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Look who’s cooking: An Italian dinner a bit on the wild side

  • Joe Mattei runs his dough through his pasta machine. He says when it comes to his success at pasta making, it’s because of two tools he inherited — a measuring stick his father made and a pastry cutting tool that gives the pasta its “frilly edges.” Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Learn how to make this dish — Wild boar over homemade bow tie pasta — using the recipe in today’s column. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Some of the homemade, hand-cut bow tie pasta from Mattei’s kitchen. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Joe Mattei stirs his wild boar ragu sauce. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Joe Mattei stirs his wild boar ragu sauce. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Joe Mattei pours his wild boar ragu over homemade bow tie pasta. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Joe Mattei stirs his wild boar ragu sauce. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • This mixer spins the bowl, not the attachment. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Some of Joe Mattei’s homemade liqueurs. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Joe Mattei sits down to try his wild boar ragu over homemade bow tie pasta. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tuscan Zuccotto was what started Mattei back into being a serious cook. Here it is along with his homemade Alchermes. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JOE MATTEI

  • WEDEGARTNER


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

It may be a bit of hyperbole to refer to Joe Mattei as a “Renaissance Man” in the strictest sense of the term, but if you consider the dictionary definition as a “… man who has acquired profound knowledge and proficiency in more than one field,” it works.

Then, add “gentleman farmer,” someone who “farms for pleasure” as opposed to income, and you have local architect Joe Mattei (of Joseph P. Mattei & Associates). While Joe has perfected the art of cooking many different things, he loves to reach back to his roots and make a wide range of Italian dishes and desserts. At his home in Shelburne Falls, he manages to grow an enormous amount of fresh vegetables, herbs, apples, and grapes for wine making from a quarter acre of his approximately 7½ acres. Today, Joe offers us recipes for a great Italian pasta dish, Cinghiale (Ragu of Wild Boar), with fresh homemade Farfalle (bow tie pasta).

Roxann: How long have you been cooking?

Joe: As a kid in Springfield, I watched a lot of television. I mean a lot, especially during bad weather. So one day my mother told me she was no longer cooking lunch for the family on Saturday. She made lunch all the other days. She said, “Go make something for yourself. I don’t care what it is, just go make it.” So, I started cooking my Saturday lunch.

R: Who, or what, is your cooking muse?

J: I like challenging myself to make something I’ve never made before, no matter how difficult it may seem. I also have maybe 60, 70 cookbooks that I go to for inspiration. When I got back into cooking, after taking a long break, it was because I wanted to make a dessert for the family at Christmas that no one had ever eaten. That’s when I made the Tuscan Zucotto, a sponge cake made with layers of Italian meringue. Its unusual domed appearance is because it’s supposed to be a depiction of St. Peter’s Basilica dome in Vatican City or Florence’s Duomo (legends differ here). It also uses an Italian liqueur that’s not widely known — Alchermes. It provides the red color of the topping on the cake, said to mimic Cardinal’s vestments. At the time, I couldn’t find the liqueur, so I had to make it. That took a year before it was ready, so we didn’t have the dessert until the following Christmas. Now you can buy the liqueur online. Alchermes dates back to Renaissance Italy and gets its magenta red color from an insect known as the Kermes (Middle Eastern) or Cochineal (Mexican). These dried insects infuse the liqueur with their color. Among the other ingredients in the liqueur are cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, orange zest, vanilla and coriander. If you happen to find yourself in Florence, Italy you can purchase Alchermes at the Santa Maria Novela pharmacy, where it’s made from an original 1743 recipe.

R: Are there special tools that you use when cooking?

J: I bake a lot of bread. So for my birthday not too long ago, Susan, my wife, bought me a unique piece of equipment that I’d been wanting, but thought was too expensive. It’s Swedish, made by Ankarsrum, and is called an Assistant. It’s big and sturdy. I actually use it for a lot of things. I think you’d want to have a pasta machine as well, if you were going to cook a lot of pasta dishes. For pasta, especially the bow tie pasta we’re having today, I inherited two tools. One is a measuring stick that my father made for my mother so that when cutting the dough for ravioli or bowtie pasta, you can make the pieces uniform. The other tool belonged to my grandmother and is a pastry cutting tool that gives the pasta its frilly edges. That item can be bought online.

R: What are the special ingredients in your pantry?

