Brother John and (new) Sister Julie’s wedding was last weekend in Grayling, Michigan. When describing the setting of the wedding to people at work, I used the unfortunate choice of words “family compound” which caused extensive Kennedy jokes while I was out. In reality, it was good old Matabanic Lodge which I’ve discussed previously in posts about Poutine and Dumplings. Since it was the summer in Michigan and the Hub Hollow gang was in tow, it meant a lot of this:
a little of this:
a healthy dose of evening music:
and one awesome wedding:
There were 23ish family members and close friends at Matabanic for the wedding, plus a gaggle of children. Despite the intimidating size of the crowd and my previous failures cooking for large groups of people, I decided to volunteer for a meal. In theory with the help of Brother Tim. I say “in theory” because Tim was likely to resume his normal role of helping early on, getting bored, then criticizing, punching and complaining about timing intermittently. And that was before I remembered he would be on crutches from recent surgery. Oh well.
My goal, in honor of Julie’s sister Katy and John who both worked at Spannocchia in Italy, was to make a variation of Cinghiale al Pappardelle but with ingredients I could find in middle-of-the-hand Michigan.
Cinghiale is wild boar, a meat that tastes most like a lean and flavorful pork. With that in mind, and knowing I likely couldn’t find a large quantity of boar easily in Michigan, I decided to start with a pork shoulder and build a rich slow cooked pasta sauce around the meat. The flavor of shoulder meat is relatively similar to cinghiale but with a higher fat content. With that in mind, I wanted to render out a little fat before cooking the pork in the sauce but also add some boar-ish earthy flavors back to the meat. Which brought this bad boy into play.
The idea was to debone a ten pound picnic shoulder, divide it into smaller pieces, coat with a mild but slightly Italian-flavored rub, then briefly smoke it over applewood and hickory chips. When I say briefly, I am comparing it to the normal 8-10 hours one would usually smoke a pork shoulder, so I mean two hours.
After deboning, I think I had 7-8 pounds of trimmed meat which I thoroughly coated with a rub of brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, and a little paprika.
Although the lid stays untouched on a smoker, there is still a decent amount of charcoal and wood chip reloading into the base to keep the temperature between 200 and 250. I balanced that responsibility with my day long task of overstuffing the wedding guests by serving large amounts of poutine for lunch. I’ve covered poutine before, but wanted to make sure I got credit for multi-tasking so I mentioned it anyway.
Once the poutine was complete and the meat had smoked a little over an hour and a half, I began the sauce prep. With one of the largest pots in the kitchen heating on the stove, I started running piles of vegetables through Matabanic’s 30 year old Cuisinart knockoff. Two fennel bulbs, two large yellow onions (very large), 6 carrots, 6 ribs of celery, and a peeled bulb of garlic were all chopped down to near mush and went into the stock pot with a couple tablespoons of butter.
After 5-10 minutes of occasional stirring and avoiding anything getting burned to the bottom, I added 2 lbs of sliced mushrooms and stirred some more.
After a few more minutes of cook time, I stirred in two cups of tomato paste until it was well mixed in with the vegetables. Another few minutes of alternating stirring and pacing, then added salt, black pepper, a liter and a half of red wine, and almost a quart of chicken broth. Once well combined, I allowed that to come up to heat while I headed outside to collect the smoked shoulder pieces.
Beyond the extremely positive color, crispiness, and aroma, the smoking also appeared to be a success from the amount of fat that had rendered out into the drip pan. Since this would be cooking the rest of the way in the sauce, I wanted to get a lot of that fat out beforehand.
The pork went to a cutting board where I cut each piece down to roughly the same size, about 3″x3″ pieces. They smelled really friggin good and I again doubted my decision to use all of it, but in they went into the bubbling sauce.
It was a snug fit, but when stirred, all of the pork was completely submerged in the sauce.
And then, in line with my original plan of being able to step away from the kitchen while still cooking for a large group, the lid went on and the sauce simmered for four hours.
During that time I went tubing and showered up, but mostly stressed out about whether the food would be edible or taste like Sweet Baby Rays pasta. I ended up hedging my bets and established goodwill toward the experimental dinner by putting out a couple platters of sliced gravlax that I cured the night before. Nope, don’t have a picture of that, just look at last week. Only difference was I made a little creme fraiche to go with it this time.
As we hit the final stretch before dinner, I spent a solid 30 minutes bringing a huge pot of water to a boil. While that took forever, I used a large spoon to stir and break up the pieces of now falling apart-tender pork and stir everything together.
Once the water was boiling, I added 8 pounds of dried fettuccine and cooked to the low end of the recommended time so it would be slightly al dente.
With the pasta cooked, I pulled down the enormous hotel pan that has been above the Viking range for as long as we’ve been coming to Matabanic. Usually these things are used for serving buffet style, and the one I grabbed is actually intended for use as the deeper steaming pan under the shallower top pan. But I needed the room.
The pasta went in first, then I ladeled in the sauce, pausing after every few ladels to mix, toss and stir the pasta to make sure it was fully distributed. With about a quarter of the sauce left, I realized I had miraculously guessed correctly and made approximately the right amount of sauce for the pasta (or vice versa) and dumped the rest in to be tossed. It was definitely meaty, but the pasta was well coated without being overly saucy, like the original I consumed multiple times in Italy. Plus a little fresh parmesan cheese grated over the top.
You wanna see a jiggling pile of anxiety? Watch me after I’ve cooked for twenty people and expectantly look at each individual person’s reaction as they taste the food. It is really poor form on my part. Anyway, instead of guessing how other people felt about it, I will just say that after the 23 guests, 5 babysitters & nannies, and Kelly (our breakfast cook and overall kitchen wizard) took their first and seconds, there were only 2-3 portions of leftovers. And now here’s my thoughts:
I love this style of pasta dish where the actual fettuccine is only lightly coated in flavorful sauce but there are plenty of chunks of meat or vegetable ragu in every bite. I just don’t like pasta swimming in red sauce so the proportions were right on for me with this one. The flavor was definitely a little surprising at first; you don’t expect a smokey barbeque flavor with your pasta and it was definitely the first taste to come across. After you got past that first note, the richness of the other flavors in the sauce came through and made for a few layers in each bite. Overall, the shock of the smoke flavor from the first bite goes away after a few and the pasta just ended up being rich, meaty, and enjoyable. Not exactly like the pappardelle al cinghiale of my dreams, but close enough that I felt it was a decent homage.
Next up will be my third crack at beef tongue. I got dis.