Back in January, a neighbor shared a few pounds of wild venison, largesse from this year’s deer-hunting season. The fennel-laden, part-pork sausages disappeared fairly quickly, but I was left with a package of round-steak-like, mechanically tenderized meat. I’m not the biggest fan of chicken-fried-steak, and I could only imagine rubber bands when I contemplated pan-fried venison. Long, slow cooking to tenderize the wild game was in order, and I decided to treat it the way Italians cook cinghale (wild boar). A nice venison ragu resulted from my afternoon’s labors.
While a tad heavy for spring weather, the ragu was perfect over strozzapreti, the short, curled pasta twists whose name means priest-stranglers. [ So the dish was at least thematically contemporary, if not seasonally appropriate.] Onions, carrot, celery, garlic, and red wine mellow any gamy flavors in the venison, and tomatoes give the sauce heft and body.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 T all purpose flour
- 1.5 lbs venison, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, diced small
- 2 ribs celery, diced small
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, or bottled, sieved tomato puree
- 1/2 bottle red wine (use something you like to drink)
- Water, as needed
- 5-8 sage leaves, roughly chopped
- 3-4 bay leaves, lightly crushed
- black pepper, to taste
- salt (may not be necessary)
Heat olive oil in a heavy dutch oven. Dust venison cubes with flour, shaking off excess. Brown floured venison in the hot oil; do it in batches if necessary to prevent crowding (it will not brown if the pan is overly full). Remove the meat from the pan and add the chopped onions (a tiny bit of additional oil may be added if the pan is dry). Allow the onions to cook until nicely colored, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pot from time to time. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery, and continue to cook until the vegetables soften. Stir in the tomatoes and red wine, and return the browned venison to the pot. Additional water may be needed to submerge the meat the liquid. Sprinkle on the sage, bay leaves, and black pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour or until the venison is tender. Taste for salt (wine can be very salty, so additional salt may not be necessary.) Remove the lid, increase the heat slightly, and cook until the sauce thickens slightly. Serve over hot cooked pasta.