J: I always have fish, shrimp, pastas, flour and sugar, tomato sauce and 150 different herbs and spices for cooking and making liqueur. I grow many of the herbs and spices and the tomato sauce that comes from the tomatoes I grow here. I generally make about 15 to 16 gallons of sauce, which I can and freeze.

R: Did I hear ‘making liqueur’ and wine?

J: Yes. I make all kinds of liqueur. That’s a whole other story! I have on hand a variety of homemade liqueurs and two of them won Blue Ribbons at the Franklin County Fair. The hazelnut and the apple brandy are 2014 winners. I have the Alchermes, of course. And I’ve made Nocino, which is from walnuts. But I’ve made liqueurs out of mint, fennel, crab apple, rose petals and dogwood berries. My wines are not yet ready for prime time, although one that I made with a friend just won a gold medal at a contest in Connecticut.

Wild Boar Ragu: This is essentially a tomato sauce with ground wild boar. Ground pork may be substituted for the ground wild boar in this recipe. Although, as an on-again, off-again carnivore, I have to say that the wild boar, which was purchased online from Montana, was delicious. It had a definite mild sweetness and was not particularly gamey. Locally, wild boar can be ordered from Myles in the meat department of River Valley Coop.

Ingredients:

2 or 3 T of olive oil

1 small onion, diced

4 or 5 cloves of garlic, chopped

½ cup of carrots, finely diced

⅓ cup celery, finely diced

A few grinds of salt

1 lb of ground wild boar or pork

¼ cup of Vin Santo or apple brandy

1 cup of chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 cup of dry red wine

1 tsp of sugar

Seasonings to taste: Kosher salt, coarse ground pepper, dried parsley, red pepper flakes. (Take care not to over season!)

2 or 3 T of canned tomato paste, or more as needed

Instructions:

Dice and chop garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Use a wooden spoon and sauce pan for making the sauce.

Heat the sauce pan on low/medium heat. Add oil and bring to a simmer. Then add garlic, onion, carrot, celery and a few grinds of salt. Let this mixture simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the wild boar or pork to the mixture and sauté for another 5 to 7 minutes. Add Vin Santo or apple brandy and let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Add red wine and let simmer on low for an hour, adding more wine if needed. Fifteen minutes before it has finished simmering, add the seasonings to taste. In the last five minutes, stir in the tomato paste to desired consistency. Feel free to use the entire can, which is 6 ounces, if you want it saucy.

Basic Homemade Pasta: Using a curly pastry wheel like the one Joe has is how you dress up your bow tie pasta pieces with frilly edges. However, it’s perfectly fine to have straight-edge bow ties.

Ingredients:

1½ cup semolina flour

¼ t salt

2 large eggs, beaten

2 T water

2 T olive oil

Instructions:

Combine the semolina flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add beaten eggs, water and oil. Mix into a stiff dough. Knead for 10 minutes or until dough is elastic. Wrap dough in a towel, or place in a plastic bag, and let rest for 20 minutes.

To make the pasta, you can do one of two things: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to as thin as possible and cut into shapes; or use a pasta machine to create the thickness and width of the pasta type you’re making — a general rule of thumb is to use setting #7.

Bow Tie Pasta (also known as Farfalle): Start with your sheet of pasta that has been rolled out or put through the pasta machine. Using a ruler or wooden guide and a sharp knife, slice the long end of the sheet into strips that are about 1 to 1½ inch wide. The wooden guide used by Joe is 1/8 inch thick, 12 inches long, and 1 inch wide. Using a guide ensures that the pieces are uniform. Working one strip at a time, cut it into rectangular pieces about 1½ inches long. Here’s where the curly pastry wheel comes in handy if you want the frilly edges. Use it to cut each end of the rectangular pieces. Take one pasta rectangle and place your index (first) finger in the center. Use your thumb and second finger to pull the top and bottom edges together, then slip your index finger away at the last second and squeeze these edges together so that they stick.

Ecco! You have bowties. To cook, put bowties into a large pan of boiling salted water. When the bow tie shapes rise to the surface, which happens in a minute or two, test for doneness. They should be slightly al dente. Drain them and serve with sauce.

Serve your pasta entree with a side vegetable or fresh, green salad and the dessert of choice.

Mangia!

In the “Look Who’s Cooking!” monthly column, Roxann Wedegartner interviews and shares the recipes of people from around Franklin County who may be well-known in their professional or political lives, but not necessarily for their lives as passionate cooks, bakers, or all-around foodies. Roxann can be reached by email at roxanndw6@yahoo.com.