If you’re a lover of a thick meaty sauce that’s big on flavor, Classic Venison Bolognese with Pappardelle needs to be in your sights. Unlike sauce with meat, Bolognese is more like meat with sauce.
If you’re lucky enough to have venison in your freezer, this recipe is a terrific way to highlight this lovely lean and nutritious meat and not cover up its flavor. No venison? No problem. You could easily substitute ground beef or veal. Turkey may be a bit bland, but will work, too.
There are lots of versions of Bolognese around. The main differences being their tomato components and whether or not they contain cream.
This recipe also gets a huge flavor boost from dried mushrooms and their rehydrating liquid.
What’s up with dried mushrooms?
If you’ve never used them, they offer concentrated mushroom umami flavor. I rarely buy expensive dried mushrooms, I just dry my own for cheap. You can read lots more in my post about How to Dry Mushrooms at Home.
The mushrooms I’ve used here are just simple white button mushrooms that I dried on a baking sheet. Nothing exotic or expensive needed.
When I have some fresh mushrooms leftover, or come across a great sale, or need to save them from going bad in the fridge, I’ll dry them. I also dry cremini, or baby portabellas.
Of course, you can skip the mushrooms in this recipe. Just add one cup of beef broth instead.
Rehydrate your dried mushrooms by pouring hot water over them and let them sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or even overnight. Cook with the mushrooms as well as their rehydrating liquid, which is packed with flavor. It’s like awesome concentrated mushroom broth.
How to Make Venison Bolognese
- Cook chopped pancetta or bacon in a little oil until lightly crisp. Save it for a little later and spoon out some of the fat until about 2 tablespoons remain.
- Sauté the onion and carrot in that fat, then add the tomato paste. Cook until the tomato paste browns, about 5 minutes. This process of browning tomato paste is called pincage and seriously deepens the flavor.
- Allow the tomato paste to cook a few minutes at a time in between stirring it, this allows the browning to happen. But don’t burn it!
- Pour in the wine and the reserved mushroom rehydrating liquid. Add the ground meat and the spices and herbs, simmer about 5 minutes, but don’t boil.
- Pour in the marinara sauce as well as the cream and allow the sauce to gently simmer, partially covered. Stir occasionally.
The Bolognese will be thick and chunky, just as it’s supposed to be. It’s not the prettiest of sauces in the pot, but oh, it’s delicious!
Serve your Venison Bolognese with pappardelle noodles or other wide pasta of your choice. This sauce loves a nice fat sturdy pasta.
I like to drain my pasta, then spoon about a cup of sauce into the pasta pot. Put your pasta in the pot and add some sauce on top then gently mix. Lightly sauce the pasta, then serve the rest of the sauce on top as desired.
Serve Classic Venison Bolognese with Pappardelle with a dish of sauce to pass and grated Parmesan cheese at the table.
How about another yummy pasta dish? Here’s my Salmon Cream Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers.
Classic Venison Bolognese with Pappardelle
- ½ oz. dried mushrooms
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 4 oz. chopped pancetta or bacon
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- ½ cup finely chopped carrot
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 lb. ground venison or beef or veal
- 1 cup dry white wine
- pinch red pepper flakes
- ¼-½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 cups high quality marinara sauce (16 oz.)
- ⅓ cup heavy or whipping cream or half & half
- salt to taste
- 12-16 oz. pappardelle pasta, or other wide pasta of your choice
- grated or shredded Parmesan cheese for serving
- An hour (or even a day) ahead, pour the hot water over the dried mushrooms in a small bowl. Let soak to rehydrate at room temperature. When nice and soft, drain them, saving their liquid. Chop up the mushrooms.
- Heat a 4 or 5 quart pot on medium heat. Pour in the oil and cook the pancetta or bacon until it begins to crisp. Remove pancetta and save for later. Spoon off excess fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons. If there's not enough fat, add a little oil.
- In that fat on medium heat, sauté the onion for 2 minutes, don't allow it to brown. Add the chopped carrots and cook 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 5 minutes or so, allowing it to brown, but not burn. Stir it about every minute, giving it time to cook without being disturbed. Stir in garlic.
- To the pot, add the ground meat, reserved mushroom liquid, wine, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and nutmeg. Simmer gently about 5-6 minutes. Don't boil.
- Stir in the bay leaf, marinara sauce, cream, rehydrated chopped mushrooms and the cooked pancetta or bacon. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, partially covered. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt to your liking.
- Meanwhile, near to serving time, cook the pasta in heavily salted water until al dente. Drain. If your sauce still needs to cook a bit longer when your pasta is done, toss your pasta with a little after draining to keep it from sticking together.
- Place a cupful of sauce in the bottom of the now-empty pasta pot. Add the cooked pasta and some more sauce. Mix gently. I like to use a light amount of sauce to mix with the pasta and serve the rest of the sauce to be added to plates at the table as desired. Top with Parmesan cheese when serving, as desired.
- Dried mushrooms are optional, but add a terrific depth of flavor. If you skip them entirely, use 1 cup beef broth as a substitution.