Sometimes it's all about knowing where to source your ingredients. I had seen this recipe for what looked like a fabulous duck ragu in Mario's book Molto Italiano. The only problem was it called for fresh duck legs, which I can't exactly go down to my local supermarket and grab. Duck confit I can score at will. Duck breast, no problem. But after stopping by two of the most likely sources here and getting the "sorry pal" treatment I was stumped. Then I remembered my buddy Norm had mentioned how he had picked up some duck fat from a local food wholesaler called Nicky USA. Now these guys handle some of the more esoteric game animals and the parts enclosed within. I figured if they have duck fat, then the legs must be waddling around there somewhere too. Sure enough it was one call to confirm they do have the sought after appendage, they do sell to the public with a very reasonable minimum buy, and I was flying down to the inner southeast side of PDX. 10 minutes later I was the proud possessor of eight duck legs. Since the recipe only called for four, I can see some confit in my future.
So I get home and pull these beautiful hunks of fowl out of the bag. They had to be skinned (you can see the skinned legs in the photo), and I'm here to tell ya the duck does not want to give up his skin like that wimpy chicken. It was a struggle to get off, plus ducks are so much more fatty than chickens that it was a slippery proposition. But with some careful knife work, a lot of vigorous pulling, and liberal use of "you think you're better than me, motherf*cker?", I soon had them ready. After this the dish came together quickly, and I have to say deliciously. Basically a standard braise, the finished product tasted eerily close to bouef bourguignon, and over the penne it was awesome. The duck doesn't get fall apart tender like chicken would, so it keeps a good chew. I didn't make the fancy-ass fresh garganelli pasta that tubby recommended (if you want to make it, the recipe is in his book), but took up his suggestion for all of us non-fresh pasta making pussies to sub dried penne and it worked just fine. With cooler weather coming, grab some duck legs and get this cooking. It's a perfect fall dish!
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Penne al Ragu d'Anatra
Penne with Duck Ragu
from "Molto Italiano"
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 duck legs, skinned, cut apart at joint, visible fat removed, rinsed and patted dry.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 fresh sage leaves
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup chicken stock
One 6-ounce can tomato paste
16 to 18 ounces dried penne pasta
Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
1- In a Dutch oven heat the oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Season the duck pieces with salt and pepper and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to plate.
2- Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and sage to the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the wine, stock, and tomato paste, stir well and bring to a boil. Add the duck, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for one hour.
3- Transfer the duck pieces to a plate (keep the sauce at a simmer). When cool enough, pull or cut all the meat off bones, return meat to pot and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is quite thick. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to 10 to 12-inch sauté pan, and keep warm over low heat.
4- Bring six quarts water to a boil, in a large pasta pot, add 2 tablespoons salt, add pasta, and cook to just al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add the cooked pasta to the ragu and toss over high heat for 2 minutes to combine, adding a splash of pasta water to loosen sauce if needed. Divide pasta between four bowls, grate Parmagiano over each bowl and serve immediately.