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Wild Boar Bolognese Ragu with Pasta

Wild boar bolognese with rigatoni pasta in white dish with parsley garnish on red towel with crushed red pepper in background.
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Wine-soaked Wild Boar Bolognese Ragu is rich, flavorful, aromatic and full of meaty deliciousness! Wild boar shoulder is bathed in a red wine-based marinade before being simmered until it’s fall-apart tender. Once tossed with your favorite pasta, it’s the ultimate Sunday or special occasion meal. Read on for more!

Wild boar bolognese with rigatoni pasta in white dish on red towel with crushed red pepper in background.

I had my first wild boar (“cinghiale” in Italian) in Tuscany over twenty years ago, in multiple forms. As wild boar run rampant throughout that central Italian region, there are so many local specialties available that are made from it, from salumi to sausages to prosciutto to ragu and more.

I had mostly forgotten about wild boar until I read about them in my friend Andrew Cotto’s novel Cucina Tipica, where the roaming animal is actually a central character in the story. It inspired me to bring wild boar into my kitchen and be transported back to my travels in bella Italia.

This rich and hearty wild boar Bolognese ragu is inspired by the meals I had in Toscana, with a nod to the luscious, classic ragu of Bologna. It starts with lean wild boar shoulder that is marinated in red wine and aromatics for hours, then slowly simmered in the most sweet-smelling braising sauce until it’s fork tender. The delicious meat is then pulled into shreds and added back to the sauce before being combined with your favorite pasta. Mamma mia!

What the Heck is Wild Boar and Where Can I Buy It?

Well, if it sounds like it is a feral pig, you’re right! Wild boar is a wild pig that lives off the land–an omnivore, feeding on just about anything edible, especially roots, grass, fallen fruits, nuts, acorns and other forage, all of which contribute to the unique taste of their (lean) meat. According to legend, the ancient Greeks considered the boar an animal of mythical stature. They believed that the boar’s tusks caught fire when irritated.

Domestic pigs that people raise and eat today were originally bred from the wild boar. However, even though wild boar are related to the domestic pig, they do not taste the same. Their rich, unique flavor is more a cross between pork and beef. They’re also a bit darker and redder with a more intense flavor. Some people describe it as nutty and slightly sweet, while others say that it has natural, earthy flavors with nutty notes. Quite honestly, the flavor of wild boar can vary based on its unique diet of what it forages.

Wild boar Bolognese may sound rather exotic and luxurious! But, wild boar have been hunted and eaten by humans for thousands of years. In fact, it is used in traditional recipes in many parts of the world.

There are several online options for purchasing wild boar. (I bought mine frozen here from D’Artagnan.) As it’s considered wild game, specialty and game butchers should have it available, or at least be able to order it for you. Wild boar is actually a very common, feral animal in Texas and across the southeastern United States, so it is definitely available.

Wild boar shoulder as purchased, in package.

The Best Way to Prepare Wild Boar

As wild boar meat is very lean, it tends to be tougher than domestic pork. Marinating it with acidic ingredients like wine or vinegar (as in this recipe) works well to help tenderize it. The wine marinade also helps to temper the gamey flavor of the boar. And, slow, moist cooking methods, such as braising or stewing, both break down the tough fibers into fork-tenderness and keep the meat juicy and tender. (If you’re grilling or roasting wild boar, be sure to baste it regularly to prevent it from drying out.)

This braising technique is also used in my Italian Pulled Pork, Beef Brisket Ragu and Pork Country Rib Sauce recipes.

While I realize that wild boar might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I do believe that, every so often, it’s a great idea to try something new, especially on the culinary front.

This ragu is very much a treat and special occasion dish (even in Italy!) and is perfect for a holiday meal. It’s robust, warming and full of big flavors and aromas from the red wine braising sauce. It will surely wow give your menu a wow factor and impress your guests!

Wild boar bolognese with rigatoni pasta in white dish with parsley garnish on red towel with crushed red pepper in background.

