When I was in Albaretto a few weeks ago, I had been out to dinner with my girlfriend and on the way home, on the lane leading down to our house, we spotted a wild boar in the middle of the road. Not a very usual sight but nonetheless not exactly a rarity.
Since then Monica has seen the creature most nights. That is until a few nights ago when one of the local hunters chose to end its life. This reminded me of a similar episode about 4 or 5 years ago. Arriving around lunchtime one Sunday, I was greeted by my next-door neighbour. He asked me if I’d seen any blood on the road. I said I hadn’t but had seen a dead snake but there was no blood. “No’ he said, “further up the lane. There was a wild boar there the other night and we got one of the locals out to shoot it.”
When I asked what had happened to the carcass, he told me that half at gone to the local Circolo restaurant to feed the pensioners for free for a few days. The rest had been divided up between the four families on the road. I assumed therefore that included me! But no meat was forthcoming.
About a week later, we were all invited to a neighbours house to have a chestnut roast. It was a cold, foggy November night and when I arrived, all the men were outside taking turns to shake the big chestnut roasting pan suspended over a wood fire. The ladies were inside preparing other things to eat. We finally retired to the house with the chestnuts in a sack to keep them warm and the table was laid for sixteen. Quite a gathering.
The meal started with various salami and salumi from a local butcher, the host’s cousin and excellent they were too. Then we had a cross between a soup and a casserole of tripe and chick peas – it was heaven on earth and just the thing for a cold November night. I was expecting the chestnuts to come next but no, a huge pan of wild boar casserole was brought in and at which point everybody stood up and raised a toast to me, the generous benefactor of the wild boar! So I did get my share.
The chestnuts were delicious too and everything was washed down with a home made Dolcetto wine. The evening will always stay in my memory not least for the wild boar!
To some, it may seem cruel to shoot these majestic creatures but over the last decade, Italy has started to become overrun by them with the population now in excess of 1,000,000 beasts roaming the countryside. Not just the countryside either for in cities like Genoa and Rome, the animals are now starting to appear in the town searching for food. So bad is the problem that Genoa has given permission for local police marksmen to cull them.
The wild boar or cinghiale as it is called in Italian, is a close relative of the domestic pig. Their habitat of preference is in forests and they are generally nocturnal. But with food becoming scarce in the dry summers, they have now started to look closer to civilisation for their nourishment. Out in the countryside, they can cause havoc in the vineyards by not only eating the grapes when they close to being ripe, but also eating the plant. They can devastate other crops too simply by flattening them.
They have few natural predators so the population has really boomed and they are also dangerous to humans, especially the mothers when they are out with their young. They have been known to charge people and they can do so much damage to you, even killing you.
That said they are delicious to eat! So here’s a recipe should you happen to get hold of some of the meat. If not, simply use shoulder of pork. The flavour won’t be as strong but the casserole is equally as delicious.
Wild Boar Casserole – Cinghiale in Umido
Ingredients (serves 4 healthy appetites)
4 pounds wild boar, excess fat trimmed, cubed into 1½ -inch pieces, 2 glasses dry red wine (for marinade), don’t forget, if you won’t drink it, don’t cook with it! 4 juniper berries, 2 rosemary sprigs, 4 black peppercorns, 2 or 3 fresh bay leaves, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
1 onion, chopped, 1 carrot, chopped,1 celery stalk, chopped, half a bottle of decent red wine for the cooking, 1×400 g tin chopped tomatoes, 1 handful of chopped parsley to garnish.
Put the boar or pork into a bowl, add the juniper berries, rosemary, peppercorns, and bay leaves then cover with the wine for the marinade and the oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight, turning the meat from time to time.
The following day, when you’re ready to cook, heat the oven to 150 C. Take the meat from the marinade which you can discard, put it in a large casserole dish with a lid, add the onion, carrot, celery, tomatoes and wine. Season well with salt and pepper and place the dish in the oven for around 4 hours when it should be really tender and the sauce will have reduced to a stick consistency. If it starts to dry out during the cooking, just add a little bit of stock to the dish.
Serve garnished with some chopped parsley and rosemary roasted potatoes.
Tip – If the flavour of the boar is particularly strong, you can marinate the meat in milk for a few hours before preparing the wine marinade which will draw out some of the stronger flavours.