Nothing says spring like fresh local asparagus. The season is about done here and the grocery store stock later on will not be as tender, probably because it’s picked too early wherever it comes from. Our local asparagus, even when the stalks look too thick, is always tender and the taste is incomparable. I wanted something grand to pair with the asparagus and the large Louisiana shrimp at Wegman’s was just the right item.
Everything but the orzo was grilled, then it was all combined at the last minute. Cooking the orzo in chicken stock created it’s own sauce, so it was really easy. I added one diced canned San Marzano tomato, some fresh garlic, and parsley to the stock as it was simmering to round out the flavors.
Grilled Shrimp and Spring Orzo
MARINATE THE SHRIMP
- 1 1/2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon grated or roasted garlic
- 2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Mix all marinade ingredients and add to the shrimp in a large resealable bag. Toss to coat and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Just before grilling the shrimp, thread onto skewers. I don’t add salt until the shrimp are on the skewers ready to grill.
Set up your grill for about 350°-400°; I used 60 charcoal briquettes, turning them out of the chimney into the center of the grill.
- 2 large orange, red, or yellow bell peppers, halved and seeded
- 2 medium onions, cut in thick slices
- 1 lb or more asparagus stalks, trimming if necessary. I only added the 3″ tips to my dish, saving the grilled ends for other uses during the week.
- extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on vegetables
- salt & pepper
- Grill all the vegetables in stages, or as they fit on your grill. Set each aside until all are finished. I peeled my peppers when they were done.
- Asparagus tips: Place crosswise on the grill grate over direct heat, turning as needed to get some char on all sides, but not so much that they are burnt. then move them to the outer sides of the grill to continue cooking over indirect heat until done. I came this close to not dropping any through the grate until I was taking them off:
- Prepare the orzo before you grill the shrimp. Grill the shrimp at the last minute and place over the top of the pasta. Grill over direct heat just until done, only a few minutes on each side until all the shrimp are pink.
PREPARE THE ORZO
- 8 oz whole wheat orzo
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2-1 cup water
- 1 chopped canned plum tomato
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon grated or roasted garlic
Bring all the ingredients to a low boil, stirring often so the orzo doesn’t stick to the pan, then simmer for about ten minutes or until the orzo is tender. Stir in the chopped grilled vegetables, then top with the grilled shrimp.
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.
Ragù, béchamel, parmesan
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.
This sauce is a nice change from tomato sauce—actually, we hardly ever eat tomato sauce, but we’re not normal. The roasted pepper sauce is mild and sweet, but if your peppers are red, you might just fool your family into thinking it’s made with tomatoes. I had a bunch of roasted red and yellow peppers in the freezer, but you could make roasting a part of the process, or you could use roasted peppers in a jar (or 2 jars). Another option would be to use both sweet bell peppers and some hot peppers.
I used long grain brown rice and some browned ground beef to make it a complete meal, but the sauce is the star here, and you can probably think of other ways to use it. Usually, I like to bake a rice casserole with rice that is already cooked, but I took a chance baking it all at the same time, today, and it worked out well.
I almost forgot to snap a picture of the finished dish, but grabbed a quick one—poorly focused—before it was all gone.
Baked Rice with Roasted Pepper Sauce
Preheat oven to 350°; butter a 2 quart casserole dish
1 large onion, chopped
5-6 roasted, peeled red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers (about 2 cups chopped)
1-2 tablespoons grated garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups beef or chicken stock, heated to a boil and set aside
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 lb ground beef
salt & pepper to taste
- Saute the onion and peppers in olive oil a large skillet over medium high heat until the vegetables soften and become translucent. Stir in the garlic and parsley and cook for a few minutes longer. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove the peppers and onions to a blender and add about 1/2 cup of the stock. Puree the vegetables, adding more stock if necessary to make a thick and fairly smooth sauce. Add the rest of the stock to the puree.
- In the same skillet, brown the ground beef over medium high heat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the rice and continue cooking and stirring until the rice has absorbed any liquid from the beef. This gives the rice a head start cooking.
- Pour the beef and rice into a buttered 2 quart casserole. Pour the pepper sauce with all the stock over the beef mixture. Let the sauce settle or lightly stir, keeping the rice and beef submerged in the sauce. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Check to see if the rice is done, adding more time, if needed. Mine looked pretty well done after 1 hour, but I am suspicious of baked rice and let it go another 15 mins.
I said 6-8 servings but then my husband ate it all—except my one serving
It was one of those what-to-do-with-ground-beef days. I almost, in desperation, fell back on grilled burgers, even though it was only 54° outside, then wondered if I could do something different with meatballs—and I mean different from all the meatball recipes on this site (which is 5). I still used the grill, after I put on a flannel shirt, and decided to use a combination of spices that I haven’t used with beef before. The only method I could figure out for grilling meatballs, was to put them on skewers, although I’m sure if they are big enough not to fall through the grate you could turn them individually—that sounds like too much work.
We ate them on flatbread with a sour cream-lemon-chive sauce.
Spicy Skewered Meatballs
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 cup dry bread crumbs
Optional: 2-4 tablespoons milk or other liquid if the mixture is dry
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried cilantro
1 tablespoon parsley paste (a timesaver)
1 tablespoon grated or minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Mix all ingredients together with hands. You’re trying to achieve a mixture that will hold its shape, so you don’t want it to be too soft or moist.
- Divide mixture into 16 portions and roll into balls.
- Carefully slide meatballs onto skewers then place on a large tray. You could refrigerate them at this point until ready to cook.
- Grill over direct heat, turning to brown on all sides, closing the lid after each turn. Even with flat skewers, the meatballs will turn on the skewers, but it’s still pretty easy to turn the whole skewer, keeping your tongs close by. They cook pretty quickly, in about 15 minutes, but you can use a thermometer to test for doneness.
- Remove from skewers and serve in flatbread with a sour cream or yogurt sauce.
This is something you could make with a variety of meats and spices. I found the meatballs to be moist and tender, and a nice change from burgers.