Hunter-Style Pasta Sauce with Herbs, Pancetta, Tomato, and White Wine

Sugo alla Cacciatora

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta, making

    4

    large

Appears in

Italian hunters must do a lot of cooking!” exclaimed one of my students when I was introducing yet another dish called alla cacciatora, hunter’s style. Although some hunters may like to cook and there are certainly cooks who also hunt, the term refers not to them, but to a style of cooking that applies to meats or pasta sauces employing ingredients that would be used in preparing game. Aromatic flavorings such as sage, bay leaves, and juniper are typical components of the cacciatora style, as are wine or vinegar, tomatoes, and garlic.

The presence of bay leaves and juniper berries and, through its leaves, the cool scent of celery qualify this richly flavored sauce as a member of the hunter’s family of dishes. Game itself, hoofed game in particular, has never been a favorite food of mine and in fact I never cook it, but I love the flavor of the style. It has influenced quite a bit of my cooking, and thus I enjoy some of the pleasures of the hunt without contributing to the premature end of any wild creature.

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped pancetta
  • ½ cup chopped celery, both stalk and leaves
  • ½ cup chopped carrot
  • 4 whole bay leaves
  • ¼ cup juniper berries
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice, or ripe, firm, fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeds scooped away
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Method

Suggested Pasta

Good homemade noodles will be quite delicious with this sauce, particularly the broad cut known as pappardelle. Boxed dry pasta can be equally satisfying if you choose a short tubular shape such as penne or maccheroncini.

  1. Put all the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan with the chopped onion and pancetta, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion becomes colored a light gold, then add the celery, carrot, bay leaves, and juniper berries.
  2. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the wine. Let the wine bubble away for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes, salt, and liberal grindings of black pepper. Turn the heat down to medium and cook at a gentle, but steady simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, as described in the Note. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
  3. Cook and drain the pasta and toss it immediately and thoroughly with the sauce, mixing into it the remaining tablespoon of butter and the grated Parmesan. Serve promptly.

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