay) Dolce Forte loosely translates as wild boar sweet strong, essentially a braised wild boar stew in a sweet and sour sauce. The traditional recipe can be traced back to early sixteenth-century Tuscany, where hunting and dishes featuring the catch were popular, and still are to this day. I became aware of the dish from a post I came across on Twitter. Because I enjoy foods that emphasize the interplay of sweet and sour, or spicy and sweet flavors complementing one another in each bite, I was eager to explore the dish further and prepare a version at home.
In researching recipes to plan my interpretation of the dish, two points piqued my interest: the use of chocolate and that no tomato was used. It seemed that the chocolate was used to enrich the sauce, and add just a hint of sweetness, not unlike a mole in Mexican cuisine, just lighter. I’m guessing that we have Columbus to thank for that ingredient. It was noted that, before Columbus arrived in the “New World,” bringing back chocolate and other ingredients not yet integrated into old-world cuisine, honey was most likely used in this stew.
However, from my perspective, in a complex stew like this, I thought tomato would play some role in the layering of the flavors, since they made their way into old-world cooking around the same time that chocolate did. Tomato was not called for in any recipe I read so I left it out in an effort to stay with the traditional ingredient mix.
Since all of the necessary ingredients were already in my larder, including two small boneless wild boar roasts in my freezer, I was eager to give this recipe a test drive. If you are unable to source the boar meat, venison shoulder or leg meat is a fine substitute, and failing that, pork shoulder would work just as well.
This is a complex dish, made up of many ingredients and initially 24 to 48 hours of marinating. But once all the ingredients are organized properly, the dish assembles quickly and the trusty old Dutch oven does all the work for you. Upon completion you are rewarded with rich and impressive flavors since the assertive spice mix mellows as the dish braises while the other ingredients form a harmonious layering of flavors.
Just a few other ingredient thoughts:
- Some recipes called for candied fruits, such as citron or orange rind, I chose not to use those and substituted fresh orange instead.
- Some recipes indicated the use of prunes; I chose instead to substitute dried figs, which added an understated note of sweetness.
- Some recipes suggested using prosciutto, which I often have on hand in the form of out-takes or end cuts, for use in sautés or braised dishes like this. If prosciutto ends are not available, then pancetta is a good substitute.
- The traditional dish is served over polenta. I chose a polenta di riso instead of the yellow corn polenta, although rice, noodles, or even mashed potatoes would work equally well.
Cinghiale in Dolce Forte—A Wild Boar Stew
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 cups red wine (Chianti, Barolo, Cabernet, or Zinfandel are all good examples)
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 generous tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 each: medium onion, medium carrot, large celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 large sprig fresh thyme
2 to 3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons each, ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg
2½ to 3 pounds wild boar meat cut into 2-inch pieces. Roasts cut from the leg were used in this dish, although shoulder meat would work just as well.
4 oz prosciutto or pancetta, cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 large onion finely chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, 1 medium carrot, 1 large celery stalk, ½ fennel bulb, cut into smaller pieces and finely minced in a food processor
1 to 2 bay leaves
1 scant tablespoon brown sugar
2 end cuts from an orange or 4 large wide strips of zest
½ cup dried figs cut in half or in thirds if large
2 generous tablespoons raisins
2 generous tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry sauté pan
4 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips
Salt and pepper
Fresh minced parsley for garnish
Place the cut meat in a large work bowl, mix with the marinade ingredients, cover and place in the refrigerator for 24 but no more than 48 hours.
Remove the cut meat from the marinade to a separate bowl and allow to drain. Discard the vegetables used in the marinade, and using a fine strainer, extract as much of the marinade liquid as possible, pushing with the back of a spoon or a ladle, discarding any remaining solids. Set the marinade liquid aside to be later used in the braise.
Drain any residual marinade from the meat and use paper towels to dry all the cut pieces before browning.
In a Dutch oven over medium-high temperature, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil until it begins to sizzle but not smoke. Start the sauté with the prosciutto or pancetta until it begins to brown. Add the minced onion to the pan, stirring around with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits that have accumulated on the bottom of the pan and mix into the onions. Season with salt and pepper.
Once the onions begin to soften and take on a little color, add the other finely minced vegetables, mixing into the sauté.
When the vegetable sauté mix starts to soften and again take on some color, raise the temperature slightly and add the meat to brown. Continue to stir and thoroughly incorporate the meat with the vegetables allowing the meat to begin to brown.
Once the meat has lightly browned add the strained marinade liquid, sprinkle the brown sugar around, add the bay leaves and orange. Season again with salt and pepper, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cover the Dutch oven.
After one hour of cooking add the raisins, pine nuts, and chocolate, gently stirring to allow the chocolate to melt and incorporate into the sauce. Cover and simmer one additional hour.
At the end of the second hour, check the tenderness of the meat and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Serve as initially suggested, sprinkled with minced parsley on top.
We enjoyed our stew served atop buttery polenta di riso, accompanied by oven roasted Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, and a bottle of Barolo.
So the next time you are out hunting for wild boar in your neighborhood, or perhaps the local butcher, keep this recipe in mind—you will not be disappointed.
I haven’t given up on the inclusion of some chopped plum tomatoes and will try that to sauce pasta using the leftover wild boar stew.
Be well. Eat well.
If you want to invent the future, you can’t be afraid of reinterpreting the past … There are no new classic recipes … the one you prepare is the right one, and it will always be delicious!