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.
Quick, because I’m using pork tenderloins instead of a cut that benefits from long cooking, like a pork shoulder. In fact, after browning the tenderloin cubes, You only add them to the sauce at the last minute before serving.
One of my freezer packs of tomato sauce was marked “tomato-pepper” because one day I had a bunch of bell peppers harvested on the same day as some tomatoes. So, instead of roasting the tomatoes with carrots and onion and garlic, I roasted them with the peppers and it all went into the blender. I’ve been waiting for the right recipe to use them. You will have a chunkier sauce if you are using fresh chopped peppers in your sauce. I’m also going to add two chopped red poblanos which may add a little zing (who ever really knows about poblanos?), and I’m marinating the pork cubes in smoked paprika for a smoky pepper taste. Our ripened poblanos turned a dark purplish-red; maybe you can pick those out in the image of roasted peppers from one of my roasting days:
Can you pick out the red ones?
Quick Pork and Pepper Ragout
- 1 1/2 to 2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut in half inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- 3-4 slices thick-sliced bacon, browned and crumbled, fat reserved (I cook mine in the oven)
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1 cup diced onion
- about 2 cups combination of peppers of your choice: I had about 4 bell peppers in my sauce (blended) and added 2 chopped roasted red poblanos
- 2-3 large cloves of garlic, minced, grated, or pressed
- 2- 3 cups tomato sauce or mixture of tomato paste and stock or fresh tomatoes
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/2 pound penne pasta, cooked according to package directions.
- Coat pork cubes in marinade and refrigerate for at least a half hour or longer. Mine sat for about 4 hours. I did not add the garlic to the marinade, because I didn’t want it to burn in the browning of the meat.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add two tablespoons reserved bacon fat and bring to sizzling. Add marinated pork and brown on all sides. You will probably need to cook the meat in 2-3 batches so the cubes don’t touch and create a gray, watery mess. Set browned pork aside.
- Add onion, carrots, peppers and garlic to hot pan. Stir until beginning to wilt, then add your tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until carrots are tender.
- Stir in pork cubes and heat for just a few minutes.
- Serve over pasta; top with crumbled bacon.
If my husband weren’t lactose intolerant, I would stir in 1/4 cup sour cream at the end. Instead, I’m serving it on the side.
Of all the dishes I’ve done with pheasant, I don’t think I’ve tried any slow cooker recipes, so here’s my first (and I finally added a Slow Cooker category). It cooks rather quickly, even in a slow cooker, at just 3-5 hours on low; I wouldn’t try it for one of those all-day recipes where you start it in the morning and go to work. I fear the tender little breasts would be tasteless and dry by the end of an entire day.
There are lots of recipes out there for butter chicken, but just a few elements tie them together:
- Butter—there is no substitute for this, or you have to call the dish something else
- Something creamy—yogurt, cream, or coconut milk
- Tomato—fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, or thick tomato sauce
- Spices—garam masala, curry powder or paste, ginger, chili powder, cumin
Easy and really tasty.
Sauce mixed into cubes
More butter, please!
Pheasant Breasts—Butter Chicken Style
- 2 lbs pheasant breasts, cut in large cubes
- 1 large or two medium onions, thinly sliced
- 3-4 tablespoons butter; more for serving
- 2 cups thick tomato sauce (see my roasted tomato sauce here)
- 1 can coconut milk (I used full fat)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with a little of the coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon red curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 4 teaspoons garlic paste or roasted garlic
- 2 tablespoons ginger paste or 2 inches fresh ginger grated
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- Optional: cilantro, if you like it, for serving or stirred into the sauce
- Melt butter over medium heat in a large skillet and saute onions until translucent.
- Stir in spices, salt and pepper, garlic, and ginger, cooking until fragrant.
- Stir in tomato sauce, coconut milk and cornstarch/coconut milk mixture. Simmer until slightly thickened.
- Pour sauce over cubed pheasant in slow cooker. Cook on low for 3-4 hours, but not longer than 5 hours.
Serve with brown basmati rice and warm naan. Place a pat of butter on each serving for a little decadence.
I still have a lot of tomatoes coming for more of the following recipes
I think I already have enough roasted tomatoes in the freezer (about 8 containers, small and medium in size), which I made as the tomatoes began to ripen in small batches. I saved them in small containers so they could be added to dishes—sauces, pizza, salads—or just eaten like candy. These are the kind of tomatoes roasted with lots of olive oil, salt, and thyme until they shrivel up into little red gems that are slightly caramelized on the bottoms and edges. I pretty much follow this recipe from Rachael Ray for “Roasted Tomatoes.”
With the rest of the tomatoes—the ones I didn’t put in the salsa of the last post—I made lots of sauce and puree. I don’t have one of those food mills that separates out seeds and skin, and now I’m not sure I want one. I found two terrific recipes that use all of the tomato by putting the cooked ingredients into the blender, not the food processor, the blender. Neither recipe requires peeling and only one requires seeding. If you’re thinking that leaving the skin and some seeds in the sauces might be bitter, you’re wrong.
The sauce is thick yet mild, not that deep red, highly-acidic kind you find in jars. It retains a little of the roasted tomato taste and it must be the onions and carrots that make it a little milder—yes, onions and carrots. One change I made in the process is not roasting peeled garlic with the veggies; I just added garlic paste to the mixture in the blender. The other change is not picking off the roasted tomato skins—they add a great caramelized flavor to the sauce and you don’t notice any pieces at all.
This sheet makes one quart of sauce
Here it is all roasted
Dump all in the blender
Here’s your quart of sauce
We have 5 quarts of sauce in the freezer, having already eaten two others with pasta.
Roasted Tomato Sauce
The original recipe can be found here: Martha Stewart’s “Roasted Tomato Sauce.”
Preheat oven to 425°; line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- 3 pounds Roma tomatoes (you can use beefsteak or a combination, but big round tomatoes take up more room on the sheet)
- 1 medium onion, sliced in 1/4 inch rounds
- 2 carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- olive oil to drizzle over vegetables
- Coarse salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste, commercial or homemade from roasted garlic
- Core tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise, and place cut side down on baking sheet. You do not have to seed tomatoes for this recipe. Yay 😊
- Place cut onions and carrots on baking sheet. As you can see in the photo, it all fits on one sheet if you have weighed your tomatoes.
- Drizzle olive oil over all. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme.
- Roast vegetables for about 45 mins or until caramelized.
- Scoop all the vegetables into a blender, then pour in any juices from the pan and add the garlic. Blend to puree to a thick even consistency.
- Store in freezer in 1 quart container.
I often double the recipe when I have a lot of tomatoes.
I currently have 11 pints of tomato puree in the freezer, stored flat in zip-top freezer bags. The pint (2 cups) size is good for adding flavor to other sauces and soups, etc. Follow the easy directions here: The Kitchn: “How to Make Tomato Purée”
Cored and seeded tomatoes
Tomatoes cooked down
Blended purée in freezer bags