Food & Drink

Wild Boar Bolognese

Fresh pesto livens up this secret sauce

Photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

Before landing in Nashville, chef Matt Bolus graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in London, worked knives at the city’s Blagden’s fishmongers and Allens of Mayfair butcher shop, and served as a butcher and fishmonger at Charleston, South Carolina’s esteemed FIG. He opened his 404 Kitchen in Nashville in 2013. But Bolus, a passionate hunter, loves going back to his roots. He grew up in a log cabin in East Tennessee and would visit his grandparents’ farm in Kentucky, where his grandmother paid him a quarter for every bullfrog he could gig.

His Bolognese sauce began life as a “family meal” for his staff, and it became so popular, he says, “we jumped off in all kinds of directions.” He’s made the sauce with beef, pork, black bear, lobster, and mixed seafood. In the summer, he’ll bring in yellow tomatoes and peaches and deglaze the pan with gin. In the fall, pumpkin and sage provide a seasonal backdrop. But spring, he says, is a trickier time for the gravitas that comes with a meal of wild boar. “Part of our brain is saying that it’s time to get our bikini bodies in shape,” he says, laughing, “while another part is not quite ready to give up on eating big.”

The bright tastes of the herbs and citrus in this sauce help cut through the richness of the boar meat, which Bolus treats with particular care. Overfilling a pan tends to simply steam ground meat, he says, which adds an odd texture and does nothing for the flavor. Instead, he creates thin burger-like patties and cooks them hot to caramelize the surface and leave behind copious amounts of crispy, browned fond. “Really push that ground meat,” he advises. “Get it dark brown, and I’m talking about damn near burnt.”


  • Spring Wild Boar Bolognese (Yield: 4–6 servings)

    • 1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped

    • 2 tbsp. canola or grape-seed oil

    • 2 lb. wild boar, ground

    • 2 oz. butter

    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

    • ½ medium onion, diced small

    • ½ carrot, diced small

    • 1 stalk celery, diced small

    • ¼ fennel bulb, diced small

    • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar

    • 10 oz. white wine

    • ½ cup heavy cream

    • 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped

    • 1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

    • 6 scallions, roughly chopped

    • Fennel fronds from above, roughly chopped

    • ½ cup olive oil

    • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

    • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

    • Kosher salt, to taste

    • White pepper, to taste

    • Lemon juice, to taste


  1. Boil the chopped cauliflower in salted water until very tender. Strain out all the water, reserving some, and puree cauliflower in a blender until velvety smooth. You may need to use a little of the cooking liquid to get it to spin, but don’t use too much; you want the puree to be on the thicker side. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.

  2. In a pot large enough to fit all the ingredients, heat the canola or grape-seed oil and sear the ground boar. Once the boar is caramelized, strain off any excess fat. Add butter and garlic to the meat and cook until light brown. Add onion, carrot, celery, and diced fennel, and cook until soft.

  3. Deglaze the pot with rice vinegar and white wine. Scrape up any caramelized bits off the bottom of the pot. Reduce wine and vinegar until almost dry.

  4. Add the cauliflower puree and the cream. Stir to incorporate evenly, adding a little of the cauliflower liquid to loosen if needed. Simmer for 20–30 minutes.

  5. While the Bolognese is simmering, make a pesto by combining the parsley, basil, scallions, and fennel fronds in a food processor bowl. Drizzle ¼ cup of the olive oil over and process on high to start breaking it all up. Add pine nuts, Parmesan, a pinch of salt, and 3 to 4 twists of white pepper, and again process on high speed. Add remaining olive oil and pulse to just combine.

  6. Taste both the Bolognese sauce and the pesto, adjusting the seasoning with salt, white pepper, and lemon juice.

  7. To serve, toss your favorite pasta (cooked and ready to serve) with the Bolognese sauce as desired. Add pesto to your liking and toss just to combine. Sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan.