One of Chef Tony Mantuano’s favorite family recipes is a dish that his grandmother would cook: gnocchi with a pork ragu. Putting his own spin on his grandmother’s classic recipe, Tony uses wild boar in his rendition. Unsurprisingly, the dish is now one of Cafe Spiaggia’s most popular dishes.
In a large sauté pan or roasting pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until slightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaves and sauté until the vegetables start to caramelize, 5 minutes. Season the boar with salt and pepper. Add to the pan and brown on all sides. Add enough water to cover the meat, and with a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Add the rosemary sprigs. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook gently, uncovered until the meat has become falling apart tender and most of the liquid has cooked down, 3 to 4 hours. Using tongs transfer the meat from the liquid to a bowl and set aside to cool. Strain the braising liquid into another bowl and reserve. Discard the remaining solids. When cool enough to handle, shred the braised boar.
Meanwhile make the gnocchi. Pass the cooled potatoes through a potato ricer into a bowl. Add the egg yolks and a generous pinch of salt and white pepper. Lightly toss the eggs with the potatoes and fold in the flour until combined with the potato to create a smooth dough. (A pastry cutter is helpful here. Kneading the dough will make the gnocchi doughy and heavy.)
Pull off pieces of the dough and roll into ropes about ½-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 1-inch-long dumplings. Roll each dumpling gently in the palm of your hand, first into a ball, and then with your thumb taper the ends to resemble a football. Arrange the finished gnocchi on a lightly floured cloth so that they are not touching, and let dry for 15 minutes.
While the gnocchi are drying, make the sauce. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the tomato puree and 1 ½ cups of the reserved braising liquid. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium and add the shredded, braised shoulder meat and cook for 5 to 8 minutes to desired thickness. Taste and adjust for seasoning and keep warm.
Cook the gnocchi. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, removing them with a slotted spoon 3 minutes after they rise to the surface. Add the gnocchi to the pan with the boar sauce. Place over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the gnocchi to marry with the sauce.
Divide the pasta among warmed individual plates and top generously with freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Serve immediately. Pass more cheese at the table if desired.
Home for the Holidays: Behind the dish
We caught up with the superstar chef to talk secret recipes, holiday traditions and memorable family moments:
What is your favorite family memory of cooking during the holidays?
The incredible smells in the kitchen while I stood around and watched my grandmother cook. Also, I still remember walking into her bedroom each holiday to see fresh pasta lying around the entire room on cloths.
What is the story behind this particular dish?
My grandmother’s pastas were fantastic. Her gnocchi were incredible and she made them fresh for every holiday. When I think of the holidays, I think of gnocchi. I also think of the unusual proteins we would eat on holidays that we wouldn’t eat the rest of the year. This is why this dish is so special to me.
While we know that this is obviously a treasured family possession, you were gracious enough to let us in on the tradition. That said, is there a recipe that’s really on lock-down in your family that you’ve always wanted to learn the secret to?
My grandmother shared all her secrets with me before she passed — I think I keep all the secrets now.
Any favorite holiday traditions unique to you and your family?
Like most Italian families, we have seafood on Christmas Eve as its tradition. However, my brother, who is in the wine business, is the one that cooks. The only dish I’m allowed to make is the baccala (salt cod). I make it with garlic, olive oil, tomato and basil. Each year my father, who has passed, would say that it was too salty or not salty enough. It’s now a running family joke that we laugh about now as we think of my dad during the holidays.