Tag Archives: Italian

Venison Ragu at Quarter-to-Two

21 Apr

You just can’t help when hunger strikes.  My, uhh, eccentric schedule often leads to late-night/early-morning dinners.  Despite being well-past 1AM, a quick perusal of my dismal food stock left me with a meager line-up of ingredients.  The protein that jumped out at me from the back of the freezer being a pound of ground Italian-style venison sausage, courtesy of my father’s hunterly pursuits.  A humble can of tomato sauce,  a small can of tomato paste, an onion, a little garlic, and a few condiments later had me replete with a rich ragu or meat-based sauce fit for topping any matter of pasta or pasta-like applications.  Just because it’s 2 in the morning doesn’t mean you need to resort to frozen pizzas and Hot Pockets.  Real, simple, tasty food can be made with just a modicum of patience and even less formal training.  Just say no to the jarred stuff.  You can do it yourself, and no jar of Prego is going to give you that rich, savory sense of satisfaction that only comes from a home-cooked meal.

Venison ragù

Ingredient rundown:

  • 1 lb ground venison (Italian-style, if you will)
  • 1 14 oz can tomato sauce (I normally don’t use this and would have made a basic tomato sauce from canned tomatoes myself, but, well, I didn’t have any.  I had this.  So I used it.)
  • 1/2 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 tbsp rendered bacon drippings (venison is a very lean meat and can often use some help in the fat department to avoid drying out with cooking.  I save all my drippings from cooking bacon in a container in my freezer for just such occasions)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, for sauteing onions, but also helps with leanness of venison
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 large mushrooms, diced (I used baby ‘bellas)
  • 1 tablespoon of capers and their brine (optional, but I think their brininess worked great here)
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • splash of red wine
  • pinch of dried oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, paprika, red pepper flake, garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

How I did it:

  1. Saute onion, mushroom and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until translucent (~5-8 minutes).  I used a medium cast iron skillet that is quickly becoming my favorite kitchen item.
  2. Add ground venison and bacon drippings, season, and brown for ~10 minutes
  3. Add beef stock, tomato sauce and paste, capers, red wine and parmesan cheese.  Mix well and continue to simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for at least half an hour, but up to several hours.  It will continue to thicken and develop richer flavors the longer you cook it.  Add more beef stock if it reduces too much.
  4. Serve over pasta, in a lasagna or in any other application where a rich, meaty sauce is called for.

Just like Mom used to make, except for, you know, with deer.  I realize everyone doesn’t have access to ground venison, but this is Wisconsin, damn it.  You know someone who hunts and people who hunt always have extra meat unless they’re not very good hunters.  You could make a perfectly serviceable ragu with ground beef or veal, lamb, heck – just about any red meat – but I hold a soft spot for venison and have a nearly endless supply of it, so I try to use it when possible.  You should, too.  It’s good for you.


Operation Too Much Ham: Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

10 Mar

OK, so there really is no such thing as too much ham, but 11 pounds of ham don’t eat themselves.  And they take up half of my fridge.  In my quest to find new ways of putting lipstick on this pig, I found a pretty delicious-looking recipe in my boy Mario Batali’s book Molto Italiano.  I am often convinced that I was Italian in another life because I always come back to Italian food for its flavorful simplicity.  While I’m jumping the gun on “Easter” food again, this pasticcio di maccheroni or “pasta pie” is the kind of comforting goodness that needs no special occasion.

Dish: Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

recipe courtesy of Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano

Ingredient rundown:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian cooked ham, preferably parmacotto, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 rib celery, thinly sliced
  • (I also tossed in a few diced mushrooms)
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 pounds ziti
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta
  • 8 ounces caciotta or hard provolone, cut into small dice
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • (I also sprinkled some breadcrumbs on top for a little crunch.  Entirely optional of course)

*I ended up making roughly 2/3 of a batch and adjusted my measurements accordingly

How it’s done:

  1. In a Dutch oven (I used my trusty cast iron skillet), heat the oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the carrot, onion and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 50 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
  4. Cook the ziti in the boiling water for 1 minutes less than the package directions, until still very al dente. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water to “melt” it.
  5. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta and caciotta and stir to combine.
  6. Grease a 9-by-12-inch baking dish with extra-virgin olive oil. Place a ladleful of sauce in the bottom of the casserole, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the parmigiano-reggiano over, then repeat with another layer of sauce, then pasta and meat, and parmigiano. Continue until all ingredients are used up.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.

