In the autumn and winter I like to use whatever meat is plentiful in my ragu. Wild rabbit and wild boar (with bitter chocolate) are particular favourites, lamb shanks can be fantastic, goose too.
I made this version with duck legs mostly drumsticks, but you can substitute any of the meats mentioned above. The secret is to use cuts of meat that require long slow cooking.
Wild or domestic duck are equally good, but the wild bird will take longer to cook.
You can prepare both the meat and tomato sauce a day in advance to intensify the flavours.
For a special occasion substitute Garganelli for the Tagliatelle.
I sometimes recommend using an ice water bath to cool something down quickly. In this case allow the duck pieces to cool naturally.
Ragu of Duck, Lamb or Wild Boar with Tagliatelle
- Step 1 Finely chop the celery, carrots, one onion and one garlic clove
- Step 2 in Italian cooking this is referred to as a “battuta”.
- Step 3 Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat and add the duck prosciutto, pancetta or dry cured bacon. If using duck prosciutto gently fry for about three minutes until slightly crisp, then remove to a plate using a slotted or draining spoon. If using pancetta or bacon gently fry it for several minutes until the fat has rendered and the pieces start to become crisp, then remove to a plate using a slotted or draining spoon.
- Step 4 Add the duck pieces to the pan, increase the heat and brown them on all sides. Lower the heat, add the battuta and cook for about five minutes. The vegetables should soften but not brown.
- Step 5 Increase the heat again, add the wine and allow it to boil down, about a minute. Add a pinch of salt, a generous grinding of pepper, bayleaf and enough water to barely cover the meat. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 2-3 hours. The meat is ready when it starts to fall off the bone. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Step 6 Finely chop the remaining onion and garlic. Place in a pan with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and cook over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, until they just begin to change colour. Add the tomatoes, thyme, a pinch of salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Step 7 Remove the duck pieces and pull all of the meat off the bones. Tear into smallish pieces. Strain the remaining contents of the pan then discard the vegetables, duck bones and bay leaf. Add the strained stock and the shredded duck meat to the tomato sauce and cook very gently for 10 minutes. Season to taste.
- Step 8 Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. If you are using dried tagliatelli don’t trust the timing on the packet. Time for four minutes then test a strand of pasta every 30-60 seconds thereafter. If using fresh pasta, add the pasta to the boiling water and watch carefully. When the pasta floats to the surface, begin testing, it can take anything from 30 seconds to three minutes to reach al dente depending on the type and thickness used. Drain the pasta, add to the sauce and toss thoroughly. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Step 9 This dish has a complex flavour and does not benefit from adding parmesan cheese, but feel free to bring some freshly grated parmesan to the table is desired.
If you substitute wild boar or wild rabbit add 4-5 bashed juniper berries to the pot when cooking the meat. To finish the dish add half a thin bar of chocolate (e.g. Lindt 70-80% cocoa solids) to the tomato sauce.
If you use lamb shanks add the grated zest of half a lemon when cooking the meat and the zest of the remaining half, plus a bunch of chopped fresh mint just before tossing the pasta.