The duck ragu we had that night in Gambassi Terme was significant for several reasons. One, it was the first time I had ever tried duck in the Western culinary world. Two, I had rather low expectations of what the evening’s menu would entail. Three, it was one of the most delicious dishes I have ever eaten. The ragu was melt-in-your-mouth and full of flavour. It was with this meal that I really began to appreciate the Italian countryside and the people who cook there. It was warm and loving and every meal left the wonderful impression of someone’s nonna being behind it all.
That night there was also a unabashedly yellow saffron and porcini pasta dish, which was equally decadent but just didn’t nudge past the duck for me. This was one of Buzz’s favourite meals from the entire trip, and so I knew I just had to attempt to recreate it.
Pasta al Ragù di Anatra (Pasta with Duck & Red Wine Ragù) (Serves Eight)
four pieces of organic or free-range Maryland duck
one cup of flour
salt and pepper
one onion, diced
one celery stalk, diced
two small carrots, diced
three garlic cloves, crushed
700g sugo or passata
half a cup of water
small handful of rosemary and thyme
one teaspoon of grated nutmeg
one bay leaf
one cup red wine
Mix a teaspoon each of salt and pepper into your flour. Dust the duck pieces in the flour and pan-fry in a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat. Five minutes on one side, til golden brown, then five minutes on the other. Set browned duck pieces aside.
The fat will have rendered significantly. Drain the pan of the fat, leaving two tablespoons worth (you can reserve this fat and keep in the freezer for a rainy day when you’re baking potatoes!).
Over a medium heat, cook onions, carrots and celery off in the same pan for a few minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for a further minute. Add wine, herbs, passata, water and nutmeg, along with a big pinch each of salt and pepper.
Submerge your browned duck pieces in the liquid. Cook on a medium heat til it starts to bubble, then turn down to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook on a slow heat for two and a half hours. Stir three or four times over the course of it slow cooking to make sure nothing catches on the bottom of the pan.
When the time is up, turn the heat off and remove the duck pieces from the pan. The meat should separate easily – remove bones and large fatty pieces and discard. With remaining meat use two forks to pull apart into shreds.
Return this shredded meat back into the sauce, taste and season accordingly.
When ready to serve, bring a salted pan of water to the boil, and cook pasta to package instructions. Go for thicker pastas, like fettuccine, tagliatelle or, as we had it in Italy, with pici. Warm the sauce through and serve over pasta with some grated parmesan and a glass of wine.
This makes a bulk amount of sauce. I use half to serve four people for dinner, then freeze the remainder to use again over pasta, or it is particularly delicious in a lasagna, too.