We recently traded some of our canned goods with a neighbor for a load of venison killed on a farm in downstate Virginia. Most of the package consisted of two entire rump sections of the animal. I spent the better part of an afternoon removing silver skin and cutting stew meat.
Most of that went into the freezer for another day but I was anxious to try it. As anyone who's tasted venison can tell you (my wife would be happy to share a few thoughts on the subject) venison is extremely lean. That can be a good thing if you are trying to cut down on fat. But it does leave the meat dry. It needs to be well sauced.
I went looking for a different sort of venison stew recipe and adapted a "goulash" or "Gulgas di Capriolo" published by Mario Batali. Mario and I share a taste for rustic treatments. Besides the usual herbs and aromatics, this one calls for cinnamon and cloves. A generous scoop of sour cream is stirred into the pot at the last minute.
To accompany the meat my daughter and I rolled out some wide, whole-wheat noodles. My wife thought the meat was still a bit dry and not up to the beef chuck she loves so much. (Keep in mind, she's preoccupied with her concern over prions in the venison.) Well, there's no arguing with the fact that venison is lean. But the noodles did lap up the sauce very nicely. Wash it down with your favorite bottle of red wine.
For the goulash:
2 pounds venison shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
3 sage leaves
3 cloves garlic
3 juniper berries
2/3 bottle dry red wine
1/4 cup lard
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ounces speck or thick bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
Grated Montasio or Romano cheese, for garnish
In a bowl, mix venison, carrot, celery and onion. Make a spice sachet by tying in cheesecloth the rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic, peppercorns and juniper berries. Bury the spice sachet in the meat and cover everything with the red wine. Place bowl in the refrigerator, covered, for 24 hours.
When meat has fully marinated, remove each piece from the liquid and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season meat generously with salt and pepper, reserving the marinade. Melt the lard in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat and brown the venison pieces in batches, setting the venison aside on a plate.
While pot is still hot, brown the speck or bacon. Reduce heat and add flour. Stir to incorporate all the fat and cook a minute or two. Pour the marinade and all its contents into the pot. Bring to a boil and stir in cinnamon and cloves. Scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Cook a minute or two until the liquid has thickened, then add the meat. Reduce heat to low setting, cover and simmer until the meat is completely tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sour cream just before serving.
For the noodles:
Mix 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour in a mound on a clean work surface. Make a well in the mound and add two eggs. Break up the eggs with a fork and gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs, working around the edges of the well. When the eggs and flour have mixed, push the dough into a rough ball and knead for several minutes. The dough may be a bit tough, owing to the whole wheat flour. You may have to press it hard into the work surface with the heel of your hand.
When the dough is holding together, divide the ball into quarters. Take one quarter portion dough and roll it through your pasta machine at the lowest setting at least a dozen times to continue the kneading process. Begin increasing the setting of the rollers up to number 6 or 7, depending on your desired thickness. You should have a fairly long piece of pasta. Cut it into three or four lengths and dust each with all-purpose flour. Roll up each piece into a cigar shape and, using a very sharp knife, cut into 1-inch pieces. Each piece will unroll into a noodle. Place these on a baking sheet while you continue to roll out and cut the other portions of dough.
When the noodles are done, drop them into a big pot of boiling, salted water. They will cook in about two minutes. You should have enough for at least six portions. Use tongs to divide the pasta into warm bowls. Spoon goulash with plenty of sauce over the noodles. Garnish with grated cheese and parsley.
Top photo by Leila Bruske