Ingredients for Wild Boar Bolognese

⁠⁠Here are the ingredients we’ll need for this wild boar Bolognese sauce recipe:

  • Wild Boar: I use the wild boar shoulder in this recipe as it is made for slow cooking. As a muscle that get used a lot (on any animal), the shoulder is considered a lean, tough cut of meat with lots of connective tissue that needs low-and-slow cooking to be broken down–as in this recipe and much like the pork shoulder in my Italian Pork Shoulder. I buy my wild boar online, but specialty/game butchers will likely carry it. You can use ground wild boar in this recipe if you would like, which would only need to be marinated a couple of hours in a smaller amount of wine.
  • Red Wine: As red wine is the marinade base, its flavor really comes through in this dish. And, since this recipe has roots in Tuscany, I love to use a dry wine from that region if at all possible, such as a Chianti or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Having said this, any good dry red wine that you would also enjoy drinking can be used here, such as a cabernet sauvignon, other Sangiovese, Montepulciano, pinot noir or merlot. Not only does the wine help to tenderize the wild boar meat through marination, it adds depth and complexity, brings a layer of acidity to the dish, rounds out the overall flavor of the sauce and creates a beautiful aroma to boot!
  • Red Wine Vinegar: Partners with the red wine in the marinade to help tenderize the lean wild boar meat and also adds a nice acidic zing to the final dish.
  • Onions, Carrots, Celery, Garlic, Fresh and Dried Herbs: These aromatics are all important flavor builders that complement and enhance the flavors of the other ingredients. Fresh rosemary is also used in the red wine marinade.
  • Tomato Paste: Adds umami, tomato-ness and acid to the sauce. Caramelize it for a few minutes in the hot pan before adding other ingredients
  • Broth: Use a low- or no-sodium beef broth as the base for this hearty sauce. Even better, use homemade if possible!
  • Milk: Milk is a significant ingredient in this recipe. The lactic acid and calcium in milk help to tenderize the meat. Plus, milk balances the acidic ingredients (wine, vinegar, tomato), creates a creamy texture and adds flavor and richness to the final dish. It truly makes a big impact here and should not be left out.
  • Pasta: I’ve paired this fragrant, red wine-soaked ragu with rigatoni, which holds on to the pieces of meat perfectly. Other pasta shapes that would also be amazing with this sauce are pappardelle, elicoidali, fettuccine, ziti, penne rigate and paccheri.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Adds some final richness to the finished pasta. Use a high quality oil for this finishing step.
  • Butter (optional): Add a small amount to the finished pasta for increased richness and silkiness, restaurant-style.
  • Parmesan Cheese: As this wild boar ragu is influenced by both the Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany regions of Italy, where the king of all cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano reigns supreme, this cow’s milk cheese really is the best choice for this dish. Its earthiness and savoriness complements the dish perfectly. For a less expensive cheese option, try Grana Padano.
Ingredients for wild boar bolognese.

Wild Boar Bolognese, Step-by-Step (Pro-Tips Included!)

Here are the main steps for making this wild boar recipe:

  • Gather and prep all ingredients as noted above. Rinse and pat the wild boar pieces dry with a paper towel.
    • PRO-TIP: Before marinating, trim off any excess fat from the boar. Wild boar fat can have a strong, gamey flavor that some people find unpleasant. By trimming it away, you can ensure the taste of the meat shines through without being overpowered. Leaving a small amount of fat can help keep the meat moist during cooking.

  • Make the marinade by whisking all the ingredients together in a large, nonreactive bowl. Then, submerge the wild boar pieces in the marinade, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid, and marinate for 12 to 24 hours.
    • PRO-TIP: Be sure to account for this marinating time in your preparations.
    • PRO-TIP: It is very popular to use juniper berries when cooking wild boar (or any game). I don’t believe they are needed in this recipe, but you can add 1 Tbsp to the marinade, if desired. Their flavor is something like rosemary crossed with a berry and they are used in other Tuscan stews and meaty sauces.
Red wine marinade with rosemary.
Wild boar pieces placed in red wine marinade in glass bowl.
  • When done marinating, remove the boar pieces and pat them dry. Sprinkle them liberally with salt and ground black pepper. Strain the marinade and reserve it for the ragu. Discard the strained items.

  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Carefully add as many wild boar pieces as will fit on the surface of the pot and sear them on multiple sides until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the meat to a plate once seared and set aside.
    • PRO-TIP: It may be difficult to get a proper sear as the meat is full of marinade, but do the best you can.
    • PRO-TIP: Do this in batches and do not overcrowd the pot.
Pieces of meat drying out on paper towels after being removed from marinade.
Searing pieces of wild boar in hot pan with oil.
Seared pieces of meat resting on sheet pan.
  • Add the onions, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary leaves and crushed red pepper to the pot and stir to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the vegetables have mostly softened, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • Move the veggies over to one side of the pot and add the tomato paste. Caramelize it for 1 to 2 minutes.

  • Pour in some of the reserved, strained marinade and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits. Let this simmer and reduce by about 1/3.
Carrots, onion, celery, garlic and rosemary in Dutch oven cooking.
Red wine marinade being poured into sautéed vegetable mixture.
  • Add the broth, fresh and dried herbs, salt and black pepper and stir until all ingredients are well-combined.

