As an enthusiastic cook and food lover, it's always exciting to try new ingredients, especially when it comes to wild game. When I lived in Haute Provence, France, friends and neighbors would often bring over their latest prize, everything from wild rabbit and pheasant to quail and wild boar, partly to get a kick out of watching me, the New Orleanian, eyes and mouth wide-open in horror as they handed over the still-warm, bloody bird or hare (I was a recovering, 90-percent vegetarian when I first moved to Provence).
It took me a while to get used to cooking with game, and while I'm not an expert, I do appreciate the bounty and often returned the favor by cooking up all manner of Provençal stews and soups and even Creole-accented dishes, including gumbos and jambalayas with their prized hunt.
Here in Alaska, I've just started experimenting with moose thanks to my good friends and neighbors. The first time I had the meat at someone's home, cooked down in a gravy, I found it to be tougher and drier -- even with all that Crock Pot love -- than I had expected. I've since learned from locals that it's important to have the moose properly processed, including asking the meat processor to make sure your hunt is not mixed in with others', and to cook it low and slow.
Roasts of wild game are lovely, but I also like using ground game meat as I would beef, pork or veal, as in this meatball recipe, inspired by a Tuscan chef who sometimes uses whipped mashed potato to lighten it all up. To simplify, I've taken the potato out of this recipe but you can always incorporate a few tablespoons into the mix. I also recommend grating the cheese with a Microplane grater for a light and airy texture.
Meatballs with Currants and Pine Nuts
(Serves 4 to 6)
1. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, egg, cheese, bread crumbs, garlic, salt, pepper, pine nuts, and currants together and mix with hands just until combined; you don't want to overwork the mixture as the heat from your hands can turn the meat into a flavorless mush and become tough. Roll into small meatballs (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter)
2. Heat the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs in 2 batches, turning once or twice, until tender and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Between batches, remove any loose pieces of currant or pine nuts so they don't burn while cooking the meatballs. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. Serve warm with Basic Tomato Sauce with Basil and fresh basil leaves. NOTE: You can also cook the meatballs a few minutes less and finish them in the tomato sauce over low heat.
Basic Quick Tomato Sauce with Basil
1. In a large pot, add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and about 1/2 cup chopped onion and cook over medium heat about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add one (28-ounce) can of San Marzano tomatoes with juices, 2 to 3 cloves minced garlic, a pinch of dried oregano or Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, to taste and cook, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes. NOTE: At this point, you can also throw in some fresh ripe chopped tomato.
2. Purée, either using an immersion blender in the pot or carefully transferring the mixture to a food processor or blender and blend just to combine. Stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil. Taste and add more salt and pepper, as needed.