The first dish from the buck my husband harvested this fall.
This lasagna is a tale of two sauces—a bolognese ragù and béchamel. Neither sauce is difficult to make and the ragù in particular can be made the day or evening before to simplify the final dish preparation. This lasagna doesn’t require all the cheese (ricotta and mozzarella) of typical lasagna recipes, just finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano on each layer, so that the result is a lasagna that is not quite as filling—and by filling, I mean overfilling. You can certainly use the ragù in a typical cheesy lasagna, but I think the béchamel would be overpowered by all that cheese. Ordinarily, I would add cream and butter to a bolognese ragù after the long simmer, but felt that the layers of béchamel provided the necessary creaminess to the dish.
Two things I did differently:
- In addition to using venison instead of lean beef or veal, I used ground, smoked, thick-sliced bacon instead of the traditional pancetta, which is not smoked. The smoky bacon adds another layer of flavor, and the venison can handle it. The bacon happens to be from a local company that provides the hot dogs and kielbasa to Heinz Field, Smith Provision, and it’s a really flavorful bacon.
- I used some of my frozen tomato sauce made from our summer garden tomatoes. It’s a thick sauce made from roasting tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and onion, so it is already flavored with some of the final sauce ingredients, but since my sauce has been blended, you still need the chopped vegetables in this ragù.
I used fresh pasta sheets available at my grocery to construct the lasagna; you don’t need to boil them first as they cook in the casserole to just the right tenderness—just make sure you have plenty of sauce to cover.
Venison Lasagna Bolognese
Note about salt: There are lots of ways to get too much salt into this dish. There is salt in each sauce, your chicken stock may be salted, the bacon may be salty, and authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is salty. Personally, I would leave out any extra salt in the ragù. Taste as you go along.
Preheat oven to 375° when ready to construct the dish.
Bolognese Ragù Sauce
- 1/4 cup olive oil (or more)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- about 1 cup celery heart, center ribs with leaves, finely chopped
- about 1 cup finely chopped carrot
- about 1 cup medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 pound smoked bacon, coarsely ground
- 1 pound ground venison
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 cups thick tomato sauce (or crushed tomatoes or tomato paste with more chicken stock)
- salt & pepper to taste (careful with the salt—see the note above)
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 cups milk (I used lactose-free whole milk)
- fresh pasta sheets to make at least 5 layers in a 13″ x 9″ dish
- about 2 cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Prepare the meat sauce, which needs to simmer for about two hours.
- In a large straight-sided skillet (often called a chicken fryer) sauté the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil until the vegetables are translucent. Remove vegetables to a dish while browning the meats, which you can’t do well in a pan of vegetables.
- In the same pan, using more olive oil if needed, brown the ground bacon. Add the ground venison and ground pork, breaking it all up and cooking until browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes.
- Return the sautéed vegetables to the pan. Stir in the parsley, chicken stock, red wine, and tomato sauce (or whatever tomato product you are using).
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. I’m sure this is a sauce that could be made in a slow cooker, too.
- When the meat sauce is about done, make the béchamel sauce.
- In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Stir in the flour and seasoning, stirring until all the flour is combined with the butter and there are no lumps.
- Slowly stir in the milk, stirring constantly with a large wooden spoon or whisk. Some people like to scald the milk first in the microwave, but I find that unnecessary—maybe it quickens the thickening. Continue stirring over medium heat until thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon. Remove from heat.
- Construct the lasagna. Butter a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.
- Using a large ladle, lightly cover the bottom of the dish with béchamel sauce.
- Arrange your uncooked pasta sheets over the béchamel. You don’t need to cover every inch of the pan, as the pasta will swell a little on absorbing the sauces. I trimmed my sheets to fit in two large squares on each layer, but your sheets may be more narrow than mine.
- Top each layer of pasta with enough meat sauce to cover all the edges. Then add a layer of béchamel. Finish with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
- Repeat until you reach the top of the dish, ending with the sauces and cheese. Mine came all the way to the top with 5 layers, and while a little bubbled over, most of it was absorbed by the pasta.
- Bake at 375° for about 40 minutes. Place a sheet pan on a lower oven rack to catch any spills. The finished lasagna should be browned and bubbly.
- Let rest a little before cutting into large squares.