  • Carefully return the reserved wild boar to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, nestling the pieces in the broth and vegetables. Increase the heat to medium, cover and bring the mixture to a rolling simmer. Then, immediately turn the heat down to medium-low to achieve a low simmer and cover the pot, leaving it slightly ajar.
Adding seared pieces of boar back into the Dutch oven, into the braising mixture.
Pouring the residual meat juices into the Dutch oven.
  • Let the mixture simmer about 3 to 4 hours or until the meat is fork tender and able to be shredded very easily.
    • PRO-TIP: Stir the mixture every 30 minutes, turning the meat pieces over. If necessary, add additional broth.
    • PRO-TIP: Alternatively, cook the wild boar in a 300°F preheated oven, covered with foil.
    • PRO-TIP: Older boar, which has tougher meat, will take longer to cook than younger boar. The times presented here are a guideline and the boar must be cooked until it is fork-tender.

  • Once the meat is tender, transfer it to a dish to pull/shred (or do it right in the pot.) Remove and discard the bay leaves.

Cooking in progress.
Pulling apart pieces of wild boar into shreds after it's done cooking with two pairs of tongs.
  • While you are breaking down the boar pieces, pour milk into sauce and let it simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes to create a thicker sauce. Return the meat pieces to the simmering sauce. After the sauce has simmered with the milk for about 30 minutes, it should be done.
Simmering the wild boar sauce with milk with wooden spoon in pot.
The finished wild boar bolognese on a wooden spoon.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and transfer the ragu to a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add salt, then the pasta, to the boiling water, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions, or about 2 minutes before you think it is al dente.
    • PRO-TIP: Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.

  • Transfer the cooked pasta to the pan with the Bolognese ragu and allow the pasta to finish cooking in the wonderful flavors of the sauce. Add pasta water for additional moisture, about ½ cup at a time.
    • PRO-TIP: You can also add some pasta water to the sauce before the pasta is added, if moisture is needed.

  • Once the pasta is al dente, remove the pan from the heat. Then gently stir in the parmigiano cheese and butter and drizzle with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.
    • PRO-TIP: The butter is “mounted” on the finished pasta at the end for additional richness and silkiness. This is optional and can be left out.
Cooked pasta mixed into the wild boar bolognese to finish cooking in the sauce.
Rigatoni pasta in wild boar bolognese in pot just topped with grated cheese.
Wild boar bolognese with rigatoni pasta in white dish on red towel with crushed red pepper in background.

Frequently Asked Questions for this Wild Boar Bolognese

Can I skip marinating the boar meat in wine?

Not really. The acid in the wine helps to tenderize the lean, tough boar meat, adds loads of flavor and also helps to keep the meat moist. It is an integral ingredient and flavor in this recipe and should not be skipped. Also, keep in mind that the meat should be marinated for at least 12 hours. So, be sure to account for this time in your planning.

Can I make this wild boar pasta in a slow-cooker?

This wild boar ragu/sauce (without the pasta) can be made in a slow cooker (after marinating as indicated in the recipe). Before adding the ingredients to the slow cooker, I suggest searing the boar pieces in a hot skillet. Searing locks in a ton of delicious flavor. Then, mix the boar and other ingredients together and add them to the slow cooker with the strained marinade and broth, cover and set on low for 6 to 7 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours or until the meat is fall-apart tender.

Is this wild boar Bolognese ragu the same as traditional Bolognese?

It’s very similar with some differences.
 
In general, a ragù is a hearty, Italian meat sauce, typically served with pasta. Generally, tougher cuts of meat are browned, immersed in a braising liquid (wine and/or tomato-based) and then cooked on a low heat over a long period of time. Once cooked, the meat is removed from the sauce and sometimes served in a separate course, while the sauce is served with pasta for the first part of the meal.
 
The classic (Bolognese) ragu of the Bologna area in central Italy is made with ground beef and pork and/or veal, braised in wine and a bit of tomato, and finished with a bit of milk.
 
This wild boar Bolognese ragu is inspired by both a traditional ragu Bolognese and a Tuscan wild boar ragu. Here, the meat is marinated overnight in wine and pulled chunks of braised shoulder (as opposed to ground meat) are present, unlike a Bolognese. But, this wild boar ragu is finished with milk, just like the classic Bolognese. The milk tenderizes the meat, balances the acidic ingredients, creates a creamy texture and adds flavor and richness to the final dish.

How far in advance can I make this sauce?

