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Digital Subscriptions > Italia! > Dec 2018 > Vero Italiano SELVAGGINA

Vero Italiano SELVAGGINA

In the next part of his series uncovering the secrets of Italian food, Mario Matassa explains the Italian passion for game and hunting. He braves the cold winter elements to search for his ingredients, then shows us how to transform them into hearty, warming recipes.

Roberto Bassini taught me how to hunt, and the first time we went out I was plagued with conflicting emotions. On the one hand I enjoy cooking and eating game – wild rabbit, hare, pheasant, wild boar, wild duck, deer and venison – it’s some of the tastiest meat you will find; it’s versatile and lends itself to a huge variety of dishes, and its provenance is beyond question. On the other hand, the idea of hunting as a sport never appealed to me. To be frank, I believe that shooting wild animals for sport can never be justified.

Game is naturally low in saturated fats and free from the chemicals that are sometimes present in farmed animals

However, that said, many of my neighbours here in Italy are keen hunters, and not one of them hunts for sport. “I don’t shoot for pleasure”, Roberto told me the first time we went out. “If I wanted just to shoot, I’d go to the range.” Roberto’s father was a hunter, and his grandfather before him. In fact, hunting has been in his family for generations. I felt quite privileged the first time Robert took me with him. It’s not something he talks about in public and usually he hunts alone.

Early one morning we drove high into the Apennine Mountains, far from any signs of civilization. It was dark when we entered the woods, in places the snow was waist high, the temperature was -10°C, and the fog was so thick I was barely able to distinguish Roberto’s silhouette mere feet in front of me. And yet, despite the conditions, every weekend during hunting season this burly electrician feels compelled to carry on his family tradition. As it happens, we didn’t shoot that day. The fog didn’t lift, the snow and ice made stalking impossible, and by early afternoon I was suffering from the early symptoms of hypothermia. My admiration for Roberto grew significantly that day.

Hunting is controversial. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste. Fortunately it’s no longer necessary to go hunting for the privilege of eating game. Many forms of wild game are now farmed, often in semi-wild conditions, making meat such as wild boar, duck, hare, rabbit and deer accessible to everyone. All of these are a pleasure to cook with and wonderful to eat. They also constitute a healthy alternative to traditional farmreared meats, because game is naturally low in saturated fats and free from the chemicals that are sometimes present in farmed animals.

Italians treat game with reverence and it is eaten seasonally – even if it is farmed – and by way of a celebration. Wild boar, venison, hare and wild rabbit all work well in stews or cooked down to make a sauce for pasta. Duck and other game birds are great for roasting. Much depends on the cut of the meat.

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About Italia!

There’s a seasonal feel to the pages this month, kicking off with our Gift Guide, which is full to the brim with Italian treats and gifts for friends and family. We travel to Piedmont, where Turin takes Christmas lights to another level with sophisticated displays that will take your breath away; and on to Milan, where the city’s best cafés are wrapped up in Christmas cheer. To escape from it all, we discover the forgotten history of a quiet corner of Lazio that’s right off the beaten track, marvel at the extraordinary Krampus tradition, and attend a chestnut festival near Viterbo.