Is turning 1 pound of ham into 3 or 4 pounds of pasta productive from a fridge-clearing standpoint?  Perhaps not, but hot damn if it wasn’t tasty.  Hard to go wrong with ham, Italian cheeses and wine.  Mario knows things, despite his affinity for tech vests and orange foam footwear.

Wine is fine: Tenuta Le Velette Rasenna Orvieto Classico Amabile

12 Nov
Tenuta La Velette Rasenna Orvieto Classico Amabile

Yes, that's really the name of the wine. Rolls right off the tongue.

So, working at a wine and coffee shop has its perks.  All the coffee I can drink.  Lots of leftover soup and baked goods.  And a whole bunch of slightly past-its-prime wine.  Tonight, from my personal wall-of-not-quite-100 comes  the concisely-named Tenuta Le Velette Rasenna Orvieto Classico Amabile.

*Disclaimer – I don’t know squat about wine, so bear with me as I stumble to describe what I’m tasting here*

Style: “Italian White” (further digging found Orvieto to be a wine-making region located in Umbria and Lazio known primarily for its dry white wines)

Upon the first sip I was taken aback by the perfume-like sweetness of this wine which I was not expecting.  Bright notes of pear and peach with a hint of vanilla come to the forefront of the nose with the fruits carrying through to the palate.  The sweetness dominates and while it avoids being cloying, could use more acidity or tartness  for my tastes, but maybe that’s what they’re shooting for (the region is known for its drier whites, but historically was known for sweeter, golden-hued wines which this more-closely resembles – perhaps explaining the “Classico” descriptor).  The mouthfeel is fairly viscous and on the heavier side for whites that I have sampled,  but this makes sense based on the sweetness.  This is a pleasant wine that I imagine would pair well with light pasta or pork dishes.

Pantry Raid: Carbonara Potstickers

19 Oct

Carbonara Potstickers

My affinity for pasta carbonara has been mentioned here before.  Its simple decadence lends itself to  any situation where comfort food is calling.  My recent foray into the world of potstickers inspired my inner mad scientist to experiment with new combinations of fillings and this gem immediately jumped to the forefront.

The bacon and cheese alone would make a passable filling, but the onions, mushrooms and fresh garlic that usually find their way into my carbonara would do well to flesh it out.  The wrapper of the potsticker made an easy analog for the pasta and the creamy egg, cheese and bacon drippings would make a worthy sauce without the need to dip.  The end result is a kind of carbonara tortellini or ravioli that captures the essence of the original dish in a novel package.  Chopsticks are purely optional here.  I went with a fork.

Dish: Carbonara Potstickers

Ingredient Rollcall:

  • 15-20 wonton wrappers
  • 3-4 slices of thick-cut bacon, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 mushrooms, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbsp Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Italian herbs, ground
  • salt and cracked pepper, to taste

How I do it:

  1. Saute minced bacon and mushrooms for a minute or two with balsamic until some fat has rendered out, drain and reserve drippings.
  2. Mix minced bacon, mushroom, onion, garlic, 1 beaten egg, breadcrumbs, half of grated cheese, salt, pepper and dash of ground herbs in small mixing bowl.
  3. Assemble and cook potstickers as instructed in my previous recipe, with help from my main man, Alton Brown.
  4. Mix other beaten egg, remaining cheese, and a healthy portion of cracked black pepper.
  5. Return cooked potstickers to the the pan over medium heat with a splash of water until water begins to steam again.  Remove from heat and add egg and cheese mixture and a splash of bacon drippings.  Toss and stir until the potstickers are well-coated and sauce thickens.  Serves 2 (or 1 if you’re me).
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