The ragu can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or freezer for up to three months. I generally make this sauce 2 to 3 days in advance of when I’m serving it. The flavors develop well during this time
 
When ready to serve, defrost the ragu in the refrigerator. Then, reheat it in a covered skillet, thinned with a little bit of water as needed to reach desired consistency.

Is wild boar the same as pork?

No, but domestic pigs that people raise and eat today were originally bred from the wild boar. Wild boar is a wild pig that lives off the land– an omnivore, feeding on just about anything edible, especially roots, grass, fallen fruits, nuts, acorns and other forage, all of which contribute to the unique taste of their (lean) meat.
 
Even though wild boar are related to the domestic pig, they do not taste the same. Their rich, unique flavor is more a cross between pork and beef. Its flesh is a bit darker and redder with a more intense flavor. Some people describe it as nutty and slightly sweet, while others say that it has natural, earthy flavors with nutty notes. Quite honestly, the flavor of wild boar can vary based on its unique diet of what it forages. Also, wild boar meat is significantly leaner than pork.

Wild boar bolognese with rigatoni pasta in white dish on red towel with crushed red pepper in background.

Serving Suggestions and Storage

I’ve paired this rich, aromatic ragù di cinghiale with pasta. But, if you’re a polenta fan, consider serving this recipe over a big dollop of creamy polenta.

For sides, a simple green salad is perfect accompaniment and my go-to. It provides the perfect crispness and freshness to complement the rich ragu and pasta.

The sauce itself can be held in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or in the freezer for up to three months. (It freezes beautifully!)

Leftover bolognese with pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat it, covered, in a small skillet over medium low heat with a little bit of water until heated through.

Wild boar bolognese with rigatoni pasta in white dish on red towel with crushed red pepper in background.

More Italian Recipes to Try

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Wild boar bolognese with rigatoni pasta in white dish on red towel with crushed red pepper in background.

Wild Boar Bolognese Ragu with Pasta

Michele
Wine-soaked Wild Boar Bolognese Ragu is rich, flavorful, aromatic and full of meaty deliciousness! Wild boar shoulder is bathed in a red wine-based marinade before being simmered with lots of aromatics until its fall-apart tender, then tossed with your favorite pasta. It’s the ultimate Sunday or special occasion meal.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Marinating Time: 12 hours
Total Time 4 hours 30 minutes
Course Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients
  

For the Marinade:

  • 1 bottle dry red wine such as Chianti
  • cup red wine vinegar
  • 2-4 sprigs rosemary
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed

For the Ragu:

  • pounds boneless wild boar shoulder, most fat removed, 3” chunks, rinsed and patted dry
  • Pinch salt and black pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil or other neutral oil for searing
  • 3 cups sliced yellow onions
  • 2 cups small diced celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 2 cups small diced carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs rosemary (stems discarded)
  • ½ crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups reserved, strained marinade, from above
  • 2 cups beef broth, (preferably low- or no-sodium)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • cups whole milk

For the Pasta:

  • 1 pound pasta + salt for pasta water
  • 3-4 cups wild boar ragu
  • cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 Tbsp butter at room temperature (optional)
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Instructions
 

  • Gather and prep all ingredients as noted above. Rinse and pat the wild boar pieces dry with a paper towel.
    (Please see the section above in the blog post for Step-By-Step instructions with photos.)
    3½ pounds boneless wild boar shoulder,
  • Make the marinade by whisking all the ingredients together in a large, nonreactive bowl. Then, submerge the wild boar pieces in the marinade, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid, and marinate for 12 to 24 hours.
    1 bottle dry red wine, ⅓ cup red wine vinegar, 2-4 sprigs rosemary, 10 black peppercorns, 5 cloves garlic,
  • When done marinating, remove the boar pieces and pat them dry. Sprinkle them liberally with salt and black pepper. Strain the marinade and reserve it for the ragu. Discard the strained items.
    Pinch salt and black pepper
  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Carefully add as many wild boar pieces as will fit on the surface of the pot and sear them on multiple sides until brown, about 3 minutes per side. (It may be difficult to get a proper sear as the meat is full of marinade, but do the best you can.) Do this in batches and do not overcrowd the pot. Remove the meat to a plate once seared and set aside.
    ¼ cup olive oil
  • Add the onions, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary leaves and crushed red pepper to the pot and stir to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the vegetables have mostly softened, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    3 cups sliced yellow onions, 2 cups small diced celery, 2 cups small diced carrot, 6 cloves garlic,, Leaves from 2 sprigs rosemary, ½ crushed red pepper
  • Move the veggies over to one side of the pot and add the tomato paste. Caramelize it for 1 to 2 minutes.
    2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Pour in the reserved, strained marinade and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits. Let this simmer and reduce by about 1/3.
    2 cups reserved, strained marinade,
  • Add the broth, fresh and dried herbs, salt and black pepper and stir until all ingredients are well-combined.
    2 cups beef broth,, 3 bay leaves, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper
  • Carefully return the reserved wild boar to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, nestling the pieces in the broth and vegetables. Increase the heat to medium, cover and bring the mixture to a rolling simmer. Then, immediately turn the heat down to medium-low to achieve a low simmer and cover the pot, leaving it slightly ajar. Let the mixture simmer about 3 to 4 hours or until the meat is fork tender and able to be shredded very easily. Stir the mixture every 30 minutes, turning the meat pieces over. If necessary, add additional broth.
  • (Alternatively, cook the meat in a 300°F preheated oven, covered with foil.)
  • Once the meat is tender, transfer it to a dish to pull/shred (or do it right in the pot.) Remove and discard the bay leaves.
  • While you are breaking down the boar pieces, pour milk into sauce and let it simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes to create a thicker sauce. Return the meat pieces to the simmering sauce. After the sauce has simmered with the milk for about 30 minutes, it should be done.
    1½ cups whole milk
  • At this point, you can either use the ragu immediately store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or freezer for up to three months. (I generally make this sauce 2 to 3 days in advance of when I am serving it. The flavors develop during this time.)
  • When ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to a boil and reheat the ragu in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
    3-4 cups wild boar ragu
  • Add salt, then the pasta, to the boiling water, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions, or about 2 minutes before you think it is al dente. Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.
    1 pound pasta
  • Transfer the cooked pasta to the pan with the ragu, increase the heat to medium and toss well. Allow the pasta to finish cooking in the wonderful flavors of the sauce. Add pasta water for additional moisture, about ½ cup at a time. (You can also add some pasta water to the sauce before the pasta is added, if moisture is needed.)
  • Once the pasta is al dente, remove the pan from the heat. Then gently stir in the parmigiano cheese and butter and drizzle with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Transfer to a serving platter and serve immediately. Buon Appetito!
    ⅓ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 2 Tbsp butter, Extra virgin olive oil

Notes

  • The above recipe makes approximately 10 cups wild boar ragu, which is enough to dress about 2 to 3 pounds pasta.
  • Before marinating, trim off any excess fat from the boar. Wild boar fat can have a strong, gamey flavor that some people find unpleasant. By trimming it away, you can ensure the taste of the meat shines through without being overpowered. Leaving a small amount of fat can help keep the meat moist during cooking.
  • Older boar, which has tougher meat, will take longer to cook than younger boar. The times presented here are a guideline and the boar must be cooked until it is fork-tender.
  • If you are only making one pound pasta, I suggest freezing the remaining ragu in an airtight container for up to three months. This way, you can have a delicious wild boar ragu when desired any night of the week! Defrost the ragu in the refrigerator when ready to enjoy. Then, reheat it in a covered skillet, thinned with a little bit of water as needed to reach desired consistency.
  • You can halve the above recipe for a smaller yield.
  • This ragu works well with all sorts of short and long shapes of pasta. Some of my favorites to use in this recipe are pappardelle, fettuccine, rigatoni, gnocchi, ziti, penne rigate and paccheri.
  • The butter is “mounted” on the finished pasta at the end for additional richness and silkiness. This is optional and can be left out.
 
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3 thoughts on “Wild Boar Bolognese Ragu with Pasta

  1. 5 stars
    Wow! So delicious! What an adventure! I followed your tip for ordering the meat. It came on Tuesday, I marinated it, and made made the sauce yesterday. We tasted it last night, my husband wanted to be sure it didn’t taste ‘wild’ (gamey) … of course it was soooo goood!! I didn’t have whole milk, so I used some créme fraîche that I had on hand, and added some pasta water to the sauce, too. It worked well! For noodles, I used bucatini, which were perfect.
    Again, I love all your tips and explanations, and the step by step instructions with the ingredients repeated for each step.
    This is a favorite dish of mine, and I was so glad when you posted it! I never imagined I would be making it at home. Kind a of a big investment – the shipping cost was as much as the meat!!! So worth it, though! I have over 3 quarts of sauce, so there will be many meals coming. We serving it this weekend for friends and family! A feast!
    Mille grazie, Michele!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Kathy! I feel like I was in the kitchen with you-love your cooking and tasting details! I am so very happy that you tried and loved this wild boar ragu recipe. It’s definitely very special! Enjoy all the future meals made with the ragu in the freezer!

  2. 5 stars
    Great recipe! Appreciate the detailed instructions. Everybody loved this